The Congregation Assessment Tool™ began as the Church Planning Questionnaire. The Church Planning Questionnaire was developed by Dr. Grayson Tucker who served as the Dean of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary for seven years. The survey was developed in 1974 under the guidance and inspiration of Dr. Ron Lippitt, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Psychology at the University of Michigan who encouraged Dr. Tucker to integrate the learnings of organizational research with the operations of the church. The research work of Dean Hoge, Professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, also provided impetus for a more intentional evaluation of congregational health. The Church Planning Questionnaire was one of the results of those influences.

The Church Planning Questionnaire was developed to meet the following criteria:

  • It should serve both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations.
  • It should reflect the climate of the church rather than a lengthy evaluation of every program of the church with the understanding that a positive church climate creates a field of health that is conducive to and reflective of effective programming.
  • It should register the particular theological orientation of the congregation and the way faith functions in its life rather than focus solely on operational issues.
  • It should not only capture a snapshot of the current state of the church, it should also include the priorities for a preferred future.
  • It should provide a method for normalizing the data in order to determine what is typical, what is exceptional, and what is problematic.
  • In setting norms, it should recognize the dynamics of church size and that different sized churches have different characteristics.
  • It should provide a way to computerize the data so that relationships between portions of the survey could be explored.
  • It should allow for customization of the survey to address issues facing particular congregations. The Church Planning

To date, the Church Planning Questionnaire has been used with over 5,000 of congregations from 22 different denominations in 49 different states and Canada including, but not exclusive to, American Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church of American, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod, United Church of Christ, Moravian Church, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Free Church of America, and United Methodist.

After Grayson Tucker’s retirement, the work with the questionnaire was continued by J. Russell and Cecelia Crabtree who both worked as clergy and lay leaders in the church.  Russ Crabtree updated the computer report generated by the questionnaire to include graphics and narrative text.  It has been used systematically by regional bodies with churches in transition and continues to be an important tool for churches doing strategic planning. 

In 2014, Holy Cow! Consulting was purchased by Emily Swanson. Emily has a Juris Doctorate degree with a background in managing business, working on church staff, litigation and building training curriculum around culture in the legal world as an attorney.  

The questionnaire was significantly revised and updated in 2006 and again in 2016 and 2022 to reflect changes in congregations over the years. The instrument has also been renamed the Congregation Assessment Tool.  Other updates have been made over the last  few years to include COVID benchmarking  and other needed adjustments to help the CAT be the most effective benchmarked tool on the market for congregations.