"Possibly one of the most fascinating insights from our respondents came when we asked about reasons for going to a Spiritualist Church."

Data has now been fully analysed and key points presented here to promote discussion among Spiritualists, supporting thinking that will help to …

1. Reflect on where your church or centre is at. 

2. Think and plan areas for development.

3. Celebrate and consolidate areas of success. 

4. Target efforts to grow congregations and increase impact.

Information from the survey doesn’t provide any definitive answers but points to critical areas that our religion as a whole might address to evolve. The picture is not a “one size fits all” scenario and it's recognised that different churches and centres have different strengths and contexts to work with.

In with the new…

The survey looked at what first brought people into Spiritualism:

1. Because they had an ‘experience’ (16%)

2. Because of a friend or relative (15%)

3. Out of curiosity (14%)

4. Because they wanted to attend a development circle (13%)

5. Bereavement (12%)

This provides useful ideas for attracting new people into the movement and encourages us to think about how we can positively shape the experiences of those visiting us for the first time. It raises the idea that friends / relatives are influential in bringing people they know, and the possibility of how we can provide resources for congregations to help them promote our activities. In fact 34% came with a friend for the first time, and 32% came with a family member. This suggests that providing an opportunity where congregations can bring someone they know to “showcase”their religion could see new people discovering Spiritualism for the first time. It reveals a strong preference for individuals to have their new experience with the support of another.

Possibly one of the most fascinating insights from our respondents came when we asked about reasons for going to a Spiritualist Church.

The top five reasons were:

1. Being with like-minded people (65%)

2. Understanding my spirituality (54%)

3. Understanding my spiritual experiences (49%)

4. Message from a medium (40%)

5. Healing (37%)

It’s a commonly held perception that the evidential message from a medium is the prime motivator for people attending a church. The survey challenges the perception that “talking to dead people” is our only strength and encourages us to rethink what congregations are searching for. The top three reasons don’t include evidential mediumship but do point clearly towards a strong need for community (a sense of belonging) and to gain greater insight into their spiritual nature and how God and the spiritual world are manifest in their lives (communion). 

This further suggests the need for a strong and inclusive welcome into our churches, opportunities to interact with others, and thought-provoking activity to explore spirituality and how it expresses itself. Spiritualism is perhaps unique in its ability to explain spiritual phenomena and experience; meeting this area of need with an educative and supportive response is essential. A message from a medium and healing have similar response levels and remind us how important a role healing has to play in our religion and how it should play a central part in our promotions and provision.

Once there…

Respondents were asked what they thought of the different elements of Spiritualist activity. The least enjoyed aspect was that of hymns (39%), although where modern music was used 51% enjoyed these. This is often a contentious area but, providing that the activity of worship is remembered, it shows that appropriate new music could be well-received (perhaps alongside traditional hymns).

Although mediumship was enjoyed by many (85%), the speaker’s address was valued highly too (65%). This is a reminder that we have two kinds of message that can be found in a service and that we should be concerned about the quality of both to ensure that more people can appreciate them. Alongside the reasons for attending, the results provide compelling evidence for us to ensure the teachings of Spiritualism are given the prominence and quality that congregations demand. Only half the respondents said they enjoyed the chairing of services they attended – a reminder that the way that our services are presented to congregations doesn’t go unnoticed and attention or neglect of this area could have a significant impact.

Dare to ask…

We asked what people wanted to see from our religion and the results revealed some key aspirations. 63% wanted modern service formats. Readers will be familiar with the interactive services created by and made available by the Union. The overwhelming positive response to these reflects this result and reveals a desire for our worship activities to evolve. Almost half expressed a wish to volunteer, and over half expressed a wish to help run a church. The exhausted church workers among us may be surprised at this result but it is worth exploring. It is possible that we could review when and how we ask for support in running a church or centre. Providing information on what’s involved, and providing training, support and buddying could increase involvement of more people. Emphasis on “why we are doing it” rather than “what needs doing” could elicit a stronger response.

Spreading the word…

When asked where they got their information about Spiritualism from 73% found Facebook useful or quite useful, and 78% found web searches useful or quite useful. This suggests that it’s essential for Spiritualism to have a strong and positive online presence through websites and social media. Lack of quality online presence is now a severe limitation. The rational basis of Spiritualism requires accurate information. 78% found asking others for it useful or quite useful, with 31% saying their church / centre was their main source of information. If peers are being questioned, then this suggests a need for us to be “on message” and properly informed about our religion. It highlights the need for churches to have good-quality, reliable information to disseminate and, furthermore, sound knowledge to challenge misconceptions that may be brought through our doors.

This theme emerges elsewhere when we consider that over half of those responding heard about Spiritualism before they were 30. This suggests a need for information to be appropriate for these age groups and to be delivered via a channel that matches their informational needs – online and electronically – and as an incentive to bring people through the doors. The information gained from the survey provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our current provision and to think about the needs of those whom we currently serve and those who are yet to engage with us. 

Evolution is a key pillar of Spirit in Action and, like all religions, businesses or organisations, we are not exempt from the need to adapt to current circumstances and plan for future success in order to survive. The survey results are a snapshot but their real value is in highlighting the need for a constant and honest dialogue between churches and congregations, and churches and potential congregations. In this way we can better build communities for our congregations to find that sense of communion that we know is needed in today’s world.

If you would like to discuss any ideas raised in this report or anything else featured on our website, please contact: Alv Hirst, Communications Director. [email protected]