Faith and Practices of Christian Congregations

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 05/01/1991
End Date: 
Wed, 05/31/1995

The Candler School of Theology (Emory University) conducted a three-year, multidisciplinary research on “Faith and Practices of Christian Congregations” that analyzed congregations as communities of theological reflection and practice, and sought to develop innovative, constructive relationships between theological education and the local congregation. Director Thomas Frank and associates focused on four goals: (1) to integrate congregational studies with the reemerging field of practical theology; (2) to expand the range of approaches to congregational study; (3) to follow up on work begun under a previous Lilly Endowment grant that explored the impact of congregational studies on theological education; and (4) to bring the project’s congregational studies into dialogue with the life of the church. <p> Six faculty members and their research assistants explored the actual practices of over 20 congregations in and around the Atlanta area, investigating issues and developing studies related to their disciplinary interests. Faculty researchers and their studies were: Pam Couture, on congregational/public health partnerships on behalf of underserved populations; Charles Foster, on the influence of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of a congregation on its self-understanding as a community of faith; Robert Franklin, on trends in black congregational life since the civil rights movement; Gail O’Day, on the function of worship in Luke-Acts for shaping the world of contemporary congregations; Sally Purvis, on power and authority in churches led by women; and Don Saliers, on the impact of the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal on the worship and spiritual life of local congregations. <p> The study explored a number of critical issues in the relationship between congregations, and theological education and research. Among other concerns, researchers examined how the congregation serves as paradigm for theological education, how congregational practices provide paradigmatic questions for theological inquiry and education, and how research, data assessment, reporting and writing are forms of practical theology. The project concluded with a national conference in Atlanta on April 8-10, 1994, entitled “Congregations and Theological Education and Research,” that disseminated ideas and invited dialogue from theological educators and other participants on the study’s findings.