Previous | Next

Spring 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 1 · pp. 26–40 

Congregational Care Needs and Resources Survey: A Summary

Al Dueck

This article will review and discuss some of the findings of the Congregational Needs and Resources Survey. The article above by Dean Kliewer indicated how the data was collected. Two models will shape the discussion of the data. The first model focuses on who gives pastoral care in the congregation. The second model examines the needs expressed by members, the help that was given and the help members received for their needs. After reviewing the data I will comment on the implications for training caregivers in the congregation.

High on the list of needs: “unable to share thoughts or feelings.”


The model which shapes the interpretation of this part of the data has been described in greater detail elsewhere (Dueck, 1987; Burck, 1982). A summary of the roles of the critical players in this model follows:

Informal Lay Caregivers: This level includes the “natural” helping networks in a congregation: telephone contacts, prayer chain, quilting parties, meals after a hospitalization, spontaneous encouragement {27}, gentle rebuke, friendships, neighborhoods, birthday and retirement parties. Few skills and only a little training are required. This level of caregiving is characterized by accessibility and availability. It is basically volunteer in nature. It is based on both spiritual motivation and the ties that emerge naturally from kinship and ethnicity.

Formal Lay Caregivers: This level includes leaders in the congregation such as the deacons, the moderator, Sunday school teachers, and the church council. In terms of caregivers, we think here specifically of deacons or a pastoral care commission. These individuals are recognized by the congregation as possessing specific gifts (calling) and abilities (trained) in caregiving. The process of selection is carried out according to established criteria. The congregation then suggests, selects and confirms the deacons.

Pastors: This level of caregiving includes persons who are paid by the congregation and have formal training. They are the paid pastors and associate pastors. Their training includes pastoral care skills. Their responsibility includes tasks other than shepherding, ministry of the word and congregational oversight.

Pastoral Counselors: These are the specialized caregivers in a congregation who are not necessarily a part of the church staff but who have specific gifts and training in counseling and are available to the Christian community. They include associate pastors focusing on counseling, medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family counselors, and nurses.

The model here assumes that lay people are the critical caregivers in a congregation. The network of friends, relatives and acquaintances provides the most help, with professionals providing less help and serving as backup for emergencies. If one begins with the congregation as primary caregiver, the model moves from general pastoral care to highly specific professional assistance, from social to individual, from spontaneous to structured. The model looks like a pyramid. {28}

The following data tests the model described above. Individuals in our study indicated that they held the following roles in their congregation: a) counselor—1%; b) pastor—3%; c) deacon or lay leader—44%; d) supporter or not involved at this point—52%.

The response to the questionnaire indicated that people received help from the following sources: a) a helping professional—6%; b) the pastor helped me—5%; c) the deacons helped me—4%; d) spouse, family, close friend—79%.

A similar pattern emerges when respondents were asked whom they would contact if they had problems communicating with others: a) a professional—1%; b) the pastor—4%; c) the deacon—0%; d) spouse, friend, or family—91%.

I would conclude that there is a clear underutilization of pastors and deacons in times of need. Secondly, there appears to be an incredible dependence on spouse and friends when in need.

Two implications for training individuals in our congregations for caregiving are: 1) Whatever training materials we develop to assist caregivers, they need to indicate what help specific caregivers can give best. 2) Training should indicate what makes caregivers accessible.

Pastoral Counselors

Eighty-five percent of the individuals in the survey indicated that they would encourage persons with serious personal problems to seek specialized counseling help. Only sixty percent feel their pastor would have no problem in encouraging an individual to seek professional help. That would suggest that for professional counselors to be used by the congregation they must be legitimated and blessed. Furthermore {29}, they need to be visible at some point in time to members (e.g., a Sunday school presentation). But not only would members benefit from counseling, professional counselors in congregations can serve as consultants to the care-givers. Sometimes pastors and counselors could work as co-therapists.


The respondents indicated that pastors should focus primarily on encouraging and training caregivers (64%) rather than visitation (6%), responding to crises (9%), leading small groups (8%), active work with poor and needy in the congregation (4%), or bridge building-referral (9%). The survey asked, “What are our pastors like?” Generally the respondents indicated that the pastors fulfill their responsibility in preaching, listening, and encouraging. However, a lower percentage (72%) indicated that their pastors know how their roles fit in with the ministries of other church members. Sixty-three percent feel that pastoral care in their congregation should be shared more broadly; only 25% feel that the pastor is more significant than the church body in providing various congregational needs. Our data indicate that in point of fact the pastor is overburdened with meeting specific needs (spiritual, emotional, interpersonal, and practical) but that he/she does the least amount of networking.

I offer the following observations on the data. In terms of caregiving, pastors are often seen as “take-over” people rather than ones who delegate—a situation the membership apparently condones. Pastoral training should focus on role clarity. The pastor’s primary role would be to equip and empower laity. Pastors need to be taught to engage in more networking. Moreover, pastors should be helped to understand the role of professional help, and the nature of referral and consultation, etc.

Formal Lay Caregivers

The respondents indicated that deacons should be encouraging and training caregivers (27%), visiting (18%), responding to crises (23%), leading small groups (5%), actively working with poor and needy in the congregation (16%) and bridge building and referring (11%). The pattern of responsibilities suggested for the formal lay leaders is quite different {30} than that for the pastor, (e.g., the pastor is expected to train caregivers [64%]).

Also when only 4% of the respondents indicate they would contact a deacon when seeking help, we have a problem that suggests that deacons are either inaccessible, are not qualified, or are not legitimated. Regardless of how well our formal lay leaders are trained, the structure of the congregational community will dictate how accessible the deacons are. In a congregation in which deacons function as members or leaders of small groups, their accessibility will probably be higher.

Lay Informal Caregivers

Respondents answered the question “What is our congregation like?” in the following ways. Most feel that care is actively given to people within the church community (83%). However, only 27% indicate that members who err are challenged to faithful discipleship, and 17% indicate that people in the church are willing to deprive themselves of personal comforts in order to help those who are needy. Respondents generally thought that pastoral care should be directed more to the needs of the church (47%) than to needs outside the church (17%). When the focus of care is outside the congregation, 28% said it should be focused on the hungry, sick, and oppressed, while 34% indicated that the focus should be on the spiritually lost without Christ. The highest priority regarding the church seemed to be to win more non-Christians to Christ (33%) and develop more caring within the congregation (24%). The subgroup within the congregation which is regarded as most in need of strengthening is families with children (28%).

Thirty-two percent indicate they are involved in some Mennonite-related volunteer work. Twenty-two percent indicate they are involved in volunteer work for non-Mennonite Christian organizations. Twenty-seven percent indicate they are involved in volunteer work with civic groups. Sixty-eight percent indicate that they are involved in some form of voluntary service within their own congregation.

These percentages on voluntary service can be placed alongside other relevant data. Sixty-one percent of the respondents indicated that they attend church about once a week. Thirty-eight percent indicated they engage in some activity for spiritual growth on a daily basis. Most individuals in the survey indicate they have been members of a congregation more than {31} ten years (53%). Sixty-two percent indicated that they donated between $1,000 and $4,000 per year to their congregation. Seventy-one percent indicated that they had taught Sunday school and 57% indicated that they had served on an elected church board at one point in their lives. Thirty-three percent indicated they play a supporting rather than leadership role. Ninety-three percent of the respondents indicated that they had been Christians longer than ten years.

Most individuals in this survey said that they felt their church was caring. They feel accepted (79%) and included (71%). However, less than 50% indicate they feel the freedom to share their needs and concerns without fear of judgment (45%). Approximately 50% felt that there is a healthy tolerance of differing opinions in the congregation.

Several items addressed the issue of fellowship and care in the congregation. There seems to he consistent agreement that we will support persons with prayer in times of illness and special need (94%). However, only half of the respondents feel that problems between groups in the congregation are resolved by mutual effort, that people without an ethnic Mennonite background feel a part of the fellowship (4 1%) and that the whole spirit of the church makes people want to get as involved as possible.

I make the following observations:

  • High attendance at and commitment to the church indicates that the congregation itself can be an incredible resource for care.
  • Volunteer work is the heart of pastoral care in a congregation. It is, however, declining the more urban, professional and wealthy we become.
  • A fundamental dimension of pastoral care is the ability of a congregation to live with the diversity that comes with persons of different age levels, ethnic backgrounds, levels of maturity and commitment. Pastoral care is a fundamental commitment to respect for diversity together with a commitment to growth.
  • Whether pastoral care is directed inward or outward is a function of where the congregation is at a particular point in history. If they are very needy, to focus outwardly would be suicidal. If the focus is only inward, the congregation is being irresponsible. {32}
  • Generally the more involved persons are in a congregation, the greater the probability that their pastoral needs will be met.
  • Active involvement in the life of the congregation and in small groups is a fundamental resource for pastoral care, but it must be supported and utilized. Those who are more active report fewer needs.
  • If personal resources decrease, the pastoral needs will increase.
  • Training materials might focus on the importance of blessing those who provide pastoral care outside the congregation, and ways of doing so.

The following are some implications for training congregations in caregiving.

  • Training materials will need to stress the ways in which informal lay care is already occurring in congregations. Training is a form of empowerment and affirmation.
  • Training in lay pastoral care must emphasize the importance of discipleship, ethics and accountability. Part of training is stressing the importance of volunteerism. Training must include ways of making the church a community with a tradition of volunteerism.
  • Training must include ways of making the church a community that is less judgmental.
  • Training will need to deal with specific issues such as divorce, abortion and homosexuality.
  • If the community is to be a context of ethical decision making, there must be forums in which that can take place.


The data reviewed in this article was shaped by a simple model of how pastoral care occurs in the congregation. I suggest there are three components: Resources given, Resources received and Needs expressed. {33}


The questionnaire asked respondents to check off on a list of needs which they had experienced in the past year. The needs were categorized as spiritual, emotional, interpersonal, and practical. The results indicate that out of a possible 64 needs, respondents indicated that on average they had experienced approximately 12 needs, had received help on 4 and had given help with 5 needs.


G% R% N% *
7 16 60 Not reading, studying the Bible, or praying enough.
7 6 35 Lack of freedom to share Christ, to talk about the Lord with other people.
20 19 34 Not knowing God’s will—perceiving the direction the Lord is leading.
7 7 25 Unable to demonstrate in action the new life that Christ gives.
6 6 19 Not certain about forgiveness of sin and personal salvation.
3 4 19 Not finding joy in church service and in the practice of faith.
6 5 18 Not following the example of Jesus—the pattern he set for us.
4 4 18 Not able to love brothers or sisters in the church. {34}
8 6 18 Not doing God’s will—not being obedient to God’s leading.
8 4 18 Not feeling spiritual gifts and abilities are appreciated.
3 2 17 Not sensing God’s presence, or not experiencing his blessing.
8 4 13 Not showing in action that I expect a miracle from God.
6 3 13 Not doing what the Bible says.
10 3 10 Doubting—not really believing the promises that are there in Scripture.
6 2 7 Not being reconciled with those with whom I have a problem.
5 2 5 Not able to show care and love in action with others in the church.

* G = Help Given; R = Help Received; N = My Need. The numbers in the columns are percentages.


G% R% N% *
7 12 41 Fatigue—feeling tired, and unable to get going as one would like.
30 25 40 Depression—feeling low, or like things are just not right.
22 14 33 Loneliness—e.g., feeling separated, or without close friends.
10 8 29 Feeling stress, pressure, worry, or handwringing anxiety.
7 8 28 Irritability—being easily bothered, angry, or annoyed.
13 10 26 Feeling inferior—one-down, or below others or someone.
12 7 24 Feelings of being rejected—feeling damaged or hurt.
9 6 22 Overwhelmed—not knowing how to think or feel—wiped out.
10 10 18 Anger or bad temper—poorly controlled hostility or explosive rages.
15 8 18 Fearfulness—afraid of too many things, not feeling confidence. {35}
6 6 15 Feeling guilt feelings about wrongdoings, real or imagined.
3 3 15 Sexual feelings difficult to manage—lack of, or excessive desire.
8 3 14 Confused—difficulty with concentration—not knowing what to do.
4 2 13 Crying too easily, or experiencing uncontrolled feelings of sadness.
9 5 11 Despair—e.g., hopelessness, or feelings of desperation.
3 1 2 Sexual desire for own sex—homosexual or lesbian impulses.

* G = Help Given; R = Help Received; N = My Need. The numbers in the columns are percentages.


G% R% N% *
12 11 41 Withholding from other people—unable to share thoughts or feelings.
7 7 32 World situation distress—bothered by international events.
6 7 27 Intimacy missing—lack of closeness with friends or relatives.
8 8 22 Blaming—pointing at others, rather than sharing responsibility.
10 9 18 Indecisiveness—unable to make decisions, others have to make them.
5 4 16 Life seems too complex—overwhelmed/confused by modern US life.
9 3 15 Communication problem—e.g., unable to hear or listen to someone.
12 7 13 Conflict with superiors—e.g., parents, boss or supervisor.
7 6 13 Struggles as a male or female—conflicts over male or female roles.
8 6 12 Parenting problem—e.g., child discipline, or empty nest issue.
10 7 11 Arguing or fighting with other people—not getting along with them. {36}
6 3 10 Jealousy, or feeling unfavorably compared with others.
10 3 8 Disadvantage as a single—e.g., not fitting in among married people.
7 1 3 Racial or cultural disadvantage—e.g., as a minority group member.
9 1 2 Marital separation or divorce issue—e.g., between couple pair.
4 1 1 Abuse, physical or sexual—cruelty to a child, spouse, parent.

* G = Help Given; R = Help Received; N = My Need. The numbers in the columns are percentages.


G% R% N% *
5 5 37 Memory difficulty—e.g., forget names, faces, appointments.
9 11 35 In a rut—e.g., not exercising, or not meeting other goals.
6 6 32 Weight problem—overweight or underweight.
6 6 23 Eating problem—e.g., overeating, or not able to eat enough.
9 5 20 Not happy with physical appearance—not feeling attractive.
5 6 20 Sleep difficulty—e.g., can’t sleep, irregular breathing, etc.
5 5 19 Caught in a work rat-race—e.g., no time for a vacation.
8 6 18 Boredom—feeling a lack of interest, motivation, or challenge.
4 3 15 Lack of privacy—unable to find enough alone time.
7 5 12 In debt—e.g., not able to budget well, or spending money unwisely.
8 4 6 Legal problem—e.g., law suit, unsettled insurance claim, etc.
12 3 5 Transportation problem—e.g., vehicle inadequate, or can’t afford.
8 2 4 Physical or developmental handicap—e.g., with walking, or retardation. {37}
13 1 2 Poverty—lacking real needs because of lack of money.
9 2 2 Inadequate housing—e.g., living space needs, repair not available.
8 2 2 Substance abuse difficulty—e.g., use of alcohol or drugs.

* G = Help Given; R = Help Received; N = My Need. The numbers in the columns are percentages.

The three needs cited most frequently in each area were:

  1. Spiritual: not reading, studying, or praying enough (60%), lack of freedom to share Christ (35%), and not knowing God’s will (34%).
  2. Emotional: fatigue (41%), depression (40%), and loneliness (33%).
  3. Relational: withholding from other people (41%), distressing international events (32%), and lack of intimacy (27%).
  4. Practical: difficulty with memory (37%), living in a rut (35%), and problems with weight (32%).

I make the following comments on this data. Spirituality is a safe way to express needs in a religious setting. We feel less comfortable talking about our emotional, relational or practical needs. However, it should be added that the needs that a congregation reports most often are not only spiritual. The full range of human needs is expressed.

We are only now beginning to see the effects of physical and sexual abuse in our congregations; the demand on pastoral time will be incredible. These needs are mentioned relatively infrequently but will demand greater pastoral effort. We have tended to assume that in our congregations child, sexual and physical abuse, and spousal violence do not exist. They do. Furthermore, the amount of energy, courage and skill needed to deal with these issues far exceeds that spent on some other needs.

There is the temptation in a communal tradition to assume that we already have created community and intimacy. In reality, there is withholding and loneliness. Moreover, in a communal tradition there may be an even greater need to stress individual needs that are so easily neglected.

The number of individuals reporting the experience of depression seems high. Nationally, the average is 20% of the {38} population, though it is difficult to compare the data from several studies. Depression may be a result of a guilt producing culture, excessive control of women, excessive community identity, a legalistic Christianity, etc.

In terms of possible training materials that respond to these needs we would need to consider some of the following.

  • Training materials could include brief descriptions of how to recognize needs, e.g., how depression would manifest itself and ways of dealing with it.
  • Encourage the development of a trusted setting where persons can share their needs.
  • Train leaders how to organize and conduct small groups, wellness circles, covenant making, spiritual guidance.
  • Emphasize a grace-based theology to counter the guilt.
  • Provide prophetic pastoral care where needs are a function of middle-class existence.
  • Focus on the pull of the Spirit rather than the push of legalism.
  • Teach recognition of symptoms of abuse, legal responsibilities and ways of getting help (e.g., shelters, therapy).
  • Provide a model which explains the tension between individual and community, and its effects.

There was a section in the survey which examined developmental changes. Approximately 49% indicate that they are presently going through some developmental change (education, new relationships, pregnancy, parenting, or grandparenting). Forty-seven percent indicate they are going through a vocational change and 28% indicate that they are currently experiencing some major loss or illness.

These needs are precisely the kind to which lay persons can respond if given adequate training and support. Hence training materials might consider the following.

  • Provide information to lay caregivers on the developmental life change.
  • Provide steps for dealing with grief.
  • Train individuals how to respond one on one when there are severe losses.
  • Small groups are an ideal place to share the adjustment and stresses that come with vocational and developmental changes. {39}


The data suggest that in the congregations we surveyed we are giving help most frequently to the following emotional needs: depression (30%), loneliness (22%), fearfulness (15%), feeling rejected (12%). The spiritual need to which most help was given was not knowing God’s will. When asked on what needs they received help, respondents indicated that most help was received for needs such as depression (25%), not knowing God’s will (19%), not reading and studying the Bible (16%), fatigue (12%), feeling one is in a rut (11%) and withholding from other persons our thoughts and feelings (11%).

It is interesting to note on the spiritual need indicated most frequently (“Not reading or studying the Bible”) little help was given (7%). Similarly, other needs that were checked frequently and where little help was received include fatigue, memory difficulty, living in a rut, weight problems, and a distressing world situation. Those needs checked very frequently and where help was given include knowing God’s will, depression, loneliness, and withholding from others.

Several observations are noteworthy.

Help was given for about one half of the needs indicated. At the same time respondents indicated that in their congregation most persons would know if there was a need.

When we give help to one another in our congregations we are giving help most frequently in the area of emotional needs, not spiritual needs.


  • Train lay caregivers simple skills in listening, empathy, confrontation, problem solving skills.
  • Provide information regarding community resources for help.
  • Stress the importance of the early recognition of significant needs.
  • Demonstrate in video-tape sessions how not to allow one’s personal needs to control a caregiving event.
  • Build bridges to referral sources outside the congregation by having resource personnel speak in Sunday school or to the lay leaders. {40}
  • Train caregivers on appropriate and inappropriate reference to faith language in caregiving.
  • Teach caregivers how to detect self-talk, to monitor it daily, to analyze and to change it.
  • Train caregivers how to refer to resources for help within the congregation.
  • Provide training in conflict management.


  • Burck, Russell. “Pastoral Care and the People of God,” Pastoral Psychology 30 (Summer 1982), 139-52.
  • Dueck, Al. “The Caregiving Team,” Direction (1987), 2125.
  • Gibble, June A. and Fred H. Swartz, eds. Called to Caregiving: A Resource for Equipping Deacons in the Believers Church. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1987.
Dr. Al Dueck is Associate Professor of Pastoral Counseling at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

Previous | Next