Barna Group – Succession Planning Survey

In December of 2009 I asked the Barna Group to help me with a survey of churches on the topic of succession planning. After a few months of planning we landed on the core objectives for our first phase of questioning. Here is where we landed. We wanted:

  • to measure the proportion of churches that have a succession plan in place
  • to determine if succession planning is done internally at the church or externally by a denomination or association
  • to examine the effectiveness of church succession planning
  • to discover the level of interest pastors have in information or resources related to succession planning.

We worked to develop some key questions that would be asked as part of a process they refer to as their PastorPoll™. For readers interested in this kind of stuff I have outlined the Study Methodology and the bottom of this post. It is a word-for-word excerpt from the report they provided me. Admittedly, I don’t understand what half of it means.

I received their final report in October 2010. Below are a series of links. Each one is a blog post that shares key findings of the project along with my thoughts about what the findings are telling us. Some of the findings were to be expected. There are a few things, however, that surprised me.

How many churches have a succession plan in place?

Are churches developing succession plans internally or externally?

Do the pastors surveyed feel their succession plans are effective?

Are pastors interested in succession planning resources?

Other interesting (and unexpected!) findings…


The PastorPoll™ included 600 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of senior pastors of churches from within the 48 continental states. The survey was conducted from September 7, 2010 through September 23, 2010. The sampling error for PastorPoll™ is +/-4 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.

The survey calls were made at various times during the day so that every church selected for inclusion was contacted at least five separate days, at different times of the day, to maximize the possibility of contact. This is a quality control procedure that ensures that churches in the sampling frame have an equivalent probability of inclusion within the survey, thereby increasing the survey reliability.

All of the interviews were conducted by experienced, trained interviewers; interviewers were supervised at all times; and every interviewer was monitored during the course of their work on this project.

The survey was conducted through the use of a CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) system. This process ensures that question skip patterns are properly administered by interviewers and that survey data are recorded accurately.

Based upon national data sources, regional, community type, and denominational quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of pastors interviewed reflected the distribution of churches nationwide.

In this study, the cooperation rate among participants was 94%. A high cooperation rate significantly raises the confidence we may place in the resulting statistics. In every survey there are a variety of ways in which the accuracy of the data may be affected. The cooperation rate is one such potential cause of error in measurement: the lower the cooperation rate, the less representative the respondents interviewed may be of the population from which they were drawn, thereby reducing the accuracy of the results. Other sources of error include question-design bias, question-order bias, interviewer mistakes, sampling error and respondent deception. Many of these types of errors cannot be accurately estimated. However, having a high cooperation rate does enhance the reliability of the information procured.