Back to Church Sunday – A Washup

Two weeks’ ago a team of 14 volunteers from CCB spent a Saturday morning outside Sainsbury’s. We were there to make first contact with people and conduct a questionnaire. We were well received, which was great because none of us were quite sure how we’d go down. We were infinitely more popular than the ‘chuggers’. In the end we had a number of encouraging conversations with a variety of people. We were out between 11am and 1pm. And the total number of completed questionnaires was 247, which was fewer than the 300 we were aiming for. A couple of wonderful CCB church members did the data entry and spreadsheet analysis. I’m indebted to them.

We asked four questions

1.       Would you say that you believe in God?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unsure

2.       How often, if ever, do you attend church?

  • Frequently
  • Occassionally
  • Rarely
  • Never

3.       Which of the following best expresses your reasons for not attending?

  • I’m busy doing other things on a Sunday
  • I don’t believe that God exists
  • I’ve been put off by my previous experience
  • I don’t think it would make a difference to my life
  • I belong to another faith
  • I would go but I don’t know what to expect

4.       What’s the one thing that churches could do to make your more likely to attend?

The age breakdown of those questionned looked like this.

Therefore almost 50% of those questionned were aged under 35.

I wasn’t expecting that. I thought that amongst a young urban crowd the levels of atheism would be much higher. Of course, this question doesn’t say which God that they believe in. But it’s clear that Balham isn’t as secular as we might have thought. We found that these figures were approximately the same regardless of gender.

Of the total number of those questioned, 60% do not attend a church.

We found that among those who express belief in God 60% attend church.

Therefore 2 out of every 5  people who say that they believe in God do not attend a church.

Amongst the 60% of those questioned who do not attend church these were the most common reasons

Amongst those who don’t believe in God their atheism is the single biggest reason that they don’t attend church.

What do we make of these results?

  • 6 out of 10 people say that they believe in God.
  • 4 out of 10 people who say that they believe in God don’t go to a church
  • 3 out of 10 people say that they don’t go to church because they’re busy on a Sunday

Anecdotally, it was a terrific time. We wore our new CCB t-shirts and imade our presence felt, in a positive way! We have a good web presence but locally we’re not well known. This is one of those things that will help to address that. We lack a building, we’re in a school and so fliering and first contact through street questionnaires could help to raise our profile.

The one thing that really bugged me was people pretending that they’d not heard me and completely avoiding eye contact. It’s fine if people don’t want to spend 30 seconds filling in a survey but there’s no need to be rude. Apart from that minor irritating bugbear, it was all good! We’ll be back out again before Christmas, that’s for sure.

17 thoughts on “Back to Church Sunday – A Washup

  1. Phil C September 28, 2010 / 11:22 am

    Can’t wait to see the answers to the last question!

    • theurbanpastor September 28, 2010 / 1:36 pm

      Collating them could take some time – I did just wonder whether I should print them out as a list of 247 mutuallye xclusive suggestions! My current favourites are ‘sell alcohol’ and ‘make Christmas come around more often’. I’m not opposed to either of those as an option!

  2. Bruce L September 28, 2010 / 1:17 pm

    WOW! Those were really interesting results.

    Good work on the survey.

  3. Ben A September 28, 2010 / 11:52 pm

    Not sure what it tells you about people in Balham so much as about the kinds of people who go to Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning and who were happy to respond to you. I wonder if they are less secular than the ones who ignored you?

    • theurbanpastor September 29, 2010 / 7:51 am

      Fair comment, Ben! But I didn’t fancy spending 24/7 outside Sainsbury’s for a whole week to get a representative sample. The fact that people shop at Sainsbury’s, and not Waitrose, may have skewed the results. Could it be that if you shop at Waitrose you’re less inclined to spot a good deal when you’re offered one? We’ll get into that in our next survey! For what it’s worth we were on the main thoroughfare through the town centre so I wouldn’t get hung up about the Sainsbury’s thing if I were you!

      • Tom C September 29, 2010 / 8:33 am

        Yeah, I was outside the 99p store… ;^)

      • Lauri October 1, 2010 / 5:53 pm

        I think Ben is pointing out that your sample is not representative of people in Balham, that’s all. I agree with him, thought most statistics are interesting to a point and I think these are interesting too.

  4. John Marland September 29, 2010 / 3:10 pm

    Good work Perks and team. Hopefully you’ll get a good and varied turnout to your next event, strike whilst the iron is still a bit warm I say.

  5. sarah s October 1, 2010 / 6:00 pm

    actually I think the sample was fairly representative of Balham. The sample size had a relatively equal number of males and females and the age breakdown was about right for balham.

    The survey should allow the ministers to help market the church better and aim events better to the local neighbourhood.

  6. Lauri Moyle October 4, 2010 / 5:59 pm

    Not really Sarah. As Ben quite rightly pointed out, it tells you a lot about what people who go to Sainbury’s on a Saturday morning think. Does it tell you what the people working at Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning think? Does it catch Waitrose people? The point about people ignoring you is also important.

    For me the most interesting result would have come from talking to people who work in Sainsburys on Saturday morning…

    • theurbanpastor October 4, 2010 / 6:11 pm

      I’m with Sarah on this point.
      1. There weren’t that many people that ignored us. But you’re right, we can’t represent the view of those that ignore the survey!
      2. The foot traffic past the front and rear of Sainsbury’s is not limited to those that shop in Sainsbury’s. The car park gives you two hours free parking and so people use that to visit Bedford Hill’s shops and the town centre in general. But the front of Sainsbury’s and the other side of the High Road, where I was, catches general shoppers. If the Waitrose shoppers want something else in town we may well have got them as well. Sure, you don’t get the Sainsbury’s workers but I’d need to be persuauded that they live in Balham. I’m not convinced that they do. I suspect that most of them travel in from out of the immediate area. We were after Balham residents. And, in general, I think we got them.
      But if you want to survey the Sainsbury’s workers, go for your life. I’ll send you a copy of the questionnaire and you can make a nuisance of yourself at the checkout! Good luck with that!

  7. Lauri Moyle October 4, 2010 / 6:53 pm

    Perks, the point here is not about what you got, which for your purposes was fine. The stats are not as important as the face time and free advertising you got out of the exercise which, if we are honest, is what CCB was really after.

    You also define what your sample should be after the fact, which is fine as well. No problem. Just don’t let on it was representative. It wasn’t. Statisticians would agree with Ben, as would people who work in research on issues of social psychology.

    How do you know how many people ignored you? That’s not possible to know unless you had people watching you. I am almost certain that the footfall of two hours in the back and the front of Sainsburys was a lot more than the amount of people who responded to the questionnaire.

    A bunch of people who come to CCB live in Streatham or around Tooting Broadway and beyond. Perhaps it might be a good idea to try this marketing exercise there and see what people say. As I said before, I would be more than happy to join in.

    The point about having a “true” random sample is that you eliminate groups of people who will not go shopping on a Saturday morning. I cannot list all the ‘possible groups’ you may have missed (people in Weatherspoons?), that’s because only a true random sample can eliminate random groups from your sample.

    In my work I have to examine the Gambling Commissions Gambling Prevalence Survey which is conducted by phone. It has quite rightly been criticised because a survey conducted by phone does not get people who don’t have a phone line, or who are homeless (i.e. the people who are the most likely to have gambled away all of their money). This is a problem. Does that mean that I think the survey is of no use, no. But does it mean that the sample is representative, not quite. Under 18s are not questioned
    either, a further problem with the Balham-Sainsburys survey.

    I am not criticising the exercise which I think was a very good idea. I think it is great that people from CCB took the time out on Saturday to talk to people about their faith. Thats great. Its a super idea which should be replicated again.

    I am simply saying that what you have is a sample which does not represent a) all of Balham, and b) does not necessarily catch all the people who might come to CCB, which is ultimately what this was about.

    Also, I am a bit confused since you said Ben’s comment was fair and I basically repeated what he said and then you say that you are with Sarah, who said that the sample didn’t really have problems.

  8. Pete Matthew October 4, 2010 / 10:25 pm

    If it helps – we asked a couple of sainsbury’s workers who were having a sneaky fag break.

    • Lauri Moyle October 5, 2010 / 7:49 am


  9. Ben A October 6, 2010 / 11:30 pm

    Perks, sorry – I hadn’t intended to kick off a debate on the quality & validity of your research! For what it’s worth like Lauri I do surveys & stats for a living and frankly people who don’t respond to surveys (like me!) are a pain in the a**e because the research that has been done on these people always shows that they differ significantly/systematically from the people who do respond. And the things they differ on are virtually always the thing you want to get at in your survey. So a survey about cheese will get responses from cheese lovers (who are interested). Similarly a survey about religion/religiosity will get responses from those with an interest. It may well have looked like the people who didn’t respond were similar to those who did (age/gender etc) but they will almost certainly have differed with respect to religiosity – especially if it was obvious that you were all from a church group (interviewer effects are also well known…).

    But in the end all it really means for your purposes is that you probably want to be careful not to overestimate the size of your potential ‘market’ in Balham 🙂


  10. sarah s October 7, 2010 / 10:00 pm

    well guys-I was the person analysing the data and it’s my day job as well. Yes I agree there is always the potential issue around selection bias-but this occurs in all surveys to a certain extent.

    And I was worried before the research took place what we would get a very narrow sample of people. This did not turn out to be the case.

    While the survey was based round sainbury’s and the that end of the high street, it did gather the thoughts of a wide age range of people and a fairly representative spilt in terms of gender. So while the survey is a snapshot of a point and place in time i think it is representative generally of Balham due to the other factors mentioned.

    The sample size was good and stats gathered are good enough to be used to make decisions. Decisions are often made on samples which are smaller!

  11. Lauri October 7, 2010 / 10:11 pm

    It was good enough for purpose. good work.

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