Evaluating Your Church

There’s a monthly feature in Outreach magazine called “Mystery Visitor.” I keep waiting for them to cover Jewel Lake Parish. In the meantime, if you’d like to try being a mystery visitor yourself, here’s my attempt to work backwards from a column (the September/October 2013 issue) to reconstruct it as a questionnaire.

First Impressions

Did people welcome you? Where?

Did people invite you for coffee?

Children’s Ministry

Was it obvious what you should do if you had children? Were there instructions?

Were there children in the worship service?

Was child care located in an obvious place?

Diversity

Was there visible diversity in the congregation?

Did you see or hear anything to suggest that diversity is valued by the congregation?

Worship Service

How would you describe the type of music?

Were there parts of the service that you didn’t understand? What were they?

How long was the message?

How clearly did it relate to your life?

How clearly did it connect with the Bible?

Friendliness

Rate how friendly the congregation was on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is “cold and aloof,” 3 is “just right” and 5 is “needy and desperate.”

Coming Back

Considering everything, how likely are you to return?

Americans to Become More Religious…

… but less Protestant, according to polling conducted by the Gallup organization. They say fewer people are “protestant” not because they’re becoming Catholic or Orthodox (or a non-Christian faith) as much as because they are identifying themselves as “unbranded” (which is to say, non-denominational Protestant). The reason for growth in religion is mostly demographic: people become more religious with age and the boomers aren’t getting any younger.

Some other highlights:

Religiousness increases with age, albeit not in a smooth path but rather in stages. Americans are least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80.

Upscale Americans are less religious than those with lower levels of education and income, but better-off Americans attend religious services just as often.

Growing?

A survey of the fastest-growing Presbyterian churches shows they have lots of outreach vehicles. (Well, the article said “tentacles,” but I’m not comfortable with that image!)

One way these churches reach out is really reaching in to the congregation to communicate with members and to get people involved as members. They do that by using their websites and offering new member classes.

The fastest-growing congregations reach out to guests by offering multiple worship services and even starting new ones, among other things.

They also reach out to people in need by offering emergency relief, sponsoring mission trips, and allowing community groups to use their facilities.

A lot of those should sound familiar. Jewel Lake Parish is acting a lot like the fastest-growing churches in our denomination. What if it works?

Have you given any thought to who God might be bringing to us? What needs do they have? What gifts do they bring? What could we do with their help?

Take a look at the survey. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What Can Churches Do?

We are frequently reminded that the church must change, if it wants to meet the needs of a society that has changed more rapidly than the church. One of those changes is that so few young people can be found in churches.

Beginning with the baby boomers, and continuing through Generation X and the Millenial generation, people are staying away from churches in droves.

It’s disappointing to think that our church might not outlast us. But it’s a tragedy to know there are people who never experience what the church has given us: worship that lifts us into God’s presence, a community that loves and encourages us, and spiritual formation that helps us become better people.

If you like your church, that’s probably a disturbing thought. But there is a role for the church. Ed Stetzer surveyed younger unchurched people in the U.S. to find out, among other things, their openness to different kinds of outreach. Here’s are three results that may surprise you, but should certainly encourage you:

  • 63% of young, unchurched people agreed with the statement: “If a church presented truth to me in an understandable way that relates to my life now, I would attend.”
  • 58% agreed with the statement: “If people at church cared about me as a person, I would be more likely to attend.”
  • 46% agreed with the statement: “I would be willing to join a small group of people to learn more about the Bible and Jesus.”

There’s no good reason we in the church can’t do all those things. Smaller churches often don’t have small groups, and may not need them as urgently as larger churches do, but the first two items should be important at every church. Think about that: your church is already attractive to over half the people you meet! (Or it ought to be!)

(Stetzer’s data is from Lost and Found, p. 38. Interestingly, Stetzer also asked about worship style, and found that less than a third agreed with the statement: “if music at church sounded similar to my favorite type of music, I would be more likely to attend.” People aren’t stupid: they can get all the music they want “for a song.” What they want, and have trouble finding outside the church, is authentic community and truth that relates to their life.)

Age Differences in Faith Increasing?

There’s a disturbing trend in the latest Pew Survey data, released Monday:

Nonetheless, there are some demographic and partisan differences over religious values. In the current survey, 68% of Millennials say they never doubt the existence of God, a decline of 15 points since 2007. Over this period, the proportion of older age cohorts expressing firm belief in God has remained stable.

(See the article for charts of the decline.)

I think we all doubt God’s existence from time to time. Occasional doubts aren’t the same thing as disbelief. But still, that is a huge drop in a very short time. (In fact, it’s so big a change, I wonder if it was already partly true in 2007, but now, for whatever reason, people are more willing to admit their doubts. Either way, though, what was true in 2007 isn’t as important as what’s true today.)

This survey underscores that for the church in North America, our homes and neighborhoods are increasingly the mission field. I hope our church is willing to step up and make outreach to younger generations a greater part of our identity.

Belief In God

Here’s a couple of interesting articles about faith.

The first article comes out of the General Social Survey by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.

It’s got a number of interesting points, one of which is that religious belief increases with age. (That is, older people say they have become more religious than younger people.) (Older people tend to be more religious than younger people, too, but that’s different. If people used to become religious at a fixed rate, and now do at at lower rate, there would be more older religious people. But this question suggests that people tend to become religious as they grow older.)

“Looking at differences among age groups, the largest increases in belief in God most often occur among those 58 years of age and older,” Smith said in a statement, referring to the change in belief between the 58 to 67 age group and those 68 and older. “This suggests that belief in God is especially likely to increase among the oldest groups, perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality.”

There is some really interesting data in the survey, and it provides some tools so you can play with it.

The second article is entitled “Analytic Thinking Can Decrease Religious Belief.” The way people, even devout believers, think seems to govern what they think:

The researchers, who assessed participants’ belief levels using a variety of self-reported measures, found that religious belief decreased when participants engaged in analytic tasks, compared to participants who engaged in tasks that did not involve analytic thinking.