This post was written by co-founder Sarah Ngu, announcing her transition from Church Clarity leadership.
For those of you who don’t know, my name is Sarah Ngu and I am one of the cofounders of Church Clarity with George Mekhail. I oversee the operations of our database, write for our blog, and steward the vision and culture of our 150-person all-volunteer team. I am stepping down from leadership at Church Clarity by end of this month, transitioning my responsibilities off to an extremely capable and committed team whom I will miss deeply, and will continue to serve on its advisory council. There is no drama, scandal, or bad blood here; I simply want to be able to dedicate more of my time to my freelance writing (@sarahngu if you ever want to follow and keep in touch) and my position as Executive Director at my church, Forefront Brooklyn.
I began this blogpost by saying “for those who don’t know,” because one of the things I love the most about my work is that most people who know Church Clarity do not also know, off the top of their head, who its cofounders or leadership team are. The anonymity of Church Clarity can have its drawbacks, but overall it makes me happy that the fate of our organization is not tied to any particular individual. It exists beyond us, beyond me.
What I’m most proud of being able to accomplish at Church Clarity is that we have built a platform that is widely used and have shaped the church discourse through the content we’ve produced without having any celebrity personalities. People know us for the data we collect, people know us for the stories of people—outside of Church Clarity, the organization—whom we spotlight, and occasionally the semi-viral tweet usually from the Church Clarity Twitter account, not mine or George’s. People know us for being a spotlight—never the people under the spotlight.
It’s taken me awhile to realize how unique the influence that we, as Church Clarity, wield is in the church industry which, for the most part, follows a preacher-centric model. Whether it’s a book author, a podcast host, a musician, a conference speaker, or an actual preacher, the Christian industry provides platforms primarily to individual (usually extroverted and “always online”) personalities. Everyone else performs work behind the scenes.
In contrast, Church Clarity operates through tightly-run but decentralized team of semi-anonymous volunteers across the United States and beyond. If you’ve ever submitted a church to our database, you have already “volunteered” for us. After that, someone in Florida, during his breaks as a custodian, reviews your submission for accuracy and fills in any missing information like a church’s logo. Then another person, after putting her kids away to bed in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, stays up late investigating that church for any policy evidence and scores the church based on our extensive scoring taxonomy. Then a third person, in between patient sessions as a therapist in Kansas, reviews and approves that person’s scores, or reviews a Verified Clear survey if the church has submitted one. To top it off, a fourth person in Kentucky, after a series of late-night shifts staffing a homeless shelter, does one last round of approval before the church is published on our website. (This process could change a bit in the future.)
For many of our volunteers, they joined Church Clarity because they felt wanted to do something concrete in the face of what feels like impossible-to-change systems. They were burned by a church’s bait-and-switch tactics once, but what could they, as an individual, do up against a charismatic pastor with best-selling books who would simply defend-and-deny? They watched as their LGBTQ friends were quietly fired from church staff, and they quit in protest too, but what else could they do given the enforcement strength of the national denomination’s policies, and the powerful board’s commitment to secrecy? They could take to social media and post a long rant to their 150 followers, but after the “retweets” and “likes” from family and friends die down, what else can they do?
With Church Clarity, as long as you have a laptop and wifi connection, you can do something that’s quite concrete and powerful. Even if all you offer is 5 hours of data entry a month, you are contributing to a powerful database with a large following—your action could help save the life of someone who is looking for a church in a small town. You are prompting the leadership of churches to do the hard work and have tough conversations so that they can actively disclose their policies when we send them a Verified Clear survey.
Your contribution is not just indelible – it is quantifiable. You can look back and see how many churches you’ve reviewed this past week, quarter, or in total. You are part of an collective that is larger than you, a collective that can take your contribution, combine it with others’, and amplify it on a larger platform. You do not have to have your own platform and following (in fact, most of us are quite introverted and prefer working behind a screen than on a stage)—you simply need to be committed to a level of impartiality and rigor. You can contribute towards the healing of people – or, better yet, the prevention of harm – in church, and perhaps even your own healing.
The power of Church Clarity speaks to the power of organizing: Organizing a large remote network of volunteers towards a common goal of publishing hundreds of churches a month through a mixture of tools—Slack, Google Drive, our back-end database, and our front-end website—and regular communication. We hope that our data proves useful to people who organize outside of Church Clarity as well. Perhaps congregants will, upon realizing their church’s score, start initiating conversations with others and their leadership. The sky is the limit—just drop Church Clarity a note if our database has ever made a difference for you or your church. Our team would love to hear from you.
I know I’m still writing about Church Clarity in first-person plural with “we” and “our,” and am I not supposed to be leaving? Besides the fact that our past selves are always a part of us, I know that I will never be a stranger and will be committed to Church Clarity, even if my work is primarily as an advisor.
To my beautiful team, I hope this have provided you a moment to pause and take in what an incredible thing we have created and are actively creating together. I remember when you all first joined, and how much some of you have grown as leaders here. I remember all the late-hours we spent on some mind-numbing tasks, all the fires we tried to put out – some due to George’s and my mistakes – with emergency calls, and all the moments where we just watched in amazement as mega-church pastors realized they couldn’t respond to our basic questions and truth-telling. I have the utmost respect for all of you. Thank you for all you’ve done, and thank you for listening to instructions from someone who is likely much younger than you J
May you carry the work forward.