I have been doing it a lot lately.  Research.   I want to understand the spiritual journey of young Canadians.   I want to do it  without becoming pushy.  So, I am asking polite questions in order for them to tell me their story– be it ever so briefly.  As I listen to their brief story I gather some fascinating information.  I can’t remember who said it but our “personal stories are data with a soul”.

It’s not a set up, though it is by design.  I usually use the brief encounter between a patron at a restaurant (me) and a server (them).

I don’t “always” ask the questions but if the serving encounter has been good, and the server has seemed energetic, as I am paying out the bill, I usually say “can I ask you two personal questions?”  Every time they say “yes”.  So I preface it all by saying I am a minister in a church and I am interested in knowing “do you consider yourself spiritual?”   I then ask the next question, “I’ve noticed as a minister that not many of your generation are attending church any more, why is that?”

And I listen carefully for their answers.

Yesterday I had just finished up a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee and the server set me up with “will that be all?”  I responded that I was totally satisfied–the food was great and the service was fantastic.  As I was paying out the bill at the table I then asked her permission for two questions.  “Sure”.    “I am a minister doing research for my church, do you consider yourself a “spiritual” person?”  Her reponse—“no”.  (Interesting eh?)  Then I followed up with “I’ve noticed that the younger generation isn’t going to church, at least not the church I pastor, can you help me understand that?”  Her response–“hmmm, can’t say.  All I know is I have never gone to church.  My parents never took me when I was young.  It’s just not a habit for me.  I went once when I was 13 with a friend, but that was only one time”.   I thanked her because I had used up my two questions.  But I had learned a ton.

By the way, I left a generous tip.  If you were to hire out your research to a polling firm it would cost you a fortune.  If you do it yourself, you’ll still have to pay for it.  But the personal rewards are way more pleasurable.  And you experience first hand the soul in the data.