The Difference Between Church Surveys and Assessments [and Why You Should Care]

Believe it or not, there’s a difference between surveys and assessments—both have their strengths and applications. By understanding what sets them apart, you’ll be able to identify which of these resources is right for your organization’s needs—giving you the means to better know and serve your people.

In this blog, we bring the battle and confusion of these two terms to an end. As you read on, you’ll learn what sets surveys and assessments apart and why the difference should matter to Champions like you. Furthermore, you’ll walk away understanding when to use them, and some helpful resources.

Why the Difference Really Matters

You’re probably already aware that you need a church survey or assessment—but did you know that the difference between the two can determine success or failure?

We understand why people often think they are the same. We even searched for a clear definition ourselves, which proved to reveal a bit of a grey area. But as it turns out, there is a significant difference, and using the wrong one for your needs can lead to failure.

Using the wrong measurement tool for your church can result in:

  • Collecting unhelpful information

  • A lack of engagement

  • Confused participants

  • Wasted time and effort

  • Missing out on important insights

  • Falling short of your goals

In the right scenario, both can serve as a key to your success—but it requires you to know the difference. For Champions who care about serving their people, this looks like using the right resource at the right time. Ready to learn which one is right for you?

Let’s dive in.


What’s the Difference?

As it turns out, surveys and assessments aren’t a “tomayto-tomahto” scenario. Science and research set the two apart. Let’s add some color to the grey area.


Surveys can look quite similar to assessments on the outside—sets of questions that can be deployed to an audience and collect responses. But while assessments commonly focus on measuring personal growth (as you’ll read more about in a moment), surveys measure participants from a higher level.

Dr. Nancy Scammacca-Lewis, who served as the lead statistician of spiritual life survey, REVEAL for Church explains, “Surveys aren’t trying to measure what’s in a person, but what’s outside of them, and their viewpoint of it.” Questions typically focus on an aggregate level, gathering thoughts and opinions about external aspects of life (think politics, market products, or opinions of an organization’s leadership).

Surveys are capable of collecting data, but typically aren’t configured to visualize a score or result. Rather than reflecting value back to the participant, a completed survey serves the administrator with the gathered information. Often times, you’ll find that surveys leave the participant with a simple thank you for their time and allow them on their way—a quick and easy way to gather high-level information.


Like questions in a survey, assessments include sets of items designed to measure participants and collect data. But the primary element that sets assessments apart from surveys is that they are validated and backed by science and research. If enough research exists to support it, a survey may even develop into an assessment.

Though not always apparent, assessment questions are research-driven to collect specific results and often rely on normative data to transform individual results or measurements directly into standardized scores. This may look like displaying results in low, mid, or high groups, or comparative scoring. Sounds complicated, right? That’s why assessments rely on data research and tested algorithms to function properly.

But behind the complexities of assessments lies a powerful motivation—to ask the questions that bring real change in people’s lives. Surveys focus questions around measuring higher-level information, while assessments aim to collect data about a person’s unique journey or growth. The data can then be analyzed using algorithms or scoring metrics to create valuable insights for serving someone in their personal growth.

Former CEO and founder, Tim Wolters shares, “Assessment questions are carefully crafted to meet the research requirements around validity and reliability.” In other words, putting the research behind the questions can help generate value and build trust.

Strengths of a Survey

First and foremost, surveys are user-friendly. This makes them appealing to a great deal of organizations that either lack time or resources, or want to create highly-customizable sets of basic questions. If you’re looking to create something quickly yourself, surveys are the way to go. Multiple DIY survey builders exist to make creating your own survey easy and effective. A few of our favorites are SurveyMonkey and Typeform. There are even some platforms dedicated to creating church surveys specifically. In addition, surveys are a great way to ask questions focused on trending topics, as seen with Buzzfeed. Amongst some of the most valuable information collected by surveys is the response frequency of your participants, as well as higher-level information like opinions and preferences.

Strengths of an Assessment

If you’re looking to gain deeper information about your people, discover trends, or act on insights, then an assessment is what you want. At their core, assessments are backed by science and research, allowing them to help you know the right questions to ask. Asking the right questions can help collect valuable information about your people—something churches care a lot about. Validated assessments are able to collect information and visualize reports and scores. In addition to providing value to the administrator, these results have the ability to offer helpful information back to the participant and match them to actionable next steps. In doing so, assessments have the ability to establish trust through providing relevant value to one who takes it. Despite the seeming complications, the right assessments are user-friendly and provide all the tools necessary to collect the valuable insights you need.

A quick note about measuring personal growth:

Companies aiming to measure the personal growth of their people and provide actionable outcomes hold a certain level of responsibility. Psychologist and Director of  Assessments at Gloo, Dr. Peter Larson explains, “It's a big responsibility to take on the role of shepherding someone else’s growth. A validated assessment gives you a head start and provides a roadmap you [and your people] can trust.” For Champions, having the right resources to aid in serving your people will only help serve your mission—and in turn, the personal growth of your people.

The Difference Between Church Surveys and Assessments [and Why You Should Care] _Peter_larson_quote

Using Surveys and Assessments

Now that you have the lay of the land, you can see that surveys and assessments are both useful and powerful tools. So which one is right for you? Here are some examples to help you decide.

When to Use a Church Survey

Surveys are great for quick gut checks and gauging the general voice of the crowd. Use surveys when trying to understand the sentiments, opinions, or preferences of your people. You can think of a survey as the barometer of how people feel or what they’re interested in. Furthermore, a survey might be good to use when you don’t have the time or inclination to do the deeper research behind the questions you want to ask—you may not even need the research for your purposes.

Consider using a survey for:

  • Informal events

  • Fun small group icebreakers

  • Reading the room

  • High-level information

  • Trending topics

  • Asking questions without the intent of next steps

When to Use a Church Assessment

A good indicator that you’ll want to use an assessment for your church is if you plan to make recommendations or suggest actionable next steps based on your participant’s results. This requires, analyzing data for insights—something assessments are built specifically for. A validated assessment is a sure way to develop trust with your people and offer them relevant value while also gaining key insights yourself. In addition, you’ll be better off using an assessment if the information you’re wanting to measure is unique to an individual’s growth. Dr. Scammacca-Lewis explains, “You wouldn’t go out and buy a scale that only measured in 10-pound increments, or a ruler that only measured in 3-inch marks. The same is true with assessments. People want a more precise way to measure their progress.”

The Difference Between Church Surveys and Assessments [and Why You Should Care]_Scammacca_lewis_quote

Consider using an assessment for:

  • Measuring progress on a journey of growth, spiritual formation or health

  • Helping someone get plugged in at your church

  • Uncovering deeper insights and trends (giving habits, changes, etc.)

  • Strategizing the direction for your ministry

  • Finding where to start a new location

  • Suggesting actionable next steps based on results

Sound Complicated? We’ve Made it Easy.

If this sounds overly-complicated, fear not. We created this free checklist to guide you through the process of selecting and deploying an assessment at your church. You can also learn more about assessments by reaching out for a custom demo of our assessment products.


The Power of Knowing

For Champion organizations, knowledge truly is power. The more you know about your people, the better you can serve them. Obtaining the information you need can look different, depending on what you’re wanting to learn, who you’re asking, and why you’re wanting to gain information in the first place. Surveys and assessments, though different, can both be a powerful resource to use for your organization. Now that you know the difference between the two, you can make your next decision with confidence. In the end, data science and research, and actionable next steps are what separate assessments from surveys. All that’s left is to decide which of the two better serve your needs.