Lizette Beard: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insights into today’s church and culture.[00:23] Welcome, everyone. I’m Lizette Beard, and I’m here with my colleagues Scott McConnell and Casey Oliver. Today we are talking about areas where churches are serving. [00:45] First, let’s stop, and we’re going to have some true confession time. What is an area of service or volunteering your church or your small group does that is so good, and you’re so supportive of it, but you really want to be the last person picked to ever go do it? Is there an area of service where you’re like, “Please, I just don’t want to”? It’s your least favorite. [01:15] I’ll share mine, give you a moment. This is terrible, so I’m saying…
Lizette: [01:22] This is terrible, but I always seem to be in small groups that have a heart for nursing homes. There are people who love to go to nursing homes, but then they come back with stories of clipping toenails, holding hands, all of that kind of stuff. Even eating ice cream in the dining room, which sounds great.
Scott McConnell: [02:06] That would make a good blog post, all the excuses that you’ve used to get out of these opportunities.
Lizette: [02:12] When you’re around folks, and maybe it’s the folks who have a higher gifting and mercy. I don’t want to give myself an excuse, but if it’s a spiritual gift of mercy, that is my excuse, because that’s so low.[02:31] That’s the one where I’m always like, “I’m a terrible person.” When do you think, “Oh my gosh, I’m a terrible person”? [02:38] Not me. I don’t want to know when you think I’m a terrible person. I want to know your…
Casey Oliver: [02:42] I’m going to change the question a little bit, because I’m allowed to.
Scott: [02:46] He’s uncomfortable with that.
Casey: [02:47] No, it’s that it’s harder for me to an area of, “Oh, this is a specific ministry of my church.” It’s actually at home…where I think every dirty job, like changing the cat litter, things like that, I feel grossed out by it. I tend to, “Oh, I’m not going to notice this for another day, and hope Mary Beth takes care…” Again, if we’re sharing the “Why am I a terrible person?” that’s one for me.
Lizette: [03:15] That’s very fulfilling. That’s, actually, a very good one.
Scott: [03:19] You did it to yourself by having the cats in the first place.
Scott: [03:25] This one’s going to sound bad. There’s no other way around it.
Lizette: [03:28] I said nursing homes.
Scott: [03:32] To me, hospital visits are like that. There’s probably never been a hospital visit where I didn’t walk away glad I went, and glad I visited, but the whole experience of not knowing what you’re walking into, sometimes not even knowing the people that I’ve been asked to go see as a deacon, it’s uncomfortable.
Casey: [03:56] I’m actually going to come back around.
Casey: [03:56] I’m not going to share more, but to what Scott said, I just had, relatively recently, as a deacon, our first time where I was supposed to visit a funeral home in our grief ministry. I didn’t know the person, and I didn’t feel like I was going to know anyone there.[04:20] It was really uncomfortable, because I’m walking into this place, and I’m going to try to encourage them in some way. What would I say as a stranger, basically?
Casey: [04:32] It was nice, because there was another deacon who came with me, and we said, “Hey, we’re here on behalf of the church.” It wound up being a meaningful experience, but on the front end I thought, “Oh, I don’t have anything to say here, anything to offer. Why am I coming to this?” Some stranger shows up at your person’s funeral home.
Lizette: [04:55] In all fairness, I do think Casey and I shared worse ones, because I certainly can understand it can be that you don’t want there to be a bad experience for the person you’re visiting, whereas our people would really have been thankful for some help and some encouragement.
Casey: [05:20] Mary Beth, specifically.
Lizette: [05:21] Yes. I feel there’s some kind of…
Casey: [05:26] Cathartic?
Lizette: [05:27] Yeah, that’s a very cathartic beginning to that. Our question this time asked Americans which, if any, of the following areas of service have you heard local Christian churches or their members doing in the last six months?
Casey: [06:43] I didn’t. Actually, one of the other points that Scott and I had been talking about beforehand is to what extent is it good when people don’t know about some of the things we’re doing. Now I’m letting the left hand know what the right hand’s doing via national… No, that’s fine.
Lizette: [06:57] You didn’t know. I know everyone would be tickled to know that I don’t actually talk to you guys before these, because I really enjoy surprising you.
Casey: [07:05] I’ll say, at our church and ministry that we have, that I just lost the name of all of a sudden, because we’re talking on air.
Lizette: [07:13] Room at the Inn.
Casey: [07:14] Yes, thank you. I drive a van for it. We pick up a group of people who are temporarily without a place to stay.
Lizette: [07:23] Do you drive your own van, or is it…?
Casey: [07:25] It’s a church van.
Lizette: [07:26] What’s the logo and the saying on the church van?
Casey: [07:30] It’s not a saying that we use. You took a picture of those. It’s, “First loved, first loving.” Is that the…?
Lizette: [07:37] Yes.
Casey: [07:37] I don’t know when they put that on there. I’ve never heard anyone at my church say that phrase before, which I feel like is a blessing of sorts.
Lizette: [07:44] First, that was a good laugh. I’m sorry you can’t hear Scott laugh, but we actually got a side sway out of Scott. Yes, “first loved.” You’re driving the “first loved, first loving” van.
Casey: [07:57] We pick a group of people up, and then I bring them back to our church, and they stay the night. We set out mattresses, and they get a nice, warm meal that one of our Sunday school groups cooks for them. We set out clothes, jackets, and things like that, because it’s during the winter months that we have this.[08:14] It’s a really cool ministry. I’m grateful to be a part of it.
Lizette: [08:17] 33 percent. I want to remind the listeners that this is across all Americans, so 33 percent have heard of local churches doing that, which is interesting to me, the comparison. Fewer had heard of offering after‑school programs.[08:40] I would tend to think that those are maybe more common. I don’t know the numbers, but I feel really comfortable saying there’s probably more churches involved in after‑school programs than sheltering the homeless. [08:55] Would you guys say, if you were going to guess numbers? I know that’s such a healthy thing to do.
Scott: [09:00] I don’t know. I’d be guessing at this.
Lizette: [09:01] As long as we’re honest about when we’re guessing.
Casey: [09:04] That’s something that Scott and I talked about before this, is that that would be an interesting follow‑up question, is to ask among pastors, which of these ministries is your church involved in, and have a comparison there to see.[09:17] You would think the ones that people have heard more about churches doing would line up with the ones that churches are doing more, but maybe there are some places where it’s hidden ministry more.
Scott: [09:28] If people have certain interests or beliefs, they tend to be more likely to hear those things that they have an interest in. We see that, like with people who have a graduate degree. That’s not a large number of Americans, but people with a graduate degree are more likely to say their local churches are tutoring school kids.[09:48] They’re more likely to say churches are teaching English to immigrants. They’re more likely to say churches are offering tax preparation, even though it’s still a small number. Because they have in interest in those areas, they notice them more when they hear somebody in their community talking about it. [10:06] We also notice that people aged 65‑plus, the things they tended to be high on were feeding, clothing, and shelter, which is that thing you learn real early on is the basic human needs. [10:22] They’ve gone their whole lives assuming churches are helping with those basic food, clothing, shelter type of things. That comes through with what they say they’ve heard churches are doing.
Lizette: [10:36] I find you guys are doing a really good job at keeping clarity of who we asked and what we asked, because I found, as I was looking at the data, I kept wanting to blur the line, “This is what they heard local churches doing.” I kept wanting to say, “This is what they’re doing,” or “This is what their church is doing.”[10:58] There’s several layers that would be nice follow‑ups that we could look at, but this is what they’ve heard churches or their members doing in the last six months. 14 percent said none of these.
Scott: [11:15] But 86 percent said something.
Scott: [11:19] You could take that as good news/bad news. We could have this conversation probably about any of our statistics. This is probably a good one to think about.[11:29] If you’re writing on this, or you’re blogging on this, or you’re going to talk to a friend about this, you have a choice. Are you going to take the positive and say, “Wow, 86 percent of Americans have heard something in the last six months where a local church is serving. They’re helping people,” or you can take the, “Wow, 14 percent of Americans think churches are doing nothing.” [11:51] Both are legitimate. Those are both real numbers, but completely different headlines, as far as how we’re starting a conversation.
Lizette: [11:59] You could actually get two blog posts out of that.[12:01]
Lizette: [12:01] I think that would actually be point/counterpoint.
Casey: [12:07] This was one of the hard ones where I feel like I kept going back and forth on the “Should I be encouraged by some of these? Should I be discouraged by them? Even if it’s a high number, does that…?”[12:18] There’s two elements to it. Again, “Well, I guess that means that churches are doing these things that somebody’s aware of it,” and then there’s the element of, “But, also, we don’t necessarily want to be trumpeting.” [12:32] This is like, “Look at all the great stuff that we’re doing.” We want to be doing ministry, and hopefully that’s impacting people, but it’s not for the show of “look at all the great things I’m doing service‑wise.” [12:47] It’s tricky because I don’t even know what’s the ideal awareness number, almost.
Lizette: [12:54] Going back to Scott’s point, schoolteachers who, if they’re in an area where their kids are getting extra tutoring and they’re seeing the benefit…I know last summer I heard about some amazing things a church in Memphis is doing, as far as getting kids that extra tutoring time, reading time.[13:19] If you’re a teacher, I’m making a blanket statement here, but if you are seeing kids make progress, and it’s not all on you, and it’s not all what’s happening at the home, but you’re seeing at‑risk kids get some extra help, there’s no guarantee that changes your faith, but you have to notice. You’ve got to know, especially if there’s a concentrated effort. [13:44] I would say any of these, if you know someone in prison who is being encouraged…there’s a real neat thing Southeastern is doing. Southeastern Seminary is actually partnering, and Joe Gibbs’ Racing is helping sponsor it. [14:02] They’re sending interns and ministry programs into the prisons in North Carolina, this focus of doing that. They’ve seen that need. It’s been modeled in some other areas. [14:15] If you know that person in prison, that means something to you, because it’s ministering in ways that you can’t, or caring for them. Go ahead.
Casey: [14:24] Even more broadly than just the people who have seen how the ministry has impacted them, but also for churchgoers knowing, obviously, the ways that our church is ministering to people in the community.[14:39] I might go through here, and say, “Oh, I’m aware of a bunch of these, check, check, check, check, check,” because my own church is doing a lot of them, and then a lot of other local churches. [14:48] Part of what I see in here is an awareness that just because your church is doing something doesn’t mean your community is aware of the thing your church is doing. On some level that’s OK. [14:56] Don’t assume that every conversation that you’re having with somebody who’s un‑churched, that they might know, they’ve already developed a lot of great goodwill towards the idea of church, because they know all these ministries that the churches are involved in. Because, again, one in seven don’t know any ministries the church is involved in.
Scott: [15:20] It’s a tough trade‑off, because on one hand, as you mentioned, Jesus said not to trumpet. He was specifically talking about giving to the poor. Not just a good deed, but actually giving to the poor. He said people who do that have their reward.[15:38] We see that in Matthew 6, but over in John 13, He says, “By this everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s something that’s known. The love that we show is what makes us known. [15:51] Some of it comes back to our motive. If the reason we’re serving is for the PR, the public relations that that causes, if the reason we’re serving is for recognition, then that’s our reward. We’re done. [16:06] If the reason we’re serving is out of true love for our neighbors, and sometimes our own church members are in these categories of people in need, then that’s the right motive. [16:22] How much should we be making sure other people know that, or do we let that happen naturally, and let God share that? That, to me, is a tough question to answer.
Lizette: [16:31] It’s a little easier for me to answer, because I’m probably more comfortable with people knowing every once in a while when I do a good deed.
Scott: [16:38] Once in a while?
Lizette: [16:40] The other thing is if folks are so protective of that, that it could get in the way of good logistics. I thought of our podcast we did with Autumn Miles and churches who are helping victims of domestic violence.[17:00] It’s a really good thing if people in your community know that your church or a church, “Who can I send this person to? Who can help them?” or if someone doesn’t have the resources, because we know for a fact there are very caring people who are completely outside the church. [17:19] As we know inside the church, it’s hard to do everything. Even if they can know this is a resource available for my community, and I know good funds go there, I know that people are taken care of and they’re treated with integrity. [17:37] There’s also something to be said, going back to what we discussed, we feel like every church should be equipped to help victims of domestic violence, if we’re going to have an opinion. [17:52] Not every church is probably going to provide tax preparation, but if you know which church is doing that, maybe the bigger church has several accountants, and they’ve worked out the logistics of that, and they’ve got a good thing, let that be known so people can tell. [18:10] Maybe if we don’t announce our own good deeds, maybe other churches can announce and let people in the community and in the churches know these are resources for our community, and our community’s better off for it.
Casey: [18:21] Exactly, it’s one of those things that makes you feel like, “We need people to know about this resource that could be available to other people.” If it’s a “good deed” that you’re doing for someone, I don’t think that necessarily needs to be told, but if it’s a ministry that’s available to people, that feels like you’d like those people who need it to be aware of it.[18:46] That’s a challenge of, I was telling Scott, crisis pregnancy centers. I really want women who are having a difficult time preparing for having children to be aware of some of the resources that are available to them as they’re going through that process, because there are great people who are serving those ministries who can help them. [19:08] I don’t think that’s the same thing as announcing, “Hey, look at great things that I’m doing, or my church is doing.” As opposed to saying, “Hey, here’s someone who can help you.” That’s good.
Scott: [19:20] There are signs in this data that even among Christians we’re not aware of what’s going on in other circles. As you mentioned, tax preparation. I know of one church in my local community that offers that. That need is probably not one that every church needs to be satisfying. If I know of that one church and can refer people there, that’s probably enough.[19:42] Even as we see the responses of Protestants and Catholics, it’s possible that as they read the wording, that they weren’t sure if Christian churches included them, or if it included the other group, but there were stark differences on every question, all the way through. It’s probably because those two groups don’t know what each other’s doing.
Lizette: [20:02] That’s good.
Scott: [20:03] That’s probably true across other denominations, as well, where we’re not aware of the services in our community that are available. As we’ve seen on things like domestic violence and mental health, referrals can be one of the best services we offer as a church.[20:19] If we know what else is being offered in our community from people we trust, we can be referring people. That’s as big of a service sometimes as offering it ourselves.
Lizette: [20:31] Our time is up. I would encourage you all to take a look at this on our website at lifewayresearch.com. There’s several of these that we weren’t able, even, to get to, but certainly if you want to get the word out or take a look at this, I think it’ll be helpful.[20:48] Thank you for listening, and we’d encourage you to subscribe on iTunes. Rate the podcast if you can. You can email us feedback and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find us on Twitter: @LifewayResearch, @smcconn, @statsguycasey, and @lizettebeard. [21:03] We look forward to talking to you during the next time. Keep asking, learn more, do better.
Good Deeds Done by Christians Often Go Unseen by Lifeway Research