Using a questionnaire or a survey is a good way to better understand your congregation or specific subgroups of your religious community. By asking general demographic information, such as age, race, gender, and length of time attending, you can get some general information about your faith community. You can also use a survey to better understand the preferences for worship times, or desires in terms of new ministries, or willingness to volunteer for particular needs of the community.
When deciding to do a survey, the first question you should ask is “who should receive the questionnaire?” If you’re interested in the youth and young adult’s perceptions of the worship service, you may not be interested in asking the full community. Match the research question with the people for whom it is most appropriate. If you’re interested in understanding all of the members’ views, it might be important to send the surveys out to members who don’t regularly attend. Think through how you should best distribute — whether it be through email, printed and distributed after worship, or sent in the mail — and use the best method for the type of study you want to do.
One of the best ways to develop questions for questionnaires and surveys is to use questions from pre-existing and pre-tested surveys. Click here for examples of questions that you may consider using in your own study. You could also check out Hartford Institute’s Congregational Survey Question Bank for examples of questions from a variety of survey sources.
General Suggestions for Writing Questionnaires
1. The questionnaire should be eye-appealing and look clean and uncluttered, with plenty of white spaces.
2. Use a clear readable font. Feel free to use font size, italics, and bold sparingly to guide the eye through the questionnaire.
3. Briefly introduce the survey form with a short statement about who is sponsoring the survey, why it is being done, whether the information will be confidential or not, what will be done with the final results, and any special instructions about how to fill out the form. Include this statement even if a cover letter will be attached to the form.
4. Use topic headings and perhaps a short descriptive sentence to introduce a new section of the survey.
5. Use the same format to define the marking space for all your questions. Generally it is best to ask the respondent to make an X, rather than a check mark, in the space defined by a box or bracket [ ] or by parentheses ( ). For certain questions a blank line can be used to define where they are to answer. Never just allow an open space to define where persons are to respond, unless you are asking an extended open ended question. At times it is also acceptable to ask the respondent to circle a response, for example to indicate the one which is the most important of the several items they identified. Remind people to mark only one answer.
6. Maintain a common format across the questionnaire. For instance, if using parentheses, use them consistently and locate the parentheses on the same side of the question. If giving response choices from agree to disagree, keep them in the same order throughout the survey.
While many people in congregations use paper surveys during worship, using an online interface like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey can be an efficient way to make a visually appealing and systematic emailed survey. These mediums will often also tabulate results, saving time in the long run.
For more examples, check out Studying Congregations.