churches respond to covid-19
October 18, 2018

2018: Database & Scoring in Review

Sarah Ngu (she/they). Cofounder.

When we started over a year ago, the co-founding team was huddled together over Zoom calls, spreadsheets, and text messages, trying to cook up with an objective methodology for scoring church policies. Should we score churches based on people’s experiences or church websites? How should we measure “LGBTQ policy”? Most of all, will this actually take off? Questions abounded.

365 days later, we now have over 2,500 submissions of churches to our database and 2,000 churches scored based on how clearly they communicate their policies on their websites. George, our Executive Director, has a broad overview of what we’ve learned thus far, and here are some highlights from my perspective as Database Director of Church Clarity:

  • This past spring, we added Women in Leadership to our scoring methodology, after much consultation with an extensive network of women and non-binary church leaders, and with our volunteer team, who continually provide feedback  for refining our methodology.
  • We built a “Denominations” spreadsheet with around 200 entries that lists the policies or stances of each denomination and network.
  • We’ve launched a new category of clarity — Verified Clear — which allows churches to submit their answers to a policy survey, erasing the need to “label” a church. Over 200 churches have become Verified Clear. While many churches answer “yes” to our questions about whether they will marry, hire and ordain LGBTQ people, as well as allow women to preach, govern and pastor, about 20 churches have answered “no” or “actively discerning.” And we’ve also launched a Verified Clear membership pilot program.

Internally, we have been just as busy.

  • We have created an on-boarding process that trains volunteers — anyone who believes #ClarityisReasonable and has an internet connection — in investigating and scoring churches. We now have 20 active volunteer “scorers” who are put in hours of their time reviewing church submissions and another 50 who participate in ideation discussions, and jump into scoring as their schedule allows.
  • We have created a system where every church submission goes through three levels of review, first by a new scorer, then by an experienced scorer (“approver”), and finally by a scoring expert who conducts a final review.
  • A huge milestone for us: We spent a month focused on migrating 2,400 church entries from our old database to our new database, setting us up to build the technology platform we envision. We finished the migration as of yesterday. Daniel, our Website Director, will have a blogpost coming up into what this means for our technological future here.

I’ve been impressed by the espirit de corps of our volunteer team of scorers, who have stayed up late scoring churches and invested hours (upon hours) this past month painstakingly migrating data from our old database to our new one. Various volunteers have stepped up to handle special responsibilities: Justin handles transcription of sermons and updating published church entries; Stephanie, our premier investigator, shares the responsibility with me of “final review” and assigning entries to volunteers; Jessica manages the onboarding of volunteers every week; Jess wrote our protocol for how to designate “gender” of church leadership. Our Slack channels be buzzin’. I’m excited to finally feature our Volunteer team on our website to show the world the dedicated team that quietly runs this machine behind the scenes.

If you want to join our volunteer scoring team, sign up here.

As someone who occasionally works as a freelance journalist, I take great pride in the investigative capacity of our team, as well as our commitment to objectivity and consistency. There are many instances in which it is tempting to score a church as “non-egalitarian” due to the lack of any women in leadership, but we stick to an “undisclosed” score due to the lack of any policy evidence (there are plenty of egalitarian churches with all-men leadership). Or instances in which a church removes a non-affirming sermon from their website after we’ve scored them (happens ALL the time), and we choose to change their score from “unclear_non-affirming” to “undisclosed” (we score church websites as they *currently* are, but we will note any relevant information and as always, remain open to appeals).

A space for growth for us over the next year will be to better communicate our scoring methodology to the public. Some people, for instance, are confused why their United Methodist church is scored as “unclear_non-affirming” even though they state they “welcome people regardless of sexuality and gender identity,” and have a rainbow flag on their website and church. (That’s because the UMC denomination prohibits clergy from officiating same-sex weddings, so unless we see specific language about weddings on the website, the denomination’s policy will override the local church’s policy). Others are confused how could a church be scored as “unclear” when this church’s sermon *clearly* contains homophobic or transphobic language. (That’s because we provide “clear” or “unclear” scores based on how easily you can find a church’s policy on its website, not how clear the specific policy is. Is the website clear? Yes or No.)

It’s worth repeating: Our goal is not to shame non-affirming or non-egalitarian churches, or promote affirming or egalitarian ones. Our goal is to pressure ALL unclear churches to become clear. We then take great pride in promoting clear, especially Verified Clear, churches. Our mission is to elevate the standard of clarity in churches, regardless of their policy. It’s an incremental, “harm-reduction” type of approach that not everyone will agree with, but this is our organization’s mission, and I feel happy to say that when it comes to our scoring, we have done a decent job.

What do you think? Please let us know your feedback on Twitter, Facebook or through our email contact form.   

- Sarah Ngu, Database Director @sarahngu