Recently I was among a group of Port Elizabeth pastors and leaders who were privileged to have Deon Pretorius, a sociologist, address us. Deon holds a Doctorate in Sociology and his company, Development Partners supplies and analyses data on social development.
The subject of his address was ” How can the Church become more effective in contributing to improving the quality of peoples’ lives?
It took just a few minutes for his audience to realise the vital importance of sociology to the Church; it provides tools which enable it to establish the social profile of the people, groups or communities it aims to reach.
The basic information that Deon’s company uses is provided by Statistics S.A. The 2011 national census, the source of their information, showed that our country has 51 million people. For each and every person up to 75 variables, or kinds of information, can be extracted. Extracting and presenting relevant statistical information both to the Church and other interested parties is what Development Partners does.
Communities, or groups of people, down to as small a sample as 100, can be grouped according to desired variables: for example, residential area, numbers in each age group, their income levels, the gender mix in homes(this shows how many homes are headed by e.g. two parents, a single parent, or a child), educational levels, employment or unemployment figures, municipal services available to them, etc etc.
Whilst statistics cannot provide subjective information, such as the quality of life of a group or family, sociologists can use them to help the local church define the social profile of it’s congregation. They can also provide answers to some of the objective questions needing to be asked which will assist a church in planning e.g. outreach, skills development and poverty alleviation programmes.
Some of the questions that can be answered are:
- what kind of family structures operate in the local community?
- what languages are spoken?
- what social factors cause conflict, both within and outside of the family?
- what social changes have occurred?
- what demographic influences are at work?
- what factors threaten the social order in the community?
- what factors have enabled the community to remain intact over time?
- what causes people or families to leave the community?
Why is sociological input so important? For two reasons; firstly, because the Church itself is not immune to social change, it must therefore learn how best to recognise, understand and respond to it; and secondly, because sociological input enables the Church to be better informed and therefore more useful to society. Simply put, the stated aim of sociology is to change social systems in order to achieve a transformed society; and provided that the Church maintains its institutional integrity, which is the priority of witnessing to Jesus, I believe it can participate with the social workers in their efforts to achieve that goal.