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Crossing the Ethnic DivideThe Multiethnic Church on a Mission$

Kathleen Garces-Foley

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195311082

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195311082.001.0001

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(p.151) Appendix A: Methods

(p.151) Appendix A: Methods

Crossing the Ethnic Divide
Oxford University Press

This research project began in December 2001 as a case study of a multiethnic church, Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. Over a two-and-a-half-year period, I studied the church's literature, Web site, historical documents, and sermons, and made fourteen site visits during which I observed worship services, meetings of the single-adult group, and a quarterly congregational meeting. These observations and my examination of the church materials provided a context from which to develop interview questions for staff and members.

Interviews with Evergreen's staff and members, both formal members and regular visitors, began in April 2002, after I was introduced to the congregation at Sunday morning services, and continued until January 2004. Pastor Ken encouraged the congregation members to speak with me. As a result, some members did seek me out on their own. For the most part, I initiated the interviews in person, by phone, or by e-mail, using names that church members and staff provided in response to my request for names of those who had a strong interest in or opinions about racial reconciliation. Almost everyone I asked was willing to meet with me. I interviewed male and female members ranging in age from 23 to 79. Each subject was asked to fill out a questionnaire about his or her educational background, occupation, and ethnic identity. These interviews were semi-structured, meaning that they followed a standardized set of questions that were open-ended, with new questions added as needed to explore pertinent themes. Most interviews were an hour in length. In all I conducted thirty-three formal interviews with members and six with ministry staff, as well as a final two-hour interview with Pastor Ken in January 2004. In June 2003 I was able to hold a focus group with the Prime Timers senior group. Since nearly a hundred people attended this meeting, we broke up into several small groups, and I listened in as members (p.152) discussed the ways in which ethnicity matters to them personally and in the life of the church.

It quickly became apparent during the research that the members most interested in the subject matter were young adults who had been exposed to racial reconciliation in college Christian fellowships. To understand the role of young evangelicals in the racial reconciliation movement, I expanded my study to include the Greater Los Angeles division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a secondary research focus. Through their Web site and contacts at Evergreen I was able to contact staff members for interviews. Between July 2002 and February 2003, I interviewed ten staff workers, four of whom are also Evergreen members, and attended one Race Matters meeting at UC–Santa Barbara. Though I hoped to attend a Race Matters meeting at UCLA, where this format was first constructed, I was unable to get scheduling information from the InterVarsity staff there. With the help of staff members, the InterVarsity Web site, and InterVarsity press materials, I did considerable background research on the racial reconciliation movement in InterVarsity nationwide, including two phone interviews with staff at the national office in Wisconsin.

The last important piece of this project came from research on the racial reconciliation movement at the national and Southern California regional level. My goal was to understand Evergreen's immediate and wider institutional field. In addition to examining articles on racial reconciliation in evangelical magazines and on denominational and para-church Web sites, I conducted ten interviews with evangelical pastors and para-church leaders involved in racial reconciliation the Los Angeles area. These interviews provided valuable data on how other local churches and organizations conceptualize and pursue racial reconciliation. Most of these evangelical leaders were familiar with Evergreen and provided insightful evaluation of its efforts, which helped me understand what impact Evergreen is having on others within its institutional field.

All of the interviews were audiotaped with permission and then transcribed. They were later analyzed in conjunction with field notes from participation observation and the racial reconciliation literature. I organized the data around common themes that emerged from the interviews, which later came to serve as the outline for the book. All names have been changed except those individuals who spoke to me as the public representative of an organization.

My status as a White, middle-class researcher from a secular university did not appear to be an obstacle to finding interview subjects. Evergreen has been the subject of several academic studies in recent years, though to my knowledge all these prior studies were undertaken by church members. Most of the people I talked with asked what my religious affiliation was, and few knew what to make of my being a Unitarian Universalist. To my surprise, no one showed an interest in converting me. Because of my outsider status, many people felt the need to explain “evangelical-ese” or to avoid using it altogether. I encouraged them to use the discourse they are most comfortable with during the interviews.

In their study of multiracial churches, Charles Foster and Theodore Brelsford express the concern that their questions contributed to the sense members had of the fragility of their multiracial church and brought into the open latent issues and conflicts. (p.153) My research may have forced some Evergreen members to become aware of tensions they had previously not been attuned to; however, because I solicited interviews from persons interested in the subject matter, those willing to be interviewed had already given much thought to issues of diversity. Similarly, the InterVarsity staff members I spoke with were not expressing their concerns for the first time, since they are encouraged in their organization to be self-reflective and critical of their processes. I provided Evergreen Baptist Church with a copy of my dissertation, which was discussed in the January–February 2005 church newsletter. I suspect that some members were troubled to learn how marginalized the non-Asian members felt, but I also suspect that the church leadership did not find any surprises there. As I was making final revisions on the book manuscript in early 2006, I revisited Evergreen's archival sources, namely the newsletters and Web site, and contacted the church office to learn more about recent developments such as the creation of a Racial Reconciliation Resource Team and the hiring of Brenda Salter McNeil as a consultant. (p.154)