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Implicit Assumptions and Expectations: Spell Them Out

Many religious leaders struggle with fitting into new congregations. Congregants may have implicit assumptions and expectations of the new leader — whether it’s what day the leader takes off, to how frequently he visits those who are homebound, to preaching or teaching styles, as well as plenty of other examples. We often fail to make our own expectations explicit, while also failing to ask the expectations of the other party. Moreover, we often assume that everyone shares the expectations we hold.

Early on in the search process for a new leader, it is useful to sit down with a focus group of individuals from the community asking, specifically, “what are your expectations of a leader?” It might be useful to ask probing questions, such as what expectations do you hold surrounding sermons or worship? What about expectations of interactions with those who are hospitalized or homebound? What sort of relationship should the leader have with other religious leaders in the community?

Once the focus group has developed a list of expectations, it might be useful to implement a survey of the congregation, asking them to rank the importance of all the various expectations held of the leader. Having a ranking will allow the search committee to look for someone who will fill those expectations, and the incoming leader to recognize what needs are important to the community.

About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at