Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Surveys Are a Waste of Time

By Larry Osborne, from Sticky Teams

Another way that leadership teams get sidetracked is when they depend on surveys to plan their ministry.  Surveys are to leadership teams what butterflies are to Little League right fielders.  They quickly take our eye off the ball, and have nothing to do with the game ahead.

The problem is that surveys (especially anonymous surveys) seldom give us the accurate information we think we’re getting.

People tend to answer with what they perceive to be the right answer.  When asked about food, for instance, most people will say they’re making an effort to count calories, avoid fats, and eat more vegetables.  But the reality is that we’re buying more read meat and fast food than ever.

It reminds me of the time I surveyed a church to find their level of interest in small groups.  I was thrilled to discover that over half the congregation said they wanted to be in one.  But when it came time to sign up, only a handful did.  They felt they ought to be in a Bible study, so they had checked the yes box.  But their answers had nothing to do with their behavior.

That’s how surveys work.

Another major problem with surveys is that when asked what should be offered, most of us will answer in terms of what we want, not what we need.

Ask any group of Christians what they want to study next, and invariably you’ll find prophecy and a host of controversial subjects near the top of the list.  Yet teaching on prophecy is hardly most people’s greatest need.  And most of those who tell us they want to study prophecy really just want to know who the Antichrist is.  Once they discover that no one knows, they bail out – usually by the third week or so.

There is, however, one type of quasi survey that does make sense.  It’s what I call “running a magnet through the sand.”  It’s the process of asking volunteers to help launch a new initiative.  Unlike traditional surveys, this isn’t asking the larger group what they think of an idea; it’s asking if anyone wants to help launch it.

The response to this type of question or survey will let you know if there are any early adopters ready to jump aboard.  It’s usually a good indicator of whether something has a chance of getting off the ground.  But this type of survey, designed to capture the names of early adopters, is a far cry from a traditional survey designed to find out what everyone wants, thinks, or feels.

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