For many United Methodist pastors, you’ve just survived your first Sunday at your new church, and are still swimming in boxes as you unpack. Now, you have months and months of getting to know the new congregation you have been appointed to care for. Even if you’re not United Methodist, the process of getting to know a new congregation is daunting.
I want to offer a few insights I’ve learned through getting to know two different congregations. Here are three things for getting to know your congregation better:
Have a Form – Look, I don’t like paperwork or homework anymore than the next person, but as the phrase goes: “the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory”. Have a form that gets filled out for each person or family. And here’s my recommendation for it: have them fill it out. That gives you their handwriting (so you can cross reference nasty “anonymous” notes in the future – I’m kidding).
In seriousness, you’ll spend the first ten minutes of any coffee or meeting with a family filling out the form if you do it yourself. Email them in advance or hand them out on a Sunday morning so people can get them to you during the week. Boom. You just saved your self hours.
I’ve attached my ‘Get To Know You Form’ down below. I’m going to wind up referring to it for the rest of the post. (It’s a rough draft, but likely to be implemented in my church over the next year.)
Ask Fewer, More Intentional Questions – You’re not writing their biography. You’re preparing to do ministry with and for them, and you have a plethora of information about to come your way.
Here are some of the more unusual questions I ask:
- Important Dates – Not just birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Any major life event could get included here. For example, when did they lose their spouse?
- Favorite Snacks/Restaurants – This one is great for your ministry leaders/people around the church a lot. If you can keep a small stock pile of M&M’s or peanuts around for them, it’ll show them you care. Knowing their favorite restaurants gives you gift ideas for when they really hit something out of the park.
- Favorite Hobbies/Shows/Movies – I remember trying to use a ‘Games of Thrones’ example for a sermon one time, where no one in the room had even heard of the show. If you know what movies and shows your congregation watches, and what they do for fun, you can find more relatable sermon illustrations.
- Best way/time to contact you – I call my lay leader around 4:30 if I have to touch base. He has an hour commute which starts right around then, and calling him then means I don’t interrupt time with his family. Some prefer Facebook messenger, while others like a phone call. You need to know how to communicate with your congregation.
- “Magic Genie” Question – ‘If you could solve any problem…’ It’s a huge and vague question, and more than a little unfair. But their answer tells you what their passionate about, and where they may want to serve in the church. Someone who says they’d make sure no boy grew up without a father could become a powerful mentor for young men. You won’t know the passions of your congregation without asking. The ‘Magic Genie’ question puts some vision behind it.
Fill Out the Form Yourself – This one is important. Fill out the same form you have them fill out and give it to them as an example. This lets them get to know you equally to you getting to know them, and shows them what you’re asking. Again, huge time saver.
There you go. Three things to help you get to know your congregation more effectively and quickly. And I wish I had thought of these sooner.
Remember, I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.
PS: Here are the documents.