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 insight into today’s church and culture.
Lizette: [00:23] I’m here today with my colleagues Scott McConnell and Casey Oliver to talk about everything that is wonderful about research. We’re going to talk about Bible reading, but we’re going to get there through talking about the magic of qualitative research.[00:50] Welcome back, guys.
Scott McConnell: [00:52] Glad to be back.
Lizette: [00:55] Here’s my question that you can think about. In what we’re talking about, Bible readers, we did some focus groups to get this fun information. I want to know, if you could learn something from a focus group, what’s the topic of personal interest?
Casey Oliver: [01:17] When you say focus groups, can you explain that like I’m a five‑year‑old?
Scott: [01:23] Touché.
Lizette: [01:23] You’ve been waiting for that.
Casey: [01:30] I have. I’ve been holding onto that one for a little while.
Lizette: [01:34] I wish we posted this on video, because you need to see the smugness on Casey’s face.[01:39] Let me tell you about focus groups. What I like to say is focus groups are a really good directed conversation. Typically you’ve gathered a group of people, whether they’re your customers or a group that a client is interested in reaching or understanding better. [02:00] You get them in a room. There’s other ways…You can do them online. You can do video. You can do them in a board. The traditional way is you picture them in a room. [02:13] You go through a series of questions to explore their thoughts, their sentiment toward a brand, or their behaviors, actions. It’s basically a way to help a client listen. They can’t address any opinions. The client has to be either behind the glass or watching the video. They just are learning. They’re putting themselves in a position to learn from this group. [02:44] What group would you want to learn from and what topic, Casey?
Casey: [02:47] What group would I want to learn from?
Lizette: [02:56] You’re the client. You have a massive budget. I would think, for you, maybe you’d want to do NBA general managers.
Lizette: [03:08] How do they make those kind of decisions, which would be a pretty expensive project.
Casey: [03:14] I don’t know if I have much to learn. As we’re recording this we’re in the aftermath of rumors floating about a player being traded that were heartbreaking to me, for context there.[03:27] I don’t know. This is a hard question. I don’t know. Tough to put myself in that position of, “OK, what do I…?”
Lizette: [03:40] You’re a curious person. Think who could you learn from. It can be any group. It could be a particular type of voter. It could be a particular segment of the churchgoing population.[03:53] You work with college students. Would you ever be interested in a focus group of entering freshmen?
Casey: [04:00] Yeah.
Lizette: [04:00] But you can’t just steal that. You have to add your own flair to it.
Casey: [04:03] That’d be good. Specifically, when I think about discipleship and next steps for college students in owning their own faith, that’s one.[04:15] That would be real interesting to hear when you go back to your college campuses, because I’m doing a Sunday school class and people give very spiritual answers in it because they grew up in church. I think, also, that’s because a lot of them are mature Christians. [04:29] To know, when you’re going back on your campus, in an environment where they’re not talking to me, how are those things playing out, or what are some challenges to that playing out. Definitely that would be interesting.
Lizette: [04:43] I get the impression you don’t sit around and daydream about different possible focus groups. That makes me sad.
Casey: [04:51] Sorry.
Lizette: [04:51] Scott.
Scott: [04:52] I don’t think I was thinking quite as spiritual with my answer to that question.
Lizette: [04:56] I had to spoon‑feed that to him, so don’t feel bad.
Scott: [04:59] I was thinking about food, since that’s one of my favorite topics. Getting at the decision‑making process on why so many people eat food that I don’t think tastes good. Their choice in either restaurants, or even within the grocery store, there are a lot of really bland, no‑flavor kind of foods, when there’s a good option a couple spots down on the shelf. I don’t quite get that.
Lizette: [05:38] That’s interesting. Mine would be a pretty big project, because I’d want to do groups with two segments. The general focus would be afternoon drive‑time sports talk radio listeners.[05:58] I’d focus on the Nashville market, and then I would want to listen to those who were listening to 102.5 before “Jared & The GM” went on the air, but no longer listen. Then I would probably do the bulk of the groups to the raving fans of the 102.5 Jared & The GM show.
Casey: [06:26] Which you are one of, of course.
Lizette: [06:31] I’ve weaned myself off. I’ve given myself some space but I would love to learn from that group what is it that they are getting from that, and what they chose, if they’re calling in. I think that would be a segment that would be fascinating to learn from.[06:52] We have a sponsor for this week’s episode, the “Christian Standard Bible.” We’re giving away five copies of their study Bible. The Christian Standard Bible captures the Bible’s original meaning without compromising clarity. It’s an optimal blend of accuracy and readability. [07:07] This translation helps readers make a deeper connection with God’s Word and inspires lifelong discipleship. The Bible is meant to be read, understood, and shared, so I think that’s a great sponsor for what we’re talking about today. [07:20] I’m going to need you guys to jump in, because I can’t interview myself, but I have some big topics. [07:30] Scott, you all aren’t as drawn to qualitative ‑‑ the listening, the discovering, the descriptive, what are the qualities of what we’re wanting to study ‑‑ versus quantitative, where we’re trying to count, get measures. We’re trying to get that. [07:52] What’s the value when we’re approaching a project and we’re doing qualitative, versus the survey, the quantitative?
Scott: [07:59] It’s really a one‑two punch. The ideal project includes both, because oftentimes we want to finish with some “how many.” We want to know how many people think something, how many people are doing something, how many people would never do something.[08:16] We want to finish with some numbers so that we know if we should try to serve them, if we should try to have resources for them, and make some decisions based on whether there’s enough people going in that direction. [08:33] The best place to get those options from is to learn from people through qualitative to see what are the full variety of things that people are doing, or that people are influenced by, or that people are motivated by, and to really get inside their heads a little bit. That, to me, is the value of qualitative. [08:59] Today I think we’re going to jump in and talk about, specifically, focus groups. Lizette, within the qualitative space, what is it about focus groups that makes it good at identifying motivators?
Lizette: [09:19] Focus groups provide a great opportunity to get people…when I say a good conversation, as a group relaxes, and as they start talking about a topic, and they’re responding to one another, they’re not as guarded as maybe they would be in a one‑on‑one interview.[09:39] There’s ones when the more sensitive topics, controversial topics…There’s various reasons when one‑on‑one is much more appropriate, but when people are interacting with one another they’re not as guarded with their answers, or they’re not trying to be so logical, so it’s a bit of a chance to eavesdrop. How would they talk to their friends about it? [10:10] You are manufacturing an environment. Part of the goal is creating as comfortable an environment. That’s also a part of who you recruit to get into the group. Do they have enough in common that they’re going to have those shared interests, and then setting the tone and giving them permission to interact with one another. [10:33] For me, some of my favorite moments in a focus group is when someone says something that on its own would not have stood out to me, but you feel the whole room. Either they’re in total agreement or it’s something they all hate. [10:51] They all come out of their shells, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s terrible.” When you feel that across the board, you’ve really hit a nerve. For me, that’s an easy clue, “Let’s dig in here. Let’s get more descriptions.” That’s real fun. [11:07] A caveat, I would say ‑‑ Scott knows I’m very protective about this when we’re talking to clients ‑‑ focus groups are great at finding problems. If you are willing to learn from your customers, or from your members, or from the folks you’re serving it’s a great way to learn where there’s disconnects, where there’s confusion, where people are missing the marks of what maybe you’re trying to communicate. [11:40] You can get ideas from focus groups, but I’m always very cautious that you want to take a different strategy if you’re brainstorming. What’s your Steve Jobs’ quote about it’s not the customer’s job to…?
Scott: [11:58] I had no idea Steve Jobs had anything to do with that.
Lizette: [12:02] I thought you’d quoted it. Now we’re making that up. I thought you were the one. Who is it that said it’s not the customer’s job to come up with the ideas for our products?
Scott: [12:15] Probably our bosses.
Lizette: [12:17] I’m always very cautious to say don’t take because people can have ideas, because you’re encouraging them to dream, or what would the ideal be, but you want to be very cautious in running with that. What’s more important is learning what they value and what’s behind that.
Scott: [12:39] Let’s jump into some of that fun stuff. Let’s specifically talk about some of the focus groups you’ve done among Bible readers and some of the things that surprised you, stood out to you. Some of the responses that caused you to light up, like you were just talking about.
Lizette: [12:57] That’s the Bible reader project. I do love doing focus groups. The Bible reader project was very impactful because, again, you’re listening. You’re not doing any teaching, and you’re not telling people what they should do. You’re learning about what they go about doing.[13:18] To hear people in four different cities ‑‑ I think we did 14 groups total ‑‑ to over and over again hear men and women describe how they read the Bible, their challenges, their opportunities, it made me much more sympathetic to how to connect with them and in things that we do, even in our research or the stuff we’ve done on discipleship. [13:48] Made me more sensitive to the emotional connection that people want and need when you’re communicating the value of the Bible, because that’s some of the stuff we’ve seen. We know from our quantitative discipleship research Bible reading has a huge impact on every area of someone’s discipleship, so what can we be doing? [14:09] My hope, even as we do this podcast, is that if you’re a parent and you want to help your kids read the Bible a little bit more, if you are a Sunday school teacher, small group leader, and you want to help someone, or you, yourself, there’s some basic guidelines that I think can help. [14:35] These were regular Bible readers. These were people that indicated they read three to four times a week from their Bible. They were also regular readers of other material, so that was how we qualified it. [14:49] Some of the things it’s good to remember, they described Bible reading improved the quality of their life. It helped them. The more they read the Bible, they told us they trust God more. They believe more that God will take care of everything the more they read the Bible. They can endure difficulty. [15:08] It confirms some things that we had seen in our quantitative, but we got some richer descriptions of some things that we’d already learned.
Casey: [15:20] I was curious, as you were describing that and finding these people who fit that particular description, is how do we get to that place? How do we find and recruit these people?[15:29] You had mentioned, even, them having some things in common, but how do you still make sure that you’re getting a broad range of perspectives within that group that you’re interested in?
Lizette: [15:44] We had qualifiers in the list when they were doing the recruit. You have a screener that, basically, folks go through. There’s a few layers that they have to move through.[16:00] Part of it is they had to indicate regular Bible reading. Did we have a church attendance? I think we had a minimal church attendance.
Scott: [16:08] I don’t recall.
Lizette: [16:09] I’d have to go back. Please don’t make that so difficult.[16:15] In the make‑up of groups we will put maximum and minimums on ages, or maximum and minimums on certain ethnicities, that kind of thing. We want those common things, but also we want to make sure that we’re not just focusing on are we just hearing from 65 year olds, or are we also getting the perspective of 25 year olds in there. [16:41] That’s how. You have some basic things where you recruit, but you make sure there’s a bit of a mix in there. [16:52] Go ahead.
Scott: [16:54] We saw from some of the quantitative research this year that just about half of Evangelicals read a little bit of the Bible each day, which means that the other half have a different method for approaching the Bible. Did you talk about the habits that people have when it comes to Bible reading?
Lizette: [17:13] That was pretty fascinating because there was a big range. People can be regular Bible readers, but they can have their very narrow and comfortable things that they’re drawn to.[17:28] Stepping back, we did men and women, and then we also did moms of elementary and moms of teens. The roadblocks across the board were similar. [17:43] What we heard from everybody, a roadblock could be when they find that it’s boring or irrelevant. For kids, specifically, that it’s scary when they get there, then they want to stop. [17:59] People get confused and frustrated. That can halt their habit and then they go back to their safe zone where they know, “I know what’s in this.” If it’s Proverbs, if it’s a Gospel. That kind of thing. [18:12] Too long and too much work.
Scott: [18:18] Is that to read at all or to read a certain part of the Bible?
Lizette: [18:21] The big thing that stood out for me is a lot of times people want permission to know where they can stop. It’s a big book. There was a big difference. We had a whole big list. These are people who can read novels. They read all the time but, again and again, picking up the Bible is much more daunting.[18:42] I would say a huge thing is if you’re helping some folks in your church, or someone you know, or your kids give them permission, give them start and stop places, help them know, “It’s OK. You’re not supposed to finish the whole thing today.” Or, “It’s not this race.” [19:00] Knowing where to stop or where to start and jump in, because the big idea was it’s overwhelming. If we think about it, there’s a lot of text in the Bible. There’s a ton in there. That became really clear to me. [19:17] In talking to, over and over again, regular Bible readers they still are overwhelmed. If you think about that whole, big group that we never got to that don’t read the Bible, they’re so overwhelmed they can’t even go to their comfortable spots. That was a big thing. [19:44] The biggest way you can help either yourself or someone else start to create a habit is help them find five entry points, five core places, whether it be show them, “Hey, jump in the Gospels,” and help them know this is where they are. Talk through, “This is what’s going on here. You can always jump in here and you’re going to get this information.” [20:10] Maybe the wisdom literature, and then help them get a bookmark or say, “Stretch yourself. Maybe Paul’s epistles.” I’m not trying to tell you what because I think, as people go, you may be helping them see, “Here, put a bookmark at the beginning of the minor prophets,” but then, when you give them that starting spot, give them permission to stop and which… [20:33] Really, let’s face it, the minor prophets are great for that because they’re not that long. Then, give them some tools to know what they’re doing while they’re in there because it can be confusing.
Scott: [20:45] When you talk about helping, some things I remember as I was watching these focus groups, not in the room but via video, was how many people, when they talked about their own Bible reading, mentioned somebody else.[21:02] When you mentioned, “We can be helping others,” that’s a real thing. Bible reading isn’t just, “This is something I need to do. It’s all up to me to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get this done.” Their motivation is to help others. Their motivation is somebody asked them a question or somebody, a teacher was teaching on something and they want to go back and look at that passage. [21:32] There’s a lot of interactions with other people that makes it a little more of a community looking at scripture than we might then when we hear a, “How often do you read?”
Lizette: [21:44] Pastors can be very encouraged at how many people…if a pastor says, and they make it pretty simple, and they say, “Go read this,” and then they give them a reason to go read it. Not everyone’s going to do it, but I think they can have a lot of confidence. Maybe that would be a great quantitative. If your pastor said…[22:06] But they go. They put weight on that, and then if you give them a few hooks to understand what it is they’re going to read and they can have some context there, they can go do that. Back to the relational. [22:20] I was amazed. In our world, here at Lifeway, it seems that when we think of, “Hey, when did you have…” Let’s ask. We can have a little quiz for our listeners. I want you, the listeners, to think of a recent time you had a significant experience reading the Bible. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but a very meaningful, significant time reading the Bible. [22:47] Think of where you were, what was going on, all that. [22:53] If you pictured yourself alone in a chair at a desk, somewhere on the side of a mountain but you were alone reading your Bible, maybe pen in hand, you would be the minority from what we heard in the focus groups because the majority of people, when asked that same question, mentioned that significant moment was being shared. [23:20] Someone told them to read it, either in a conversation or they read it and they shared. The other person was a part of that significant experience. I think that’s huge for discipleship.
Scott: [23:36] Not that we use focus groups to quantify things, but in that group discussion it was very striking how…
Lizette: [23:43] I just meant a lot…it was enough to pay attention to. I didn’t mean…I know when I said majority that…see, look. Look. I got in trouble because I stepped over.[23:56] One thing we learned, especially about kids. Here’s some clues. It’s really important to help your kids get age appropriate Bibles and something they’re comfortable with and has good textual clues into how to find their way around. [24:18] Think about, if your kid is in fourth grade. Ask them to show you their favorite textbook. If it’s one that’s easy to get around, there’s clues to how to move around that book. [24:32] Go to your local Lifeway store and make that a moment to pick that out. Don’t fret if you’re like, “We just got him a Bible two years ago.” There’s things that are changing. It’s important that they connect because if… [24:51] Moms described it. If their kids can’t relate and they don’t understand they’re quick to shut down, quit, give up, and even grow resentful towards Bible reading. But when they are relating, and that was key, and when they are understanding it, moms described that their kids are saying they understand it. It’s awesome. [25:11] They want to learn more. They continue to learn on their own. They can apply it. They’re learning those skills that they’re going to need for a long time.
Scott: [25:21] That’s something we see churches help with by giving kids their first Bible or giving graduating seniors a Bible, but there’s a lot of things in‑between a couple of those milestones where a child might need an easy reading Bible in there. They might need a Bible that’s cool enough that they can actually carry it to student ministry or youth group and not feel out of place.[25:47] Making sure you’re thinking through some of those things as a parent is definitely worth doing.
Lizette: [25:54] Take some time, walk through, have them be a part of the process. I think that can be really good.[26:01] Another thing, once people are in, as I mentioned, they have their favorite spots. This may sound a little crass, and I don’t mean it to be crass, but in some ways their Bible reading habits sounded more like handling a rabbit’s foot. Scott’s smiling like that was too far, right? [26:31] It’s because of those safe spots. I’m not saying the Bible is equivalent to that, but they were comforted by it, but they didn’t have a high level of confidence in moving around. They would go to the same passages and the same passages would bring them comfort no matter what. [26:52] A huge way to help someone is if, in their reading, you can give them other spots to go to that are very similar. Here are three places that are going to talk about either the same topic or three big chunks to see a story progress along so they don’t have to work through two whole books.
“[27:18] Hey, learn these three stories,” and help them get some building blocks there. Part of it is the comfort of learning to open up and know how to move around, I think would be really big.[27:34] Casey, what burning questions do you have since you’re so curious about focus groups?
Casey: [27:42] As someone helping to frame that discussion as they’re going, and maybe there are places where you aren’t in that comfort zone of being able to talk about, exactly, how do you guide a conversation without leading it to places you already…how do you keep it objective, I guess?
Lizette: [28:08] You try to keep it as general as possible. Let me concede this. The more removed I am from the topic or the product or the client, the easier it is. I’ve had to do focus groups on an assessment tool I helped create. That is very hard because when people are saying the wrong thing, or you’re listening and they have this opinion, there’s a screaming voice in my head saying, “That’s wrong! That’s wrong!”[28:38] In those groups, I did some focus groups in Australia on our church planter assessment. I would have to say, if they had questions, because the folks knew. I said, “I’ll give my last 30 minutes as that kind of researcher, but let’s spend this first hour and a half here,” because you’re asking open ends. You’re asking them to describe. [28:59] Then, as you need to get to a specific place and topic, you introduce that very specific idea. Realize once you introduce a concept, an idea, a product, a brand, whatever, you’ve influenced the rest of the group. You want to give them as much room as possible, but also get to your point of what you’re wanting to accomplish.
Scott: [29:25] We’re about out of time. Is there one more thing that you want to make sure we don’t walk away from as we think about Bible readers and what motivates us to want to read or not? What are some of the barriers?
Lizette: [29:39] I think helping people jump in. I know we don’t have just pastors who listen, but that jumped out, is the significance of pastors and giving, weaving that in when you’re speaking or as you go. The selection of a Bible, how people engage with it, how they value it.[30:04] Very high value of the Bible, and I think you can be preaching on anything and be building up the value and worth of having the Bible, using the Bible. [30:18] Also helping folks…folks are using things digitally, doing things through apps. Giving some guidelines, I think, on where to go with that, how to use those so it’s not just Google and a free for all. [30:36] If I could encourage anyone, and of course, application, but if I can encourage pastors and parents, you have such a huge influence. Really shaping that ongoing engagement.
Scott: [30:51] We’re definitely grateful to B&H in their investment in that research, as it helps them to shape Bible products. Not the text itself, of course, but the formatting of the Bibles that they print and publish.
Lizette: [31:06] With all that being said, remember our sponsor this week is the Christian Standard Bible. You can get…The first five people can get that tweet to us @LifewayResearch and @CSBible can get a CSB Study Bible. It’s optimal blend of accuracy and readability. This translation helps readers make a deeper connection with God’s Word and inspires lifelong discipleship.[31:33] As always, thanks for listening. If you have any questions please tweet to us at @SMcConn, @StatsGuyCasey, and @LizetteBeard or @LifewayResearch. [31:41] Write your reviews on iTunes and join us next time for another edition of Keep Asking. Keep asking, learn more, do better.