Canadian Mennonite thanks everyone who took the time to fill out the reader survey distributed late in 2015. The responses were positive overall and showed that the magazine is generally well liked. Readers clearly prefer to read print, rather than online, and there is great resistance to the idea of making the magazine digital-only. Various comments indicated that many readers would also be happy to have an end to the sexuality debate.
This survey was administered by Barefoot Creative, an independent communications agency, and staff at Canadian Mennonite did not see the response forms. Printed survey forms went out as a loose insert in the Oct. 12, 2015, issue with the option of going to an online form. The agency provided Canadian Mennonite with detailed feedback.
Barefoot Creative was surprised and pleased that the survey response rate was higher than 10 percent, with 1,221 surveys returned. Of those, 204 were done online. Geographically, respondents to the survey were spread across the provinces in the same proportion as our readers. Not surprisingly, only a tiny percentage of our readers have a first language other than English or German. Of those who responded to the survey, 85 percent attend church at least once a week.
The age range of our readers was informative. Of those who responded to the survey, 64 percent are over 65 years of age and only 10 percent are under 45. We tell ourselves that maybe younger people will read Canadian Mennonite more when they are older, but this is a frightening statistic.
One of the survey questions asked if readers prefer to read magazines in print. The response was a resounding “yes.” Even those 45 and younger prefer to read print and many comments begged Canadian Mennonite not to switch to digital. Although most readers use a computer and e-mail, not many follow Canadian Mennonite online through the website, Facebook or Twitter. We have been working to increase the number of people engaged online and we are seeing good year-over-year increases, but there is still room for improvement.
When asked for favourite and least-favourite parts of the magazine, the answers were less clear. Among the most frequently mentioned favourite parts were editorials, features, letters, Milestones, Viewpoints and Young Voices. Troy Watson was the columnist mentioned most often. For least-favourite parts, readers mentioned letters, fragmenting issues, local news and ads. Letters to the editor had the highest rating, both favourably and unfavourably, which seems a bit paradoxical. We assume that readers like to know what others are thinking, but they do not like the debate to be acrimonious. The dislike of fragmenting issues bears out this interpretation.
The church has been very divided on issues of sexuality, and we assume that this is at the centre of these “fragmenting issues.” Many people took the time to comment that they would like a break from sexuality issues; others chastised the magazine for taking a one-sided approach. Perhaps the take-away is that you cannot please everyone.
In a question about types of articles they appreciate, readers indicated they like stories about people, local stories and articles dealing with Mennonite history. Here again, there is a discrepancy, because local stories were among things listed as least-favourite. We have noticed that readers like to see their own local stories; readers from the east regularly complain there are too many stories from the west, and vice versa.
When asked about the purpose of the magazine, the highest responses were to “inform” and to “connect Mennonites.” Younger readers responded with “connect Mennonites” more than older readers. Other purposes listed were to challenge ideas, to inspire, to educate and to provide spiritual food. Younger people tended to see the magazine as a place to challenge and discuss ideas, while some older readers saw its purpose as more spiritual or inspirational. Given the feedback, we will continue to cover news and encourage conversation, rather than to move toward more devotional writing.
We were pleased to see that Canadian Mennonite is used as a resource for conversations, as well as for sermons or small-group discussions. We were also gratified to read comments indicating that people who have no Mennonite church nearby read the magazine to stay connected.
Given this feedback, Canadian Mennonite does not plan to switch to a digital-only publication. While we will try to encourage online engagement, we will continue to keep our congregations connected with printed stories and articles that educate and inspire our faith while fostering dialogue on issues facing Mennonites in Canada.