Mennonite World Conference launches new study of its worldwide members
by Connie Faber with Goshen College press release
USMB has been selected to participate in a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) global study that looks at how Anabaptist Christians around the world are living out their faith. The 24 national conferences and church groups involved in the Global Anabaptist Profile study were selected randomly from MWC’s five geographic regions and include seven of the 20 Mennonite Brethren conferences that comprise the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB).
That so many Mennonite Brethren conferences are involved in this first-ever global study is an indicator of the significant role Mennonite Brethren play in the worldwide fellowship of Anabaptist churches, says Valerie Rempel, the USMB research associate for the project who is responsible for carrying out the project in the U.S.
“We forget that worldwide we (Mennonite Brethren) are a large group,” says Rempel.
In addition to Mennonite Brethren in the United States, Mennonite Brethren in Germany, India, DR Congo and Colombia as well as the German MB Conference of Paraguay and Spanish MB Conference of Paraguay will be participating in the study.
Having seven ICOMB members participate in the Global Anabaptist Profile study offers Mennonite Brethren an unusual opportunity, says Rempel.
“That one-fourth of the Mennonite Brethren conferences are involved presents us with a unique opportunity to run just the ICOMB numbers and see how the global MB world responds to these questions,” says Rempel, who is the director of the Center for Anabaptist Studies at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a seminary faculty member.
When Ed Boschman, USMB executive director, circulated a request for a volunteer research associate to coordinate USMB participation in the profile study, Rempel offered the resources of the Center for Anabaptist Studies (CAS).
Rempel and her CAS research assistants will be contacting the 30 USMB congregations that were randomly selected by the Global Anabaptist Profile oversight committee to be part of the study.
“Yours may be the lucky congregation,” says Rempel, who will be contacting the selected congregations in the next few months. “And in most cases someone will show up at your church to distribute the survey.”
The USMB sampling will include congregations from each of the five geographic districts. Rempel will be contacting pastors of the selected congregations to arrange for a time during which the congregation will complete the extensive survey.
While there are certainly challenges involved in collecting data from 30 U.S. congregations, Rempel says some of her counterparts in other parts of the world have far greater obstacles. Some research associates face logistical challenges in reaching remote congregations, illiteracy and cross-cultural differences in understanding theological terms.
“This is a very ambitious project,” says Rempel. “We’re an intrepid group of people forging ahead in faith.”
Rempel and the other MWC research associates met July 29-Aug. 2 to revise the survey and to receive basic training in social research methods.
In addition to gathering demographic information, the survey explores how congregations are living out the “shared convictions” of MWC members regarding their belief and practice as followers of Jesus Christ. The survey, which will be translated into multiple languages, will cover a wide-range of topics—everything from how you share the Gospel to mode of baptism to behavior and attitudes about divorce or being present at ancestor worship, says Rempel.
The fact that USMB can add specific survey questions to the survey can provide USMB leaders with a “state of the church” report, says Rempel.
“Being involved in something of this scale is exciting,” says Rempel. “The intent is to understand who we are. The results can provide leaders with an understanding of the ‘lay of the land.’”
MWC hopes to complete the Global Anabaptist Profile in time for the MWC Assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., in July 2015.
PHOTO: Valerie Rempel, third from the left, stands with the other Mennonite Brethren research associates volunteering with the MWC Global Anabaptist Profile.
The Global Anabaptist Profile is not the first sociological study in which U.S. Mennonite Brethren have participated. U.S. Mennonite Brethren joined with four other Mennonite and Brethren in Christ groups in the United States and Canada that participated in the 1972 Kaufman/Harder study. The 1972 study was replicated 10 years later and USMB participated in that survey. The Kaufman/Harder study was updated in the early 2000’s but USMB chose not to participate. So the 2015 MWC Global Anabaptist Profile is the first time in more than 30 years that U.S. Mennonite Brethren will be involved in a scientific sampling regarding beliefs and practices.
More about the Global Anabaptist Profile project
The Global Anabaptist Profile is a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) project organized and funded by the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College.
The project has been in development for nearly three years, says John D. Roth, director of the Institute and secretary of the MWC Faith and Life Commission. In 2010 Roth participated in a gathering of international church leaders from 12 conferences to interpret the results of the Multi-Nation Anabaptist Profile, a study undertaken by Eastern Mennonite Missions.
“When I saw the energy generated in those conversations, I was convinced that MWC could benefit by a similar project that was more representative of its member groups and focused on its shared convictions,” Roth says.
He found ready allies in César García, newly-appointed general secretary of MWC, and Conrad Kanagy, professor of sociology at Elizabethtown College, who had directed the Multi-National Anabaptist survey.
In 2011, Roth helped to establish the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College and initiated a series of conversations with MWC, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the mission agencies of various Mennonite conferences regarding the global survey. Following the approval of the project by MWC’s Executive Committee and General Council, Roth forged a partnership with Kanagy, who has extensive experience with similar church member profiles. Kanagy will serve as a co-director of the project.
The project has received grants from MCC and the Schowalter Foundation, with most of the financial support coming from individual contributions. Organizers hope that the Global Anabaptist Profile will be completed in time for “Pennsylvania 2015,” the MWC Assembly to be held in Harrisburg, Pa., in July 2015.
“The size of the Anabaptist-Mennonite global fellowship has nearly tripled in the past three decades, with most of the growth coming outside of Europe and North America.” says Roth. “Yet we really don’t know very much about the lived experiences—the beliefs, practices and challenges—of our global body. We hope this project will provide a clearer understanding of who we are as a global family and deepen our sense of a shared identity.”