Surveying a Community – One Church’s Discovery
by Darcy Taplin
Interact Magazine 1991
Volume 2 Number 3
This survey took its inspiration from Rick Warren whose article on planning effective outreach suggested the following; ‘Know the felt needs of the unchurched in your community‘. There is one fairly simple and effective way to do this. take an opinion poll of at least 100 households in your ministry area. Warren, founding Pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, used five questions modified from those of Robert Schuller.
On 27th July 1991, 39 callers from Narwee Baptist Church called randomly on 400 homes in the ministry area, using an adapted form of this questionnaire. Realising that many folk would be out and that others would be churchgoers, this number was chosen in the hope that we would finish with 100 plus forms from unchurched people.
One hundred and sixty-five survey forms from unchurched people were ‘usable’. Researchers suggest that more than 50 relies in a survey of this kind is ‘statistically significant.’ We were well over that number in answer to every question.
The Questions and the Responses
Question 1 identified folk as regular or non-church goers.
The survey only continued beyond question 1 with non-Church goers.
Question 2 – What do you think is the greatest need in Narwee?
(123 replies, 59 ‘no idea’)
The two most frequently mentioned answers were,
‘Assisting youth, and youth activities’ (mentioned 18 times)
‘Care for elderly’ (mentioned 11 times)
Question 3 – Why do you think most people don’t attend church?
(165 replies, 33 ‘no idea’)
The most frequent replies were,
‘Too busy, other interests’ (mentioned 45 times)
‘Too lazy’ (mentioned 22 times)
‘Not relevant for today’ (mentioned 12 times)
‘No faith / don’t believe in God’ (mentioned 10 times)
Question 4 – If you were looking for a church in the area, what kinds of things would you be looking for?
(151 replies, 61 ‘no idea’)
The most frequently mentioned answers were,
‘Friendship / fellowship’ (mentioned 29 times)
‘Youth / Child Care’ (mentioned 13 times)
Only eight people expressed a preference for a ‘particular denomination’ while seven answered ‘a variety of activities’.
Question 5 – What advice would you give us as members of Narwee Baptist Church as we seek to serve the community?
(125 replies, 50 ‘no idea’)
The most frequently mentioned answers were,
‘Keep on doing what you are doing’ (mentioned 17 times)
‘Be community minded’ – specific reference was made by some to ‘care for the elderly’ and ‘affordable child care’ (mentioned 14 times).
‘Personal contact / get to know people’ (mentioned 12 times)
Narwee Baptist Church appears to have a good reputation in the community. Gains could be made by more regular contact and ‘dialogue’ with the community. Clearly there is a need to lift our advertising budget using direct mail (enveloped letter box drops), advertising in the local newspapers and perhaps theatre screens. Few people were aggressively hostile to the church. Only eight respondents indicated that earlier negative experiences had ‘turned them off’ the church. ‘Not interested’, ‘no comment’, ‘no idea’ was easily the biggest response to every question. More than a token effort will be needed to break through the apathy and indifference to spiritual things by our fellow Australians.
Careful thought needs to be given to why most people don’t go to church: ‘too busy’, ‘too lazy’, ‘not relevant’ (79 such answers). Streamlined programming and relevant messages could be significant initiatives for a large audience out there. It seems it is not that people ‘don’t believe’ but that many see church life as unimportant.
Twenty-nine people identified ‘friendship / fellowship’ as what they would be looking for if they were looking for a church. The implications of this answer are at once both clear and challenging. We need to seriously face the question of whether we genuinely desire to welcome newcomers and move beyond an initial greeting to offer them a place in our friendship circles.
New people feel they belong in a (larger) church when they find either a ministry or a group. If we take the challenge of penetrating into the community and church growth seriously, we will certainly need to train more group leaders and have groups develop a ‘growth’ as well as ‘in fellowship’ and ‘maintenance’ mentality. We may need also to commence other groups, eg. interest and / or age groups.
In many respects Narwee Baptist Church is at a crossroads. A fair evaluation would say our congregation is ‘greying’. The ministry area is in transition. Narwee is multicultural. For Narwee Baptist Church to grow numerically through the nineties, a price will have to be paid. Part of that price is high commitment.
Darcy Taplin is the minister of Narwee Baptist Church, NSW.
© Rev Darcy Taplin (1 November 1991)