How we approach data collection

The broad goal of this project is to generate data regarding what Christian leaders and organizations are communicating. Our guiding priorities include:
  • Gathering data regularly, to understand how messaging evolves over time with changing circumstances;
  • Keeping our process consistent, to measure each piece of communication in the same way;
  • Remaining objective, to minimize the role of personal value judgments, while recognizing that we can never do so entirely; and
  • Ensuring broad representation, to create a reasonable picture of what the Church as a whole is saying.
We acknowledge these ideals will not be perfectly realized, but our commitment as a group is to collect data through these four priorities. We also publish all of our raw underlying data for others can use or improve it.
Methods: Denominations
We examine the official home page content of the top 19 largest denominations and any additional pages that compile COVID-19 related information, on the assumption that these sites are (i) a common communication tool for large congregations, and (ii) the “public face” that the congregation shows to visitors seeking to learn more about them.
We follow two samples of denominations:
  1. All denominations with more than 200,000 adherents in the most recent ARDA data, which collectively gives us coverage of 88% of all adherents. The data collection for this sample began on 14 May 2020.
  2. A smaller sub-sample of relatively large denominations. The data collection for this sample began on 16 April 2020.
Volunteers on our team visit denominational websites weekly to capture basic yes/no measures of the site’s COVID-19 related communication. For example, is there a clear call to take action to help those affected by COVID-19? Are there examples provided of ways church members are serving others? Is there a pastoral message offering guidance and encouragement?
Methods: Christian Leaders
Volunteers weekly examine the Twitter post content from 120 Christian leaders. Twitter is a frequent communication tool for some Christian leaders (cf. Haigh & Brubaker, 2018), and we observed a recurring cross-over of the content Christian leaders post on Twitter with other social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
The Christian leader list was created by consulting multiple online sources to generate a original list of 230 candidates from which we selected the top 30 most followed in each of the following categories:​
  1. Artist - Individual Christian musicians and Christian bands and personalities appearing in Christian television programming
  2. Author/speaker - pastors, academicians, and other writers and speakers addressing popular and/or scholarly audiences through non-fiction Christian works
  3. Nonprofits & execs - faith-based leaders and nonprofit or para-church organizations including humanitarian, news and journalism, evangelistic, and other organizations
  4. Pastor - currently-serving congregational or ecclesiastical leaders
We use Twitter’s advanced search functionality to generate and aggregate social media posts for data capture.