Last month over 300 local churches gathered for Church United’s State of South Florida featuring David Kinnaman, president of Barna Research Group to unveil the findings from one of the largest research projects ever conducted on the state of the Church in South Florida. Equipped with this research, we believe South Florida churches are poised to collaborate like never before in awakening the people in our pews for mission.
Heres’ the bottom line: Rather than asking what are we going to do, we need to ask what are we going to change. We are after outcomes, not outputs. In a post-covid world, the need to measure beyond the traditional measurements of success like attendance and giving has become of paramount importance. Our new measurement tools, powered by Barna and Gloo, help us know where the people in our local churches are strong and uncovers opportunities for growth.
Here are a couple quick highlights of some of the insights we learned. You can access the full research report at churchunitedfl.com.
Perceptions of the Church in South Florida:
On the positive side, 46% of South Florida residents have a positive perception of local churches. This is slightly ahead of the national average of 44%. While this is encouraging, there is still much work to do. Only 21% of non-Christians hold a positive view of the church. 33% are indifferent and 46% share a negative view.
In short, 1 in 4 South Florida residents hold a negative view and 3 in 10 are indifferent.
“Brand Perceptions” of the Church in South Florida:
The most common favorable brand perception of the Church is that they offer hope to people. The most frequent negative views are that they are, “known for things they are against,” “judgmental” and “irrelevant to me.” Of particular concern is that the Church in South Florida trails the U.S. average in perceptions of generosity. Where 56% of South Florida residents view the churches of our community as generous, compared to 61% of U.S. adults nationally.
Negative brand perceptions are higher among younger South Florida residents, especially the perception that churches are detached and pastors are out of touch.
Residents’ Expectations of the Church
The bottom line is that unchurched South Florida residents expect a lot from Christian churches. They are most likely to expect homeless services, companionship for the elderly, youth or children’s events and counseling services.
Sixty percent of unchurched residents expect Christian churches to care for the homeless. Fifty percent of unchurched residents expect Christian churches to provide companionship for the elderly. Forty-three percent of unchurched residents expect Christian churches to provide youth and children’s events/programming. Forty-two percent of unchurched residents expect Christian churches to provide counseling services and 40% of the unchurched expect churches to share for single parents.
Perceptions of Local Pastors
While perceptions of pastors in South Florida follow national norms, a majority of unchurched residents view Christian pastors as strong community leaders for their leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most frequent negative views are that they are, “known for things they are against,” “judgmental” and “irrelevant to me.” There is some more good news too. Sixty-two percent of unchurched South Floridians say that Christian pastors have been strong leaders when it comes to racial justice and 60% view local pastors as deeply trustworthy.
In summary, the voices of our local Christians and those of our local pulpits — rooted in the fruits of the spirit and deep humility – are perhaps some of the most critical pieces to changing the narrative of the state of the Church in the region.
To borrow some language from our friends at the Pinetops Foundation, without Christ’s continued leading and the power of the Holy Spirit, our labors will all be in vain. We do, however, believe that risky, intentional, visionary leadership and collaborative action will be essential to transforming South Florida for Christ. The road ahead is hard. It will take supernatural grace – both for this movement and for one another, as we will no doubt offend one another on more than one occasion. Rising to this moment will be costly beyond finance. We will need each other — to challenge one another to build new habits, repent, experience fresh grace, give generously of our time and resources, and trust God for a new way of thinking, belonging, and experiencing the cost and benefit of unity for the sake of mission.
We are privileged to have the tools and resources like this research. If these research trends hold, there will be a large and lasting portion of South Floridians who will not know Christ. If we are honest, we see it — the hints in many of our churches and cities are apparent. No doubt the task ahead will be difficult. It means change and sacrifice, and at times it will be tiring and unfamiliar. We will need, in some cases, new wineskins. To see our vision realized will mean working together in ways and places that we have not historically found great unity.
Your role in the story
If you’re reading this, may I respectfully ask you to prayerfully consider your role in the story God is writing in South Florida? How are you stewarding your gifting, your voice, your resources, and your sphere of influence? We are at a preverbal fork-in-the-road and this is our great opportunity: to repent, to unite, and to collaborate together for the sake of Christ in South Florida. It’s time to awaken the sleeping giant that is the Church in South Florida.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city
Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/