When I joined the Pivot NW data team last March, I was thrilled—I couldn’t imagine finding a better assistantship than one that lets me study young adults and the church! As a pastor’s kid and self-professed data nerd, there’s no better combination for me than statistics and Christianity. Our research started with a broad goal—“Study young adults and the church!”—and gave us more room than we knew what to do with. For the first years’ research, we narrowed our focus down to three questions:
Why do (or don’t) young adults go to church?
What does church uniquely provide in the lives of young adults?
Once young adults are in church, how do they grow in their faith?
The three of us began discerning how to best approach each question, and eventually landed on our three surveys—surveys that would give us insightful data into how young adults understand, experience, and grow in church.
Once we finished designing our surveys, we used Amazon’s
Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to share our surveys online and provide payment to the people who filled them out. Figuring out how to use MTurk was a process in itself, but we eventually ended up with plenty of data. After this came the data cleaning, where Gabrielle and I spent countless hours chugging coffee and combing through spreadsheets and data files to make sure our data was organized and accurate. Data cleaning can be a painful process, but in the end, it was worth it, because we ended up with one of my very favorite things: solid, fresh data, just waiting to be analyzed.
That brings us to where we’ve been with our research for the past few months: the storytelling phase. Seeing the findings come to life through presentations, conversations, and (future) journal articles is by far the most rewarding part of the research process for me. Our data isn’t important because it gives us absolute truth about young adults and church, but because it provides a unique perspective on what it means to engage with religion as a young adult in 2018. Data always exists in its own context—demographic, geographic, temporal—and at this stage of the research process, our team is working to connect our findings with broader narratives of what it means to be a young adult and work with young adults from a Christian perspective.
It’s been over a year since we started designing these three surveys, and by the end of the summer, they’ll be written up and submitted for publication in academic journals. It’s an exciting time in the research process because we’re seeing the story of our data coming together—and also because we’re starting to explore new possibilities for our next round of research. As much as we’re enjoying the work we’ve done so far, we can’t wait to ask new questions and build on our previous ones—and we’re excited to bring you all along for the ride!
To read through our research and to download the tools we developed from our study, click below.