Monday, May 4, 2015

Focus groups

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My parents and (snot-nosed) little brother stayed with us over Easter. My (doo-doo head) sibling is a big-shot market research executive in Chicago. As we were catching up and swapping work stories he said, "You know, should do some focus groups to get to know your congregations better." OK, so my brother might occasionally have some good ideas (or whatever).  

According to Wikipedia, a focus group is "a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging."

Todd and I, being big data nerds, immediately saw the value of such an exercise in a church setting. But how to go about it? If you've ever participated in a focus group, you know there's some effort involved--a survey to fill out, a meeting to attend, a discussion with strangers within the target age/gender/religion/socioeconomic demographic. Almost always, participants are compensated for travel or are given some kind of financial perk.  

So we began to brainstorm ways we could do a focus group--what questions would we ask? What would we do with the data? How would we get people to talk to us?

And then we realized we'd been doing our own "focus groups" all along. 

Way back when I read Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist, I became convinced that the best way to get to know someone was to share a meal with them. And so since last fall we've been inviting people into our home for dinner at least once a week. We started with families with children, to help our girls make friends in our new community. These dinners are probably the most rewarding part of our ministry.  I cannot tell you how full my heart (and stomach) is after one of our "focus group" evenings.  

But it turns out that Todd and I are really bad data nerds. We don't carry clipboards and ask multiple choice questions. We don't ask our guests to rate their satisfaction with our church on a 1 through 10 scale. We just talk. We laugh. We share stories about our kids, our parents, our history, our work, our favorite place to get a cup of coffee. 

We've been able to put into practice these ideas from Shauna Niequist:
“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
“When you offer peace instead of division, when you offer faith instead of fear, when you offer someone a place at your table instead of keeping them out because they’re different or messy or wrong somehow, you represent the heart of Christ.”

So, thank you (goofball) younger brother Joey, for reminding us that doing "focus groups" is a good way to gather data, but it's also a vital part of being in communion with people.  

My brother, Joe
In what ways do you do focus groups?  What questions do you ask?  What do you do with the answers?



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