Second International Researchers Conference
Four types of researchers attended the conference held in Hertfordshire, England, 20-23 February 96. Roughly two in five were from mission backgrounds interested especially in evaluating the unreached peoples of the world. This included a number with a special interest in communication, thanks to the close juxtaposition of a separate conference on missionary radio. Others who came were working primarily with church planting initiatives, requiring strategic information on possible church locations. Another two in every five were more concerned with national research studies or programmes, or were involved in producing Christian handbooks. There was also a few concerned primarily with what is sometimes called “implicit religion”, interested in learning about the basic beliefs in a secular society, whether or not reflected in organised Christianity.
The conference was based around four themes: turning data into prayer, turning data into decisions, turning data into growth, and turning data into challenge. Tom Houston gave the keynote address on these four words “Prayer, Decisions, Growth and Challenge”, urging us to remember that each audience was different, not everything we discover has to be revealed, that the interpretation of data is as important as the data itself, and that we need to paint a whole not partial picture.
The first evening Patrick Johnstone introduced us to the research needed for his ‘Operation World’, and his concern that it be used for prayer. On the Wednesday, Ross Campbell explained the work he had done in evaluating church life in Ghana in two major projects in 1988 and 1993 and how this had challenged church leaders into strategic action. Peter Kaldor followed, describing the huge Australian National Church Life Survey his team had undertaken, which had seen 310,000 forms returned! Don Posterski introduced us to identifying post-modern Canadian values through his work with young people and others. I touched on the usefulness of national church censuses.
On the Thursday, Wolfgang Simson told us about the work of DAWN, especially in Europe. Philip Hughes described how he had used government religious data and was being asked by them in turn to produce profiles of the different religions in Australia. Our conference chairman, Arnold van Heusden, who led us superbly throughout the conference, gave us an outline of a theology for research. On the final morning Bryant Myers gave us a tremendous paper on how to get research used, helping us to see how CEO’s and others view research reports when they get them. The conference closed with Fergus Macdonald outlining the challenge of research for us all, to keep our Finger in the Wind, our Feet on the Ground, our Focus on the World, our Flocks on the Move, our Flair for creativity on the Boil, and our Faith on its Toes. All these main sessions were recorded and cassettes are available to any who would like them.
There were also workshops on the use of research in different countries, China (Tony Lambert), Eastern Europe (Roger Russell), Sweden (Jörgen Ljung), Kenya (Emil Chandran) and Southern Africa (Marjorie Froise). On the Thursday there were workshops on the pragmatics of research, the use of maps (Mike O’Rear, USA), writing reports (Larry Vanderaa, Mali), producing mission handbooks (Ted Limpic, Brazil), analysing growth (Bob Waymire, USA), and researching denominations (Lorraine Francis, New Zealand).
But the conference was more than just listening to key papers, or attending a workshop, important though these might be. It was time for a new generation of researchers to meet each other and to consider the implications of the work we do. We had three Bible studies, on the personal spirituality of researchers, on integrity for researchers, and wisdom for researchers (which are also available on tape). These helped us ground our work biblically, and our times of prayer and sharing enabled us to learn some of our problems and support each others.
Bryant Myers, who led the first Bible study, spoke to us from Luke 8, and challenged us to see and hear. In verse 19, the disciples saw the family as mother and brothers; Jesus defined the family as his followers. In verse 22, the disciples see the storm as a threat to life; Jesus saw it was irrelevant to life and death. In verse 26, the disciples saw the Gadarene demoniac as someone to fear; Jesus saw a man in need of wholeness. In verse 40, the woman with the issue of blood was seen as an outcast; Jesus calls her “daughter”. In verse 49, people see Jairus’ daughter as dead; Jesus saw her alive. How do we turn the facts that others have into insight for the Kingdom of God? In verse 10, Jesus said such knowledge was given to his disciples. He (or she) who has ears to hear, must hear!
We decided that we wanted to keep in touch in the future. Mike O’Rear the new Senior Associate for Information Technology, is kindly setting up a WWW page, and enabling us all to keep in contact either that way or through E-mail. Anyone else is welcome to join the Net! The details are on page 22. The aim is to continue simply the necessary discussions of topics of special interest, such as the need for common definitions, or relating our work to society.
We also felt it would be good to meet again, in five years time not ten, and perhaps in a Third World country. Meanwhile regional conferences are possible. Marjorie Froise is considering organising one in South Africa in July 1997, and one has been suggested on “Church and Society” in Scandinavia, perhaps in 1988, especially to link together some of the (non-evangelical) academics and sociologists of religion (who were not at this Lausanne conference) with other Christian researchers. If you would be interested in either of these, please contact me.
Gaps in Christian Research
It would be good also if somehow groups could meet to think about some of the gaps in current Christian research. We are relatively strong on who needs to be reached, but not on what “being reached” really means. We have not broadly researched the impact of Christianity on societies around the world. We have amassed a large quantity of data but not correlated that with the secular data available. Nor have we published and synthesised our information as much as we should, what does it all mean? We are weak on working through the implications of our research, and helping to translate it into identifiable actions and challenges. We classify ourselves by denomination easily enough, but perhaps churchmanship is more important. We can identify evangelicals, but what about all the other Christians? There is still much ground to cover! And we are called to work while it is still day.
We enjoyed our time together! We remain grateful for the Lausanne banner which enabled us to meet from so many backgrounds and interests. May the Lord help us to continue to see, to hear and to understand.
by Dr. Peter Brierley, Executive Director of Christian Research and Lausanne Senior Associate of Research