Join us in welcoming one of our newest staff members!
Chris Munn, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, analyzing data from the National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP).
From Texas, Munn originally wanted to work in ministry. During his undergraduate career, he decided to switch his major to social work after working one summer in an intercity ministry organization. Upon graduating, Munn spent several years working as a social worker in hospice care and then preparing mentoring undergraduate minority students and first-generation college students for graduate school. During this time of mentoring students and conducting research studying multiracial churches, he decided to pursue his Ph.D.
He focused on how race influences the way people interact within churches, and recently completed his Ph.D. in sociology from Ohio State University. When the position at the school opened up, Munn found it a perfect fit for his interest areas.
“I’ve always been interested in big ideas about giving; how giving shapes power and status within society and how giving does or doesn’t reinforce or recreate inequality,” he explained.
Now, he’s analyzing recent data from the NSCEP study, which was generously funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.
“It’s a mixed methods, national study that’s focusing on 1,200 congregations (the study includes churches, synagogues, and mosques). It asks questions such as how individuals give to congregations and how congregations use the donations,” Munn said.
“For example, is the money going to pay staff? Will it maintain facilities? Or will it be spent for outreach in the community? It will be interesting not only to see what’s staying in the congregation and what’s going back out to the community, but also to learn how the size of church matters for giving and how people are using technology to give.”
The second phase of the study, which will begin this summer, will feature qualitative interviews of 75 leaders of these congregations and 15 case ethnographies.
“We’ll go and spend some time with the organization and take notes on how money is discussed, how it’s used. We’ll have a firsthand look at how several congregations address giving,” Munn said.
“With the combination of the qualitative and quantitative study, we’re hoping to provide a more complete picture of congregational giving practices and how individuals and groups address issues around money.”
That being said, Munn mentioned that there have been interesting insights related to studying congregations: “First, it’s important to have a calling strategy. This means that the congregations are matched with callers who share a religious identity or background with the institution. When the caller can relate to that religious identity, it establishes a connection and makes it easier to field honest answers.”
One challenge with the study are the number of denomination groups that exist. “We can identify roughly 300 large denomination groups that exist, but when you start to learn about the various ‘splits’ between the denominations, the picture becomes more complex. For example, one church group split over the wearing of mustaches in the early 20th century. Finding out how many of these groups exist and what identities they have in common has been interesting,” Munn explained.
He noted another challenge, one that Lake Institute works every day to dispel. “People hesitate when answering questions about money. Congregations aren’t used to producing information like this for tax purposes, so asking those questions comes across as threatening to them,” he said.
“However, we need to increase the national conversation about religious giving, and provide a baseline for knowledge that we have about these particular congregations. This data will really help us understand what’s happening in these organizations when individuals give, why they give, and perhaps what they hope their giving accomplishes. Utilizing data in a study like this can help us tackle questions about religious giving and other social issues that are affected by religious giving.”
For Munn, working with NSCEP, Lake Institute, and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy ties back to his work on connecting research to practice in multiracial churches.
“It’s what I like about the school. You have people from unique backgrounds coming together to study this main topical area. The interdisciplinary, collaborative nature encourages and expects you to come up with meaningful research that can be utilized by nonprofit professionals.”