One of the best ways you can gain information from the members of your religious organization is to talk with them. Interviews allow participants to share stories, accounts, and explanations that can be valuable as you seek to understand how the organization really works.

Getting Started

The questions you want to ask depend on what you are interested in examining in your study. Perhaps you’re interested in understanding involvement and commitment in the congregation. You might want to ask questions about how long the person has attended, what first brought them to the congregation, why they continued to stay, and what their favorite and least favorite things are. Think about the concept you want to tap and ask yourself how you would know it if you saw it. If you are interested in “activism,” what kinds of behavior, interaction, events, or ideas would demonstrate a pattern of activism? And what questions might help you know more about what activism looks like for the people you are interviewing?
If you have very specific bits of knowledge you need to fill in, interview the specific people who have that knowledge. Historical events? Interview the people who were there. Crucial decision? Interview the people on the decision making body. Experiences of newcomers? You get the picture!
That depends a lot on your resources of time and money. To pass muster in most social scientific circles, you would need at least 40-50 interviews, but scheduling, transcribing, and fully analyzing that many can be formidable. If your aim is more local understanding than professional publications, make your judgements accordingly. But do be sure that you have heard from all the important subgroups and have more than one voice representing each.

Asking Questions: Interviews & Focus Groups

Our Studying Congregations Tool Kit features easy to use quick guides for better understanding a community of faith. This PDF download is ideal for religious leaders, seminarians and anyone else who wants to learn how to conduct effective interviews with either individuals or focus groups.

The Tool in Action