Focus Groups are a way to interview a number of people from the same group at once. Imagine, for example, wanting to ask general questions to a number of people within your community. While one-on-one interviews would provide space for a private conversation, focus groups allow participants to interact, creating a space to observe and gather more information about group dynamics.
Focus groups can either follow a structured and focused interview protocol (see our interview page for more details) or open-ended and generalized (“Let’s talk about why you first came to this congregation”). Either way, you are asking questions but also creating an event where people talk through ideas and experiences.
Focus groups, or group interviews, are the product of a collective effort of participants. All the contributors work together to develop the ongoing discussion. Individual responses will affect the way in which the conversation progresses. One response might elicit a memory of another, for example. Because of the multiple viewpoints and perspectives of the contributors to the focus group, the group interview may provide a broader and more nuanced scope of certain aspects of the community’s life. People are more hesitant, for example, to share intimate or sensitive viewpoints that may be considered confrontation or conflictual in such focus groups.
These conversations can often create a life of their own, where people will orient discussions about important personal topics. You can use this time to examine group dynamics, using some of the cues from the direct observation method. You may be able to recognize the individuals who dominate conversations, or topics that particular groups may want to skim or skip.
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A space tour is a great way to understand how different congregants or groups of congregants understand the space of the church. Who uses what rooms, and for what? What do the paintings or artwork mean to individuals? What are the stories about purchasing carpet or tables, and how can those previous discussions illuminate what is happening in the present community? Is there a place reserved for youth or children? What about new people? Walk through the building, asking questions about how space is used.
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