As it turns out, data geeks throw a pretty good party! Stefan Jonasson and I attended the annual meeting of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership last week. It was held in Chicago at the beautiful headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. About 30 researches from over 25 denominations or religious networks gathered to compare notes, observations, challenges, and excitement over current studies. I was downright giddy to be there!
I got to meet my counterpart from the Greek Orthodox community who attempted to replicate the study I had done a couple years ago on Free Range Unitarian Universalists. He and I spent many hours on the phone last year talking about how polity, culture, and many other variables effect translation of research instruments. Try to grock that for a moment. In the room of religious researches Alexei and I would be placed on opposite ends of the spectrum for so many reasons, and yet we could not wait to finally meet and break bread together.
Researchers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Church of the Nazarene and I excitedly swapped challenges of our fall 2015 study and checked our assumptions – Is that true? How would we know? What do you see from the vantage of your tradition?
I disclosed holy envy for the new, comprehensive and dynamic database that the United Church of Christ researchers use with the whole of their national and field staff. And followed them on break to take notes on the details of a study they are doing on Congregational Vitality. I want to borrow their instrument!
Some expressed holy envy at how Unitarian Universalists use technology with relative ease to break down barriers to communication. We are early adapters and adopters of technology. They looked at Stefan and I in wonder because we primarily collaborate across national borders through regular video conferencing.
Many of the researchers were equally fascinated that data analysis is a relatively small percentage of our Growth Office’s dedicated time. That most of our work is in actually actively using the findings to do ministry better, whether in direct service or in resource development. They had holy envy that our reports are actively being used by our UUA Board of Directors to make better decisions about our future. And that our field staff uses reports to determine priorities and check intended impact. I know many of our congregations do, too! “Give me those numbers so I can decide how to do better!”
And there was discomfort, too. When the researcher from the National Council of Churches pointed out that the historic Black churches were missing from our cooperative, I kept pushing the issue. Why? What are we going to do about it? And now we have an effort to examine who is missing and to actively invite those groups into the cooperative. Later my new friend from the LDS tradition observed, “Inclusion is very important to your religion, isn’t it?” Yes. Yes, it is.
In partnership with others similar enough to be able to communicate but different enough to challenge same-ness assumption is where I really begin to understand myself. My participation with the CCSP clarified for me that I come from the people of
- Relational Curiosity
- Thinking to do
- Working toward justice
I feel blessed to live in a time where I can work along side my cousins in faith and use quantitative and qualitative research to help see a clear picture of who we are individually and together in this 21st century landscape.
Part two of our FACT People Gathering report will focus on the actual publications of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and the most current survey taking place.