“I’m impressed by your persistence!”
Thus began a voicemail message I received from a congregation leader last week. I’m learning that persistence is an important piece of the NSCEP research project.
The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP), conducted by Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, has been in the field since February, inviting selected congregations from diverse faith traditions to take part in our online survey. The survey will gather important data on how congregations receive, manage, and spend their resources, as well as the cultural, theological, and practical beliefs that shape their economic practices.
In the course of our work with NORC, a research firm at the University of Chicago, we have discovered that even the high-level research skills they employ can sometimes be stymied by the characteristics of some congregations and clergy. Very small congregations that do not employ office staff during the week are difficult to contact by phone. Very large congregations employ myriad staff for the express purpose of protecting access to their clergy leaders.
To approach such congregations, our research team has created a specialized task force of callers with unique backgrounds and experience in congregational ministry, religious studies, and denominational connections. This team of folks affirms the high importance of the NSCEP study and recognizes the contributions it will make to local congregations and leaders, denomination staff, religious scholars, and the field of religious philanthropy.
They are each given a group of congregations to contact, using tools such as social media, personal and professional networks, and good old-fashioned phone calls. We are fortunate to have a caller who is fluent in Spanish to converse with clergy who prefer that language.
This is where persistence comes in. Reaching out to the congregations respectfully and repeatedly using a variety of methods helps convince the leaders of the faith communities of the importance and credibility of the study as well as the importance of their participation in it.
In the group of completed surveys so far, we have congregations as small as 30 members and as large as many thousands, traditions from Roman Catholic to African Methodist Episcopal to Islam, and yearly budgets from around $35,000 to several million dollars.
I have also learned that persistence pays off. When I try a new method of contact and get an enthusiastic response from the congregation or leader, I know their data will be contributing to the NSCEP results and I’m energized to reach out to the next congregation. Clergy are also pleased to learn that as participants, they will automatically receive a copy of the NSCEP results free of charge.
I’m grateful to work with a research team that highly values the contributions of U.S. congregations to our communities, and that leverages all available resources and connections to gather information on faith communities. In this way, our NSCEP study will be as reliable and representative as possible. And I’m grateful as well for our “Calling Team” and their persistent pursuit of NSCEP participants!
Amy L. Hemphill is the Project Coordinator of the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) for Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She holds a M. Div. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Sociology from IUPUI.