I was saying that if we want to be relevant, then there are two sides to the coin: to be relevant we need to understand the daily experience of those outside our church but who are part of our community, and we need to be able to see our church the way they see it.
Relevance means speaking truth into the important issues of peoples lives, and we can't do that without understanding their experience, or without understanding how they perceive us. I argued that, to the extent we fail to wrestle with these two challenges, so we fail in our great commission.
We can gain this knowledge in two ways: we can do research on the nature of our community, and we can get out there and listen to them in the street, in the bars and restaurants, in their homes, and in their workplace.
So then of course I had to go and do some research - I want to be part of the solution, not just point out a problem. Here's my start to hopefully get you thinking. I took the 2011 census results for the suburbs that surround us: The CBD, Gardens, Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof, and Vredehoek.
- This area has a total population of ~25000 people.
- Of these ~9% are under the age of 16, and ~9% are over the age of 64.
- The biggest age category is 16-34, while a full 81% are in the 16-64 age range. That means about 81% of our community are in the employment range!
- 47% of the people have tertiary education qualifications ... nearly half of all residents!
- The unemployment rate is a low ~4% ... that is amazing compared to our national average.
- While we have some rich people in the area, almost half of earners (48%) get less than R12500/month.
- Our residents are split between owning their home and renting, but the majority rent - 59%!
- Yet the typical household size is small, with the average being 2.3.
What does this tell us? It says that we live in a community that is dominated by well educated, working, young professionals who live as couples / partners, or perhaps as house mates. They're probably a fairly transient community as the majority are renting. Proportionally there are not many children and not many old people.
This means our community is mostly modern and mobile in both culture and lifestyle (these conclusions, of course, need to be backed up with actually talking to people). In terms of general characteristics this can tell us a lot, if we want to be serious about engaging with the community.
To go back to where I started. If we, as StB, want to be relevant to this community, if we as individuals want to best connect with them, then we need to ask ourselves some very specific questions.
- How do people such as these view the world; what are their attitudes to spirituality, which aspects of life causes them major stress, how do they understand relationship, what values do they have (where do their values come from), what occupies their time, what are their desires, how long will they stay here? And many more questions besides.
- How do these people perceive StB; visually, experientially, stylistically, topically, relationally, culturally, etc., and most importantly, how do they see StB in terms of relevance to their lives?
- What could I, or should I do about my presence in the community if I want to better serve them as Jesus served us?
To be Jesus to this community we need Jesus' eyes and understanding, we need his compassion. A key part of this is, I suggest, gaining understanding.
One small step at a time, one change to what I do, one person spoken to. Anyone up for the challenge?