In order to preach effectively to people it helps to know something about them. Paul captured the essence of this when he said, “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Paul felt it was a good thing to “know the audience.” Even my old seminary has come around and offers a whole core class called “Knowing the Audiences.” Several of my former interns took the class and told me it consisted of such wild and strange things as “walking around the neighborhood” (because when driving you focus on different things and miss a lot of detail); and using census info to understand your neighborhood demographically. If we’re going to be serious about mission, we have to have to know something about the people we are ministering to. Most missionaries undergo training in the local language and culture before they arrive in their new mission service area. When I lived in Latvia, I took language classes every semester to help me know and understand the society in which I lived.
So you can imagine my delight when after 3 1/2 years of waiting, we can finally analyze some statistics about our own congregation. Apparently most ELCA churches don’t keep detailed age records so it makes comparisons with previous years nearly impossible. But I’m very excited by what I see.
Here’s what I see in a nutshell:
A. Even though we are the oldest Lutheran congregation in Des Moines (150 years in November), we are really, really young. 45% of our members are 30 or younger.
B. Most of our congregation lives in Des Moines or Urbandale, but people are coming from all over the Metro.
C. We are below the ELCA national average for median age and above the ELCA median average for worship attendance (I included those average for comparison below).
D. Considering the average age of our congregation, some recent decisions about utilizing Facebook and other web based communication tools, adding monitors in the church and using text messaging as a way of inviting have turned out to be good calls.
It’s important that you understand that my excitement about these figures is because they represent what God is doing at Zion and who he is making us to be. When I first came to interview at Zion, I remember sitting in the back pew during Sunday worship and being overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and coming away with the sense that he has a plan and a purpose which he is unfolding in this place. I think these figures, which are all about people, are revealed to us so that we might begin to understand what he intends to do among us.
These figures are for the year ending 12/31/08.
Our total membership: 782
Total number of families: 292
Statistics by age as a percent of congregation:
0-18 years 29%
19-30 years 14%
31-50 years 27%
51-65 years 14%
66-100 years 15%
Average age of ELCA member: 57
Average age of US citizen: 36
Average age of Zion member: 36
% of Zion members in weekly worship: 47%
% of ELCA members in weekly worship: 29%
Family Distribution by City:
Cedar Falls .3%
Des Moines 42%
Fort Dodge .3%
Pleasant Hill 1%
W. Des Moines 5%
I find these statistics to be enlightening and also fun. It’s fun just to know who we are as a congregation. And the more we understand about that, the more effectively we can minister to people. Next blog: worship and money statistics. Thanks for reading. God bless you.