The National Ministry Survey is a new initiative to help us get a clear-sighted view of the national landscape in relation to evangelism, training and gospel ministry.
Driven by data not dates?
In many ways, when it comes to mission, ‘data-driven’ is not at all what we want to be:
- We want to be driven by a passion for the Lord Jesus and his glory.
- We want to be driven by a passion for those around us who don’t know him.
- We want to be driven by the Bible – in both our message and our methods.
- We want to be driven, to a certain extent, by dates – having an Easter 2022 mission in the diary is great for focusing the mind and gets us planning and praying and working towards that (always allowing for God to change our plans).
- We want to preach the gospel ‘in season or out of season’ – regardless of whether the ‘data’ shows it is popular or unpopular.
- We want to be prayerfully depending on God to work – knowing that there are spiritual realities – the Spirit and the Enemy – that are unseen and unpredictable.
However… we don’t want to ignore data. God has created a reality which is observable and is actually there. Creation is not an illusion. If you close your eyes and walk forward you will bump into it. If the windscreen is fogged up we’re in danger of missing something and having a nasty accident. In the same way, if we’re not seeing clearly the social reality and church reality around us we will get in trouble on gospel mission.
While the Bible exhorts us to do many things regardless of what is going on around us (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:16-18), there are plenty of cases where we are supposed to be aware of who we’re speaking to (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:14). We see Jesus and the Apostles constantly adapting their tone and approach to the particular individuals or groups in front of them and having genuine conversations which react to the reactions.
And there is a regular concern for numbers. Fishermen count fish. Shepherds count sheep. Farmers don’t work hard for fun – they work for a harvest, fruit. Through the Book of Acts we see regular ‘reports’ of the differing reactions to the gospel, the different experiences of the church and how many (or how few) were saved in each place.
In a similar way, at the beginning of 2022, it will be hugely valuable to have data on our mission context in the UK, to see how the church in the UK is doing and what the Lord is doing amongst us.
A new research project
October 2021 saw the roll out of a National Ministry Survey seeking to help us see more clearly for mission. A Passion for Life, FIEC, ReNew, Co-Mission and others worked together to formulate the hypotheses and questions that would be tested in this research. Two highly experienced research companies – Savanta-ComRes and McCrindle – were commissioned to pursue three strands of enquiry:
- A survey of non-Christian members of the general public – particularly exploring openness to evangelism.
- A survey of ‘active Protestants’ i.e. regular attendees of Protestant churches – particularly exploring confidence in evangelism.
- A survey of evangelical church leaders – particularly exploring perceptions, needs, and approaches in mission, leadership and training.
We wanted to have up-to-date, post-Covid data on:
- How open different groups might be to having a conversation about Jesus or to particular sorts of invitations.
- Why people say they would not be interested.
- Reasons people give for coming to Christ.
- Reasons people give for leaving the church in teenage years.
- How equipped or confident Christians feel about sharing the gospel.
- What is holding believers back from sharing the gospel more.
- The extent to which our churches are reaching diverse cultures.
- Factors that may be inhibiting or accelerating church planting.
- Congregational and leadership training gaps.
And now it’s here
Of course it doesn’t give us the whole picture. But it does help us see more clearly some trends and realities that will really help us in mission.
- The master report, synthesising the key insights from all three strands of the research is the National Ministry Survey from McCrindle
- The back material, a wealth of data on our mission context, is the NMS General Public & Active Protestants report from Savanta-ComRes.
Why not click on the links to read these reports now and see your context and opportunities more clearly?
Let’s not be data-driven but let’s be data-aware, context-aware, reality-aware, people-aware.
[An earlier version of this article appeared on the A Passion For Life blog.]