I recently received my February 2021 issue of The Banner in the mail. I sat down in my green Lazy-Boy recliner in my living room to read. On page four of the magazine, I read the posted results of the 2020 denominational survey, which included a question that asked CRC people to complete this sentence:
To me, the term 'Christian Reformed' means________________.
The top 20 answers were listed and I looked at the phrases with baited breath. I agreed with many of the descriptions that gave insight to the aspirations of members and admissions about how far we have to go in becoming the kind of church that attracts people from all lifestyles and embraces every hue of humanity.
The top 10 were fine and included phrases such as: Christ-centered, Scripture-centered, Faith formation for all ages, and worship-filled—all of which I endorsed strongly. My eyes followed down the list of other ways people expressed what it meant to be a CRC member. In the last spot on the list of answers was the word Diverse. If I had not known there were more answers to that question, the survey appeared to say diversity was a very low aspiration. It called attention to a clear admission and a challenge that more work needs to happen.
To be fair, this single, shortened survey result was meant to capture a thumbnail sketch of the CRC. Members evaluated where the denomination aspires to be and the work of change is evident as the fastest growing segment of the Christian Reformed Church are among ethnic, diaspora, and multi-racial churches. As our church approaches the demographic blessings of the Holy Spirit, it is crucial that we welcome, adjust, and make room for all of God’s people coming from Berlin to Brooklyn to Bangkok.
When I posted this survey result on my Facebook page, a lively conversation began to emerge. The post received over 150 comments about the survey and dialogue among people who reflected on it. Some expressed sadness that diversity was at the bottom of the list. Others applauded the fact that biblical and theological values were ranked high and cherished. Still others questioned the survey altogether. I was intrigued by the responses and ways that people looked at the survey from many angles and perspectives. The conversation appeared healthy to me. That does not happen often on Facebook.
I wrote this reflection to encourage a more nuanced approach with future surveys in the denominational magazine. A full story on the survey, with greater explanation of its purpose, would make better usefulness of the survey. I am thankful for the survey, but without an explanation, I tried to fill in the blanks on my own. The Banner can do better. Lastly, the survey needs more people of color and finding better ways to get their participation. I am sure this work is difficult, but the more voices of colors at the beginning, the better the final data.
Game shows with surveys are fun and trivial. But when it comes to missional, adaptive work of the church, what the denominational survey says is not enough.