Resource Highlight: Elders’ vs. Members’ Perceptions and the Church Health Assessment

Resource Highlight: Elders’ vs. Members’ Perceptions and the Church Health Assessment

There is an important and long-running conversation within Churches of Christ about declining numbers of members and congregations. One of our goals in developing the Church Health Assessment (CHA) was to help churches establish a baseline of their health so they can work to become healthier.

In my previous post we discussed the development of the CHA and some of the trends we have seen among the churches who have used this tool. In this article we’ll be addressing how the perceptions of congregational elders differ from the perceptions of members across the nine factors of health.

As a refresher, the nine factors of health we measure through the CHA are:

  1. Vision, mission, and goals

  2. Ministry and activity effectiveness

  3. Family life stages

  4. Spiritual formation and discipleship

  5. Worship

  6. Congregational culture, communication, and conflict

  7. Leadership

  8. Church relationships

  9. Finance and facilities

Comparing Elders’ and Members’ Perceptions

Of the congregations who have completed the CHA since its launch in the fall of 2016, 17 are included in the analysis here. In those 17 congregations, there are 109 elders and nearly 2300 members who responded to the survey. The elders are almost exclusively married white men in their 60s with a college degree or two, while the members are a slightly more diverse group: still predominantly white, with the majority being over the age of 55, most married or widowed, and over half having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. The major difference between the members and elders is gender, with 59% of members being female while fewer than 5% of elders are female.

So, how similar are elders and members in how they perceive the health of the congregation? The bar chart below shows the average score for each factor divided by elder/member (click to enlarge). You can see that, across all nine factors, the elders are more optimistic about the congregation by 3 to 8 points, and (for those of you who are curious), those differences are statistically significant.

 
 

The largest gaps between the elders and members’ perspectives are in the areas of relationships, leadership, and worship. Within these factors the differences are significant for all items except for a few. [1]

In the leadership factor, both members and elders tend to rate the ministers as friendly.

In the relationship factor, both elders and members agree about the level of conflict in the church. However, the elders and members disagree about how well that conflict is handled and whether the church has more conflict than other churches.

In the worship factor, elders consistently rate the church higher than the members. The one area where they are in closest agreement, and where the difference is no longer statistically significant, is the sense that the preaching is inspirational—both elders and members tend to agree with that statement.

Closing Thoughts

These results lead to some interesting questions about how connected the elders are to the concerns of members. Our hope is that the CHA can help elders and other church leaders become more aware of their own perceptions and how those perceptions shape the decisions they make on behalf of the larger congregation.

In future Mosaic posts, I’ll talk about intergenerational tensions in these congregations; leadership strengths and weaknesses; and vision, mission, and goals or lack thereof.

If you’d like more information about the CHA and how to utilize it in your congregation visit the CHA page on the Siburt Institute website.

[1] Each factor is a scale that includes multiple items that were asked of respondents. Each factor is made up of 8 to 18 individual items.

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