Studying Congregations: A New Handbook

Ammerman, Nancy T., Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley, and William McKinney, eds. Studying Congregations: A New Handbook. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998.

Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, produced by the Project Team for Congregational Studies, is “an invitation to engage in a systematic look at congregational life” as a contribution to the growing field of American congregational studies. Building upon the book’s predecessor, the Handbook for Congregational Studies (Abingdon, 1987), the authors suggest gathering and interpreting congregational information through four “frames” or “lenses”: the ecological frame, the culture frame, the resources frame and the process frame. They maintain that studying congregations is a way of discovering and expanding a local church’s practical theology. Congregational studies also elevate the importance of clergy and lay leadership in “helping to shape a congregation’s unfolding story” for on-going ministry and mission. <p> Seven chapters, together with an Introduction and two Appendices, comprise the content of the book. Discussions on Theology (“Theology in the Congregation: Discovering and Doing,” ch. 1) and Methodology (“Methods for Congregational Study,” ch. 7) frame five chapters devoted to the four interpretative frames (“Ecology: Seeing the Congregation in Context,” ch. 2; “Culture and Identity in the Congregation,” ch. 3; “Process: Dynamics of Congregational Life,” ch. 4; “Resources,” ch. 5) and congregational leadership (“Leadership and the Study of the Congregation,” ch. 6). The two appendices contain the Parish Profile Inventory (Appendix A), developed by the Hartford Seminary Center for Social and Religious Research, and the Standard Demographic and Religious Involvement Variables (Appendix B).