Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Review of Reveal's Follow Me: The gap between importance and satisfaction

(Part 10 in a series)

Perhaps the most intriguing new idea in Follow Me is the what it terms The Gap. No, this isn’t where you go to work after college if you graduate with a sociology degree. Rather, it’s the difference between what church members think is important for a church to do and how satisfied they are with how their church is doing with it. For example, on page 38, Follow Me reports that 87% of its respondents said it was very important for churches to help them to understand the Bible in depth but only 62% were very satisfied with how their church did this. The difference, 25%, represents a gap.

The assumption here is that this type of gap between what people want and what they are getting represents unmet spiritual need, and churches can help their members grow spiritually if they can meet these needs. This makes sense, and I like the idea of churches being aware of what their members want and how their members access their provision of these wants.

This concept of a gap raises some interesting issues. Sometimes, a church can do well filling these gaps. Other times, however, they might need to create gaps where none exist. For example, say a church had 10% who thought serving the poor was very important and 10% who were very satisfied with their churches performance in this area. There would be no gap here, but the church might still want to devote resources to this issue. Perhaps the first step in doing so is to create a gap, i.e., to convince its members of the importance of an issue. With this example, maybe the hypothetical church should launch a teaching series aimed at having its members think of this issue as more important. This would initially have the effect of creating a gap between importance and satisfaction, but it would pave the way for church members to appreciate and participate in the church’s efforts in this area.

In short, sometimes a church best respondents to an existing gap, as per the logic of Follow Me, and other times it needs to create a gap. Either way, it’s worth knowing both importance and satisfaction measures on various church issues, and Follow Me has done the church a service by demonstrating this.

One caveat, however, in thinking about a gap, and that is that the people who think something is important may not be (and probably are not) those who are also satisfied. For example, say 50% of a church thinks that an issue is important, and 50% are satisfied with what the church is doing. Suppose, also, that the church isn’t doing anything with this particular issue. It might be the case, then, that the 50% who think it’s important are all dissatisfied with the church on this issue, and the 50% who are satisfied don’t think anything should be done and they’re just as glad that nothing is being done. Here’s a case where there is no measured gap, but there is substantial unmet need (or “white space”, as Follow Me calls it).

As such, we should perhaps measure the gap at the individual rather than church level. I.e., we should know how many people both view an issue as important and are satisfied with it as well as how many view something as important and are not satisfied.

There’s one other twist with this concept, for Follow Me uses it in two different ways. In its initial treatment, on page 38, the gap is what I described above—the difference between reported importance and satisfaction with an aspect of the church. Later in the book, however, the concept of a spiritual gap is used differently. It’s the difference between ideal and actual—how many people in a church are actually doing something versus complete participation in it. In a way, this latter conceptualization of the gap might be more powerful, for it has the church 1) defining what it expects of its people and 2) working to get every single person there.

Next: Academic research and the church

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