I love filling in questionnaires! Some people don’t like giving personal details to surveys, but it depends on what they’re for. Have you ever wondered what ‘they’ do with the information you give to the Government in the national Census? Would you prefer not to participate in it or in other research projects? And do you think they’re a waste of time? See, there’s a few questions for you!
I’ve contributed some personal stuff to scientific research and also to the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) in Australia because I believe it could help others. In the latter one, they found that our church is among the top 100 churches in our nation with a very high participation rate in ‘Home Fellowship Groups’ – 85% of the total congregation.
A University lecturer is doing research into these groups and he wanted to talk to some of us. The pastor grabbed a cross-section of regular Connect Group attenders and my husband and I ended up as part of one of the groups he interviewed.
We joined him and ten other people in an office before the Sunday service. All ages were represented: teenagers to the elderly (us!). A couple were new Christians; some were shy, others eager to share their experiences! There were married, divorced, separated and single people. Our church is highly multicultural, so we had migrants, refugees… and a few Australian-born citizens! None of us were group leaders.
The researcher was fascinated with our contributions, especially the reasons why we’re faithful in our attendance. He was surprised when we told him how much we enjoyed having children in our meetings, especially when they actively participated by saying what they thought during the Bible studies, quickly found the scripture verses to read, and enthusiastically joined in the worship.
Another reason he was given was that new believers wanted to learn how to live the Christian life. One person said they watched how others behaved and, in spite of having absolutely no religious background, he could easily see how it all operated! I was touched when one man shared how he was helped when his security was threatened at his place of business and he didn’t know how to protect himself. His group took responsibility for him and supported his family.
The younger contributors said they loved the way they were encouraged to give their opinions among their peers, and one teenager said he often didn’t have much to say at the meetings because he was so interested in what everyone else said!
I’ve read about similar American research which found that people in a church with a high Home Group participation-rate had a problem with lack of civic interaction outside the church. But those researchers said it wouldn’t be a difficult situation to correct.
This doesn’t apply to us, because we have outreach into the community as part of our Group’s activities. That’s because we believe this two-fold statement of James, the brother of Jesus:
Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil. – James 1:27 (CEV).
I hope the researcher can use our experiences to find the key to our church’s high Connect Group participation. Is it the refreshing benefit of being together each week, studying the Bible, or what? I think it’s a combination of all those aspects and more. For myself, I know there are friends who are ‘there for me’ in the good and the hard times. And I’m there for them; we’re family. If my experience helps someone, I’ll be thrilled!