Christians in Practice?
When I arrived at the Saltley Trust two years ago, I hadn’t worked in the institution of the church before. As I embarked on the project, I knew there would be glass walls I couldn’t see. Every institution has its own culture and habits. Everyone else already seems to know where they are, but as a newcomer you can only discover them by bumping into them.
Still, with a good boss and a wise Reference Group on my side, I emerged with little more than a flattened nose and a bruise on my forehead. I didn't actually knock myself out at any point.
Now, as we embark on another round of research, I know where some of those walls are. As a project, we’re starting with an even stronger partnership; great networks; and more experience than we had last time.
That said, there are still two immediate challenges we have to feel our way through; and you might be able to help. Or know someone who can.
What Helps Disciples Grow heard from fewer under 40 year-olds than we would have liked. While the research cohort simply represented those in the churches we visited, it would still be great for our coming research to hear from younger people about their take on discipleship. It has been suggested that newer generations like to engage in individual activities and campaigns, rather than making long-term institutional commitments. Christians in Practice is in a good place to test that.
Likewise, while the ethnic balance of those we surveyed last time wasn't too far from that of the church in the region, we'd value connections with more people from ethnic minorities - especially those with Caribbean heritage. With What Helps Disciples Grow, we went to some trouble to build those connections; but we'd like to find even better ways to engage this time. At the moment we have quality connections but not the quantity that will show meaningful patterns across larger numbers of people. If we can get good numbers of African-Caribbean respondents, it will help tell their story as a distinctive part of the Christian tradition of this country.
Christians in deeply rural areas are also difficult to gather in sufficient numbers to get a critical mass of responses. Small village churches often don't assemble every week, and it's hard to tap into them. There are all kinds or reasons why faithful practice in isolated rural areas might be slightly different from elsewhere, and we'd like to capture that, if it exists.
In What Helps Disciples Grow there were tantalising hints that each of these groups: younger people, African-Caribbeans, and rural Christians, had distinctive stories to share. Can you help us find groups, individuals, projects or churches to work with? If so, please contact us.
We hope to launch the research results in Volunteers Week: the first week of June 2017. That means not hanging around! We would love to pilot our questionnaire with five churches or community activities such as projects in September 2016. We would join you to carry out questionnaire surveys, or provide a link to an online questionnaire, to your community. Are you willing to have us survey your community project, activity or church in September? If so, please contact us.
For us, it's all about working together with community activities, and churches. It's not easy to know where the people are, who will take part. The willingness to take part which we encountered in What Helps Disciples Grow is something to build on.... and I welcome anyone who wants to guide me through new parts of the glass maze that is the church in this region!