This is, of course, disregarding solving world problems and feeding the hungry. I'm talking about sheer data compilation and presentation of churchy stuff.
So, here we go: If I had unlimited time and unlimited resources to research churchy phenomenon, here's three I would do.
- Input church attendees' addresses into Google Earth for a zoomable tool that can examine church membership trends.
- Correlate church growth with city/town growth for social demographic results
- Map out the impact of the Walk to Emmaus community on local church attendance.
- I would map out every member of various churches in a city or town onto Google Earth. From there we could zoom, color-code membership (we'll put the Baptists in pink for fun), and explore social phenomenon such as if all the Methodists really live in the same neighborhoods. This would be an immensely valuable tool for examining the impact of church membership and the real-time demographics of area churches. It would be impossible to get such data (privacy concerns) but a cool tool nonetheless.
- I would correlate church growth numbers and statistics with the growth of the town/city over the past 100 years. During times of economic insecurity, did the Methodists grow? During times of boom years, did Prosperity Gospel churches grow? When adding on a subdivision of lower-class houses, did church attendance boom? I think examining how societal shifts and church growth shifts correlate would be fascinating for discussion.
- I would map out the church attendance and dedication of every person who goes on the Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat. Contrary to what you may think of a progressive seminary-trained pastor, I've been on the Walk to Emmaus, served several retreats in various capacities, and am about to give my first Talk. So I'm an Insider looking in, not an external critic. The expressed purpose of the Walk is:
The Walk to Emmaus is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders.The Emmaus community is sustained by "fourth day" monthly meetings of the attendees. At one vividly-remembered meeting that I attended, a member said he had to stop attending his local UM church because he didn't get the spiritual experience from it that he did from a monthly fourth-day meeting. He later switched to a Pentecostal congregation. I've heard this story echoed by other pastors who see members either (a) become more involved, or (b) leave the church after an Emmaus weekend.
While that is anecdotal, the memory spurs me to want to get the data on whether Emmaus actually (statistically) increases church involvement and whether participants self-profess an increase in commitment to local church. I would have to wait until I see the data to actually offer criticism beyond anecdotes.