Learn members' needs
If you know your members’ actual needs, you can serve them effectively. If you don’t know, your efforts can seem insincere, obtuse or irrelevant.
Members’ actual needs are constantly changing, as their lives and circumstances change. Ministries that served them well a year ago might not be pertinent now.
Members’ actual needs tend to be diverse and not easily served by single-shot ministries. Identifying and implementing pertinent ministries require you to overcome certain obstacles.
One is projection, which occurs when ministry planners project their own interests or needs onto others. Another is assumption, when ministry planners assume they know what others need.
Further obstacles include inertia and habit, which lead to continuing to offer yesterday’s ministries, without verifying that they still are pertinent.
Finally, constituencies develop around certain ministries who insist on perpetuating older ministries and blocking new ministries.
Such obstacles are inevitable in any institution. But they must be overcome. Otherwise, the congregation falls farther and farther behind in recognizing, assessing and responding to actual needs.
To overcome such resistance, you need data on what needs exist and which aren’t being addressed.
Make Your Calls
Personally calling on members to inquire about their needs accomplishes two purposes:
- It identifies their needs.
- It strengthens their sense of belonging.
This needs to be a personal encounter, not a survey form. Connecting matters as much as data. Made by a trained caller who listens and makes connections.
The inquiry focuses on the member's life, not on their desire to participate in existing programs. This isn't about selling or defending current offerings.
Each caller should receive training in how to ask a leading question and then listen to the answer, and how to avoid problem-solving, therapy or being invited into a conflict. This is a time to learn, not to fix.
Callers will have a few standard starter questions, but will feel free to improvise. The point is to listen, not to fit member's sharing into preconceived patterns. Starter questions can include:
- "Please bring me up to date on life in your family." (Listen especially for changes, difficulties, joys.)
- "How does this coming year look to you?"
- "Do you find yourself (or your partner, children, parents) asking specific questions of God?"
Callers want to avoid church-directed questions, such as "What can your church do for you?" Or, "How do you feel about your church?" There is a place for such questions, but the needs-identification process should focus on the constituent and be less channeled into church program.
In preparing for the annual visit, callers need to be equipped with information about likely cultural and community trends. Threatened closure of a local factory, for example, should lead callers to listen for signs of economic distress. Recent newspaper articles about drugs and violence in schools could signal shifts in parents' confidence. Callers should be mindful of larger cultural trends, such as rising medical costs, declining real estate values, growing anonymity, a spike in crime.