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A Snapshot:

Churches, Sight Loss and Reaching Out

The Torch Trust National Church Survey 2011

About the survey

During summer 2011, Torch conducted a nationwide survey of church leaders. This survey sought to learn from church leaders about:

  • sight loss within their congregations
  • interest in mission and ministry opportunities with people with visual impairment
  • awareness of Torch and its work

The survey was sent throughout the UK to around 5,000 churches of all denominations. Encouragingly, 277 replies were received – a great response rate of 5.5%. Below is a summary of results.

For further information, contact: roseh@torchtrust.org or call +44(0)1858 438260 or mail us at Torch trust, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough LE16 9HL, UK.

KEY FINDINGS

Sight loss in the congregation

Churches of all sizes from all denominations responded to the survey. 37% indicated that over half their congregation was 65 years or older.

80% have people with sight loss in their congregation, whatever the church's age profile is.

44% said the survey had drawn their attention to issues they haven't considered before. As 40% of these churches also said they have a champion for disability issues or someone passionate about the subject, the survey may have provoked thoughts amongst churches that are already proactive about disability.

Active participation in church life

People with sight loss are more likely to hold particular roles in churches with a champion than without - 50% compared to 37%. The top 3 areas of particular responsibility were:

  1. Small groups
  2. Prayer / healing
  3. Worship

Accessibility of churches

85% of all churches had formally considered their accessibility for disabled people. This rose slightly to 86% for churches with people with sight loss. All churches with a disability champion had done so.

For all churches, the top reasons for considering accessibility were firstly the needs of disabled people within the congregation, closely followed by it being part of the church's mission and ministry. Legislation was a much lesser motivation.

41% of all churches have someone in the church who acts as a champion for disabled people, or have somebody passionate about the subject. This rose to 53% for those churches with people with sight loss.

71% of all churches considered sight loss when looking at disability issues. This rose to 79% for those churches with people with sight loss.

Having a member of the congregation with a disability appears to raise awareness of the issues involved.

Of the churches that said they have not looked at disability issues, 33% expressed interest in Torch evaluating the accessibilty of their church.

Mission and ministry opportunities

The biggest advocates by far for mission and ministry opportunities to people in the UK with sight loss are people with sight loss within the congregation. Within 49% of churches with someone with sight loss, blind and partially sighted people raised awareness of these opportunities. Also, 61% of churches without congregation members with sight loss reported that they hadn't heard of such opportunities, in contrast to 30% of churches overall within the survey.

However, 34% of churches feel they haven't got capacity to take on new areas of mission. 16% don't see this area of mission as relevant to their own community, but would respond if they experienced a clear sense of calling.

43% of all respondents were very interested in some form of community involvement.

Torch knows first hand that sight loss is an issue within our communities. 1 in 4 people over the age of 70 will suffer significant sight loss, and every day 100 people hear the news that no medical intervention can prevent them from going blind.

We want more churches to feel inspired and equipped to participate in the many different ways to support people with sight loss. Torch offers training in visual awareness, and has a range of Bibles, study guides, books, magazines and other bestsellers in accessible formats such as audio, giant print and Braille.

Learning from shared experience: your encouragements and challenges

People already working with individuals with sight loss shared thoughts about their greatest challenges and encouragements. Here are the themes and some of the comments made.

The encouragements...

  • The spiritual contribution and commitment people with sight loss make to their church communities, and genuine inclusion despite challenges.

"That people who are deafblind actually want to come to church even though it is a struggle!"

  • The privilege of supporting the needs of blind and partially sighted people and helping them to engage with church life.

"Walking a person with sight loss around the church, enabling them to touch key places in the church and explaining what happens at certain points in the service."

  • The particular sense of community, relationship and friendship experienced with people with sight loss.

"The togetherness of the group; plus the ideas for when my eyesight gets worse."

  • The learning journey of understanding visual impairment, and what people are able to do.

"Realising how much folk can do in spite of 'sight loss'."

The challenges...

  • Being aware of, and responsive to, people's particular needs.

"Getting everyone to realise that you can't just say "Look at this!" when explaining something! Takes time to remind people to produce things in the right format or explain what 'this' is.

The Torch Foursight for the Church scheme aims to help churches to become as accessible as possible. You can register at: Foursight registration

  • Making church activities accessible – frequent use of visual media and the book based culture were particular issues.

"Being consistent in making our materials and resources accessible without people having to make special requests."

Torch can help with making church literature accessible. For information about all the different bibles available in various accessible formats, visit: accessible bibles

  • Drawing people in to church life – making people aware of the church, the church being aware of those around them with sight loss, and getting the church to become engaged.

"Enabling people to hear about our church – and its welcome."

Torch has a network of Fellowship Groups around the country that complement church life and give companionship to those with sight loss. Find out more at: Torch Fellowship Groups

Helping you to be equipped for mission and ministry to people with sight loss

In order to become more deeply engaged with mission and ministry to people with sight loss, churches told us that the following routes of engagement were of most interest:

  1. Large print, Braille and audio materials for worship and study

  2. Church befriending for people who are losing their sight

  3. Training about visual awareness and other practical support

 

 

Already, we've broadened the range of our various groups and holiday programmes to reach new audiences – including people who are just starting to lose their sight. We're looking to work with more churches nationally to provide better support to people who need it.

We've set up new telephone friendship groups and other peer interest groups, offering Christian companionship for those on their sight-loss journey. We've set up confidence-building short breaks called Moving Forward for people newly diagnosed, and a new befriending scheme called Journeying With to bring church volunteers alongside those who are going through the tough early days of sight loss.

We've broadened the range of accessible literature – including large print, Braille and audio, and using the potential offered by web-based systems so that we can be even more personalised and responsive. And we're launching the new Worship for all online service to transform worship and small group study resources into large print or Braille-ready formats.

And we're re-engaging the Foursight network of churches keen to make church a better experience for people with sight loss. 65% of respondents had heard of Torch, though only 13% were already involved with a sight loss organisation, so there is good potential to build on this network and to reach out to new churches – and carrying out the survey has already helped us to do this; thank you.

For further information, contact: roseh@torchtrust.org or call +44(0)1858 438260 or mail us at Torch trust, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough LE16 9HL, UK.

 
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