Information is powerful. It can give you great insight and guide you in where to go.
Recently I used a program that provides demographic information, along with trends, and insights into the area our church resides in and serves.
It was quite enlightening. I found out that the area is aging, getting wealthier, and has a growing number of people with higher educational degrees. There is also a growing middle age segment of the population. The overall trends regarding religion are that people are less influenced by religion and are engaged with religion less and less. As for interests, it seems that people in this region are most interested in their own health, their finances, and their futures.
When I read this, I see the connection of these things – an aging wealthier and smarter group of individuals who earned their success and are trying to figure out how to keep it. This isn’t a judgement – it’s a summary of who the people around the church are.
And there is also a segment of the population that doesn’t really show up in the demographics – the poor and homeless, the prostitutes, victims of human trafficking. That population is smaller than the main population, but it’s there. I know – I encounter them often. The overall trends regarding religion are that they don’t feel they are worthy of being a part of church, but they love the message of Jesus. They interact with the church typically in non-worship functions that the church offers – social ministry and hands on ministry. As for interests, they are concerned with where they are going to get their next meal, do they have enough for somewhere to stay, and how to pay this or that unexpected bill. The focus is on the present tense.
Apparently then, there are two populations that don’t intersect very often. If they do, it is usually pretty negative in society. An example that I witnessed was in Harrisburg. I was walking down the street to a meeting and a woman was in front of me. We crossed the street and there was a man waiting on the corner. He looked as though he were going to ask for some help. She must have been hit up by him previous because she shouted at the top of her lungs at him to stop begging for money – to stop taking people’s money. She swore at him, all while she was walking along. He mumbled something, but didn’t respond directly to her. I reached my car and the women went on. The man came over to approach me and did ask for money. I often don’t have any cash on me, so I told him I didn’t have any. He looked disappointed. He said he was just trying to get on the bus to go to work. I went on my way to my next meeting. Could I have done something different? Sure. I could have taken him to work – or at least asked him where work was. But I didn’t. Too busy I guess. I have no idea if this guy was telling the truth. But really it didn’t matter. I tell you this story in order to make a bigger point.
Homelessness, human trafficking, poverty, prostitution, and more affect you. You may not experience people caught in these things directly, or maybe you do. But they affect you. They affect you because when one person is caught in these, it impacts the whole of society. I saw an estimate once that claimed that one homeless person uses $250,000 a year worth of medical services. How so? Well, a homeless person probably doesn’t have health insurance. They have limited money and therefore buy the cheapest food they can find to fill their stomachs. They typically have health challenges – many are diabetic. When there is a health problem, they don’t go to their doctor because they don’t have one – they go to the hospital. Guess who pays that bill? If there is trouble with the law, guess where they go – jail. Guess who pays that bill? It’s paid through our taxes.
Imagine a different way of handling these situations. Imaging offering housing first in order to get someone off the streets. To recognize their humanity. Taking that burden off of someone makes a big difference for a person. It is one stress they have taken care off. And it allows a person to start tackling other challenges. In the long run, it cost far less, and is more caring and compassionate to pay for housing for someone who is homeless than it is to do nothing and end up paying for all the services they use. The cost isn’t just in terms of money, but there is also a human cost.
The point is, if all we ever care about is ourselves, then we blind. And it will cost us a great deal more than if we pay attention to the greater needs of society.