Dream Data: Membership Maps & Emmaus

Ever have those massive projects that you wish you could undertake?  Like take a few months off work and family and be able to really tackle an issue, crunch the data....with the knowledge and enthusiasm to accomplish it?  With the world's ever-increasing desire for good data amidst the tumult, I find myself wishing someone could do a few projects or pay me to do them.

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.

Short version:
  1. Input church attendees' addresses into Google Earth for a zoomable tool that can examine church membership trends.
  2. Correlate church growth with city/town growth for social demographic results
  3. Map out the impact of the Walk to Emmaus community on local church attendance.
Long version:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
There ya go: three huuuuuge data projects that I think would be of great benefit if the data was compiled and presented in a helpful manner.



Anonymous,  February 25, 2010 at 9:27 PM  

I know a retired engineer who is a genius and would probably be interested in one of these project if there was some way to have them make a significant impact for the Kingdom of God. He told me how one time many years ago he mapped out all the addresses of the members of our congregation for some reason or another and I said, "Really? What program did you use, I'd love to be able to do that?" His response was, "Oh, just one I wrote." He's a humble genius. (and I don't use that term lightly...I do mean MENSA membership!)

Curtis Brown February 26, 2010 at 8:50 AM  

You might check out missioninsite.com. They are providing a congregation plot demographic tool for churches that does the individual plotting of church participants onto a map, and then the interpretive tools & analysis for churches. I'm sure that the same tool could be used for Emmaus.

Blake Huggins February 26, 2010 at 10:55 AM  

This is pure conjecture, but I'm guessing that the Emmaus data would reveal that it's not living up to its stated purpose.

I have my own criticisms of Emmaus/Chrysalis theologically, but one of the things the retreats seem to do well is instill a sense of the importance of "accountability groups." I wonder -- and I'm thinking about Methodists churches primarily here given our heritage -- if local churches might be better served by the retreats if they had an active class/band system at work, one that is not a glorified Sunday School class.

Bryan February 27, 2010 at 8:39 AM  

i just returned from a walk myself, came across lots of issues, there are a couple of things going on here that i've noticed. 1) emmaus has created walls within the community between those whove went and those who haven't, its a sort of gnosticism, with all the secrecy. 2) the emmauss clique here has tried to bring superficial aspects of emmauss into the congregation without nurturing conversation around that or consultation, just sort of superimposing, 3) because those accountability groups are from within the emmaus community no one in the congregation really knows a person is in one so its not even lifted up as a model of discipleship and the emmauss people sort of lift up emmauss above all else maybe even to the point of idolatry. Now i don't blame emmauss for these issues but it may have more to do with my particular group and prior leadership within my congregation. oh yeah one lady insinuated that emmauss walks were as good as or better than heaven.

Anonymous,  February 27, 2010 at 11:45 AM  

A good friend sent me the link to your post since I have thought the same thing myself. I would suggest changes: even though Google is so widespread and useful, it is not a mapping software with database capabilities for more complex methods. I use a software called ArcMAP which is called a GIS or Geographic Information System in which you geocode people's addresses and can examine more than just sociodemographics from the US Census but could even conduct a suitability anaylsis and depending on your variable, you could project where to plant new churches. It is not difficult, the difficult part is gathering accurate and quality data or raw numbers for each variable you are interested in.


Steve Killam TMTL March 1, 2010 at 9:57 AM  

The Emmaus effect is an interesting one. I have watched my home congregation respond to Emmaus for several decades, I myself attending 14 years ago and worked many walks and flights. The biggest thing to remember is that Emmaus is people, and people act differently at different times and situations. This is what I have witnessed;
When my church is in a spiritual growth stage, Emmaus compliments that stage. - Congregations have cycles, and it depends on more than who the pastoral leader is. When a congregation is in a spiritual growth cycle more members go to Emmaus and come back fired up and sponsor others, and that causes the cycle to continue, until the growth stage of the home church stops. (I have seen this cycle over and over.)
When the congregation is spiritually stagnant, (and this happens,) Emmaus stops being important and some members begin to suspicious of the Emmaus community. Major proponents of Emmaus either become inactive or move churches.
The stronger the lay leadership of the congregation, the more Emmaus can strengthen the congregation. When the lay leadership becomes un-focused, Emmaus can be a stumbling block.
Emmaus is not the cure all for a congregation. It is a tool. When it is properly and thoughtfully used, it can be a great builder within the church. When zealots take charge, it can be destructive.

Rev. Nathan Mills March 1, 2010 at 8:49 PM  

Run it by Craig Stinson in the conference office, maybe there are some grants out there to help, What you propose might be a more legitimate way of discerning the effectiveness of churches rather than the endless stacks of black and white 12 point font reports one DS uses to try to understand 40+ churches and communities in their charge. If you could pull it off, it might just be the Holy Grail of helping churches and clergy understand and think about the reality of their mission field.

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