We may count the number of persons added to the church over a given period, of course, as one measure of success. But this is a rather rough evaluation, for it doesn't reveal either the target populations being appealed to most effectively or the methods that produced the greatest results. A more discriminating measure is called for.
To meet this need the Institute of Church Ministry has developed the New Member Survey, designed to be used with converts who have been in the church less than a year. Several conferences are using it to gather information from all newly baptized members. (Note the reproduction of the survey that accompanies this article. The following paragraphs describe and refer to the survey.)
The survey begins by asking for the religious background of the new member. What types of people are becoming Adventists? Do they come largely from secular backgrounds or from other denominations? If the latter, which groups are more receptive to our mes sage? Is most of our growth "biological" in nature—coming from Adventist homes? Knowing the background helps us to measure the appeal of our approaches to various groups. Perhaps most importantly, we discover populations that we are not reaching at all. The next five questions deal with the methods and processes that led the convert to join the church. The variety of questions demonstrates that there are different ways of viewing this experience. Question 2 attempts to locate the most attractive general feature. Question 4 allows the convert to rate the influence of twenty-eight different sources. This is more helpful than simply picking the single strongest influence. For example, choice number 8—relative—is usually rated very highly. But many of those being surveyed have united with the church through an evangelistic series and so also rate number 16 quite highly. The strength of evangelistic meetings would be obscured if only the strongest influence were selected. On the other hand, question 5 attempts to identify the entering wedge—the first influence rather than the strongest.
Questions 8-11 move beyond the process of joining the church to integration into it. What happens to the new member after he or she leaves the baptismal waters? The survey rates various ministries as to their helpfulness in strengthening the Christian life of the newcomer. It determines how active the convert has become and his or her present relationship to the church. It tests the climate of fellowship in the congregation.
Questions 7 and 12-18 provide valuable demographic information that enables church planners to determine specific groups that the church is or is not reaching. The instrument is particularly valuable when used in conjunction with a demographic profile of the congregation's territory based on Census Bureau information. The combination of these two research tools provides the local church growth-planning team with the information necessary to identify groups that are most "winnable." How is this possible?
1. The New Member Survey helps to identify the type of people the church, conference, or particular evangelists have been reaching.
2. The demographic information helps to identify the location of these types of people within the specified territory.
3. These populations can then be targeted with direct mail or home-delivered advertising, Bible study cards, et cetera, in order to maximize the effectiveness of current programs. The church can greatly improve its steward ship in this way. Instead of mass mailing fifty thousand handbills throughout the city, it can secure a mailing list of individuals who are most likely to be receptive to the particular method of evangelism it is using.
4. The demographics will assist planners in determining the type of people in the community who are not being reached by present methods of evangelism. Then the planners can study these groups to discover their felt needs and can experiment with new methods of evangelism. Continuing evangelistic effectiveness is dependent upon this kind of information.
5. The New Member Survey can be helpful in matching an evangelist's skills to the needs of a community. If an evangelist asks each individual he baptizes to fill out this survey, in a short time he will be able to determine which populations he is most effectively reaching. This offers two benefits: first, advertising is much more effective when it is able to target specific populations; second, cities that should be especially receptive to a particular style of evangelism can be identified.
The approach of combining the New Member Survey with demographic studies has been successfully employed by the Lake Union Soul-Winning Institute (LUSI) in Chicago. Its work has demonstrated how the use of research tools can dramatically increase results in evangelism for the same number of dollars spent.
LUSI has employed these methods to identify target population groups and plant new churches. Recently the Institute of Church Ministry did a computerized study of Chicago to help identify population groups that would be receptive to the planting of new Adventist congregations. The survey pointed out the Marquette Park/Garfield Ridge neighborhood as one such area. Surprisingly, this locality contained 180,000 people and approximately 70,000 house holds, but no Seventh-day Adventist church. It has a lower-middle-class, basically white population, with incomes ranging from $18,000 to $21,000. In August, 1982, LUSI began working in the area, using a sequence of evangelistic tools including community surveys, personal Bible studies, health programs (the Five-Day Plan, natural foods cookery, and stress seminars), and a reaping meeting. Two cycles of this sequence have produced fifty-eight baptisms and a new church with seventy members in this location.
LUSI has also been using the New Member Survey to determine the kind of people they are reaching in Chicago. The facts uncovered have enabled them to analyze their approaches in advertising and are helping them to broaden out to those segments of the population that they are not yet reaching and to strengthen their approach for those whom they are reaching. It is exciting to recognize the Holy Spirit's work as the development of more research tools increases the effectiveness of our evangelists.
The Institute of Church Ministry has also developed a computer profile to display the results of a particular survey in a manner that will make them easily usable. The profile can depict converts brought into a particular church, those becoming members during a particular evangelistic campaign even though they might join several local congregations, those won in a particular area of the conference, or the new additions to an entire conference. The profile lists each question and gives the percentage of the respondents who chose each possible answer. One may even select the people who made any particular choice or combination of choices and obtain a profile of them. For example, one can create a profile of those who came from a secular background (question 1:1) or of those who were greatly influenced by a series of public meetings (question 4:16) or of those meeting both conditions.
Such a profile offers valuable information for a local congregation or a particular evangelist in evaluating the results of a church growth thrust. Every church, conference, or other area garners its own unique group of new members. We can only determine whom we are winning and whom we are not effectively reaching as we discover and study the profiles of these groups. This survey also allows church planners to see the methods that are most effective with the target populations in the assigned area. Finally, we are able to chart our progress in integrating the new members into the life and service of the congregation.