the one-person poll: worth some trepidation

This occasional series, “Worth Some Trepidation,” explores some of the Big Ideas college ministers often pursue without recognizing their inherent difficulties or poor track records. While any of these could be the right method for a ministry, they’re easy to adopt too quickly.

As college ministers, looking for ideas from our students makes a lot of sense. College ministry is hard, and our audience is both rapidly changing and regularly fickle. We want to know what students need, what they want, and what they think about our ministry. Without a doubt.

But in my experience, I’ve seen how easy it is to weigh individual students’ comments too heavily. One student says they dislike the small group material… or think we should do a rafting… or really liked the last teaching series, and we take it nearly as seriously as we would if a dozen students said the same thing. (Or we assume the next dozen students we ask would indeed say the same thing!)

It’s natural (since we’re human) to forget that sample size matters. A poll of one – especially an unrequested poll! – VERY likely doesn’t reflect the group as a whole. So we need to be very, very careful before we let those critiques, praises, or ideas mean too much to us (let alone acting on them). A “poll of one” may indeed provide us with that next great bit of wisdom. But we should never expect it to.

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