by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/19/15.
A student once shared that he thought his church was doing a pretty good job of ascertaining the needs of others, because they encouraged congregants to connect with people in the community and report back to the church leadership. The student stated, “…our members are often a source of information leading us to determine the needs of the unchurched. This is often members sharing the needs of unchurched neighbors friends, family and co-workers. This has been an opportunity for us to help members see how they can take a role in serving others.”
Here is why I feel that this may not be the best approach. As you know, Graduate Schools (such as seminaries) are places were research takes place. And, there are two kinds of research, primary and secondary. Primary research is where you collect the data (e.g. interview people) yourself, and secondary research is where you talk to people who interview then interview others. The point I am making in Growth By Accident, Death by Planning, is that church leaders too often reply on the research of others, instead of doing the research themselves.
This may be what is inadvertently happening at this student’s church. As your professor of “local church research” I would have to say that “our members are often a source of information leading us to determine the needs of the unchurched” is not the best research. And, since I want all of you to do the best research possible, I would suggest each of you design a process to connect your leaders with unchurched people too.
Further rationale for this is that when you are face-to-face with the unchurched you can see the body language, inflection in the voice, etc. and not be getting your information through a second-hand filter.