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. In the same way, if we keep our eyes closed to the reality around us in mission we will get in trouble.
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, as we head towards 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
September 2021 will see the rolling out of a National Ministry Survey seeking to help us see more clearly for mission. A Passion for Life has been involved, alongside the FIEC, ReNew, Co-Mission and others in formulating the hypotheses and questions that will be tested in this research. Two highly experienced research companies – ComRes-Savanta and McCrindle – have been commissioned and there will be three strands to the research:
- A survey of non-Christian members of the general public – particularly exploring openness to evangelism.
- A survey of Protestant church-goers – particularly exploring confidence in evangelism.
- A survey of evangelical church leaders – particularly exploring perceptions, needs, and approaches in mission, leadership and training.
I’m sure you’d agree it would be helpful 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 given for people coming to Christ.
- Reasons given 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 have a strong culture of sacrificial discipleship.
- The extent to which our churches are reaching diverse cultures.
- Factors that may be inhibiting or accelerating church planting.
- Congregational and leadership training gaps.
That’s the sort of data the National Ministry Survey is seeking. It won’t give us the whole picture. But it could help us see more clearly some trends and realities that will really help us in mission. Please pray that it would do that. And if you are a pastor/vicar or assistant pastor/curate or someone on a church leadership team we would love your help with the church leaders’ strand of the survey. The survey will be shared from 20 September to 8 October. It should only take 10 minutes to complete, and the more church leaders there are who complete that survey the more helpful the results will be. Access the survey here.
Let’s not be data-driven but let’s be data-aware, context-aware, reality-aware, people-aware.