Each year, reports from every one of the United Church of Christ's 5,000 congregations and 38 conferences are funneled together to create the newest edition of the UCC Yearbook. But this year, conferences and congregations have online tools at their fingertips to make the process quicker and easier.
In January, the staff in the UCC's Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) office begins the tedious task of collecting the mountains of statistical information that eventually finds its way into the UCC Yearbook. In 2014, there are some new changes to the look of the resource, all of which CARD staff hopes make the product simpler, better looking and more useful.
The Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, director of CARD, is encouraging congregations and conferences of the UCC to use the online features, since 2014 will be the last year the national offices will accept paper forms.
"[Congregations] have had opportunity to go online and enter information," she said. "It's simple and it's done on one page. We open the database to churches for a few months – January and February – and they enter their information online instead of filling out a paper form and mailing it in."
There is a print guide on how to submit information electronically on the UCC website, and next year CARD hopes to create a tutorial video that explains the process. One of the benefits of an online submission is that information is updated more frequently on the Access UCC website.
"Access UCC is the real-time version of the yearbook, and through that a PDF of the book is available," Lizardy-Hajbi said. "In a rapidly-changing world, we want to be able to offer the information of our churches as real time."
To be clear, the emphasis to the online features isn't an indication of slipping sales of the UCC Yearbook. In fact, Lizardy-Hajbi said, last year every copy sold out.
As far back as the 1930s, the UCC and its predecessor bodies have published an annual yearbook that lists the denomination's conferences, congregations and ministers. The book provides statistics as reported by local churches and conferences of the UCC. Information assists conferences, associations and the national ministries of the denomination to identify and understand trends in membership, attendance and other factors that will impact programs and policies.
"Among the challenges with this version is providing meaningful data in a way that is less cumbersome," said Destiny Hisey, associate director of CARD and the yearbook's managing editor. She and Lizardy-Hajbi work with Taylor Billings and Marcella Alexander in CARD to put together the 800-plus-page book.
"We're going to make the 2014 edition visually appealing in its data presentation and easy to read," Hisey said. "And we didn't just make these decisions ourselves. We relied on the feedback from a (UCC Yearbook) working group."
The changes are part of the recommendations from a yearbook review meeting in October with UCC conference ministers and staff collaborating on the changes.
One of the first noticeable changes will be to the cover. The publication will be renamed "Yearbook & Directory," since the book has served as an organizational directory of the various offices, members of the governing boards, and affiliated ministries for decade.
Aside from reporting information online and changing the title, there are other changes in data and layout for the 2014 resource, such as replacing congregation email addresses with website information, and full mailing addresses will be printed. The format will be simplified to just three sections; the first of those will list local churches, conferences and associations; second is the list of authorized ministers and personnel, and the third is national entities and other organizations, which were at the front but will be moved to the back of the book.
"In keeping in line with UCC polity, churches will be listed first in the 2014 Yearbook," Lizardy-Hajbi said.
There are more changes to come in 2015 – for example, including a geographical map of the conferences of the UCC – but those have not yet been finalized.
The 2014 Yearbook and Directory will go to print in July, and orders can be placed online for paper-bound ($26) and spiral-bound versions.