The readership survey conducted for The Lutheran between October and December last year has provided a large amount of useful information for the LCA Communications team to consider.
We received about 680 surveys, representing approximately 10 per cent of our current subscribers—enough responses to be statistically significant. Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) were from readers aged 61 years or older, though we did receive responses from readers in every age group indicated on the forms. Most respondents (59 per cent) have been reading The Lutheran for more than 20 years.
We found it particularly exciting that survey respondents like to share The Lutheran with other people. Threequarters of them shared their copy with people who live outside of their homes—most with other family or congregational members—but almost 13 per cent shared with friends who did not attend their church, or with neighbours and workmates. Comments showed that many readers view the magazine as an effective tool for personal mission and witnessing.
Most respondents gave us positive feedback on layout, on the mix of longer and shorter stories, on balance of opinions, on provoking thought or discussion. However, there were respondents who thought that the magazine did not reflect a distinctive Lutheran identity (an issue that was expanded on in the open comment sections). Respondents were also very positive about particular sections of the magazine, nominating our feature stories as their most anticipated pages. But the Letters to the Editor pages divided many respondents—those who loved the debates and those who didn’t (again reflected in their comments).
Many respondents shared their thoughts through the open comment sections of the survey, expanding on what they liked about the magazine— and also what they didn’t. Some things we already knew (people have missed Julie Hahn’s ‘Heart and Home’ stories), and it was good to see that many have embraced Steen Olsen’s ‘bring Jesus’ column. An ongoing theme when we asked people to recall stories that had positive impact on their own faith was that they wanted to see more stories of individual faith and experience, more human interest stories. People also recalled many of the ‘big issue’ features on suicide, depression, pornography and so on, calling for a return to stories on these or similar themes.
The issue of Lutheran identity was expressed in different ways by respondents. Some felt the magazine was ‘overly Lutheran’ in tone, emphasising separation from other Christians (‘we follow Christ, not Luther!’ was one response), while others felt it was ‘not Lutheran enough’ (‘lack of Lutheran teaching, eg Luther’s Catechism, what makes us Lutheran’, another respondent commented).
Another theme that divided readers’ responses was the inclusion of theologically-focused content. Many felt that recent articles and stories reflected too shallow an approach to theological questions, while many others felt that articles were ‘too theological, too difficult to understand’ for ‘people in the pew’.
Our October Outreach/You’re Welcome! edition was warmly received on the whole, although about one-third of respondents chose not to fill out this section of the survey at all. Most who did so had participated in its distribution or promotion in some way. But even those who were most critical of the format (or aspects of it) did find positives within its pages, particularly in Kaylene Campbell’s story, ‘This God Stuff’.
What came through strongly was that respondents were strongly attached to the current format of The Lutheran (while still challenging us to do better). Those who chose to nominate a possible number of ‘outreach editions’ overwhelmingly told us that one (44 per cent) or two (18 per cent) similar editions per year would be well supported—and almost 41 per cent of respondents said that they were willing to financially support similar initiatives in future.
As an outcome of the survey, we are looking at ways to broaden our content and approach, particularly as we plan two outreach editions this year (in partnership with Lutheran Education Australia). A big, heartfelt ‘thankyou’ to all who took part.