Christian Research – What is the Future?

The restructuring at Christian Research, which we covered on 16 September last – – seems to have attracted relatively little interest in the Christian media. Nor has the parent body, Bible Society, been publicly forthcoming about its future plans for the membership-based organization. 

However, Christian Research itself has now sent out, albeit belatedly, the September bi-monthly mailing to members. Included is what is announced as the last edition of In Touch. This regular newssheet is being discontinued on account of the fact that Christian Research’s ‘resource is stretched to its limits’. 

In Touch briefly discusses the changes which have taken place at Christian Research recently, notably the redundancy of Benita Hewitt, and apologizes ‘for any inconvenience or upset these changes may bring’. It is said that updates will be announced on the Christian Research website and in the monthly email bulletin, Research Brief, to which non-members can subscribe for free.

In Touch also reports the following, which is worth quoting in full:

‘Christian Research is now moving in to different ways of uncovering fresh exploration and insight in to the Christian world and the products and services provided through this.’

‘We are currently building a panel of Christians to engage with through questionnaires and discussions on topical and challenging subjects from the Christian and secular world. We are certain that these fresh insights and connections will enable us to continue serving our clients and supporters to fulfil our purpose in the Christian community.’   

Is this, one wonders, the start of an online panel of churchgoing Christians to rival the commercial panel (Cpanel) operated by ComRes since 2008? Will it lead to quantitative research outputs, or will it effectively be a large-scale ‘focus group’? If the former, how will the panel be recruited and its representative nature guaranteed?

More substantively, how is Christian Research consulting its members about options for the future? Their views do not seem to have been actively solicited.

In Touch says nothing about the future of the printed bi-monthly magazine Quadrant, which is mostly distributed to paid-up members of Christian Research only. This is edited, apparently on an outsourced basis, by Graham Sharp, advised by a one-person editorial board.

The September issue of Quadrant was another enclosure in the mailing and comprises the customary mix of religious and social data. The quantitative religious stories have largely already featured on BRIN, although, in keeping with Christian Research’s recent philosophy, there is also a cheery report on the statistical fortunes of the Established Church (‘CofE not on danger list’).

Whatever may be the case for the Church of England, those who have come to depend upon and to respect the reports and statistics generated by Christian Research over many years, not least during Peter Brierley’s time at the helm, will surely conclude, on present evidence, that Christian Research is on a danger list, unless Bible Society can demonstrate a transparent strategy and resource plan for the short- and long-term future.

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