Soul of Great American Churches

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Tue, 09/01/1998
End Date: 
Sat, 06/30/2001

The Soul of Great American Churches, directed by Paul Wilkes, located “America’s best” Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations to discover why these churches were vibrant, life-giving agents of spiritual renewal and models of service to the larger community. The project produced two books authored by Wilkes: (1) Excellent Catholic Parishes: The Guide to Best Places and Practices (Paulist Press, 2001); and (2) Excellent Protestant Congregations: The Guide to Best Places and Practices (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001)
<p>Along with assistants Marty Minchin and Melanie Bruce, Wilkes identified some 600 Catholic and Protestant churches considered to exhibit the marks of spiritual vitality, religious pride and a sense of service. They saw these churches as models of genuine spirituality and effective ministry to members and non-members alike. From this list the research team spent time with a select number of these local churches to observe their specific ways of living the faith and doing Christian ministry. Surveys and focus groups were utilized to clarify team members’ insights and observations.</p>
<p>Wilkes’ prior experience in spiritually-vital Catholic parishes led him to search for those signs in both the parish and congregation which indicated that people truly enjoyed belonging to a Christian community of faith. Though people today seek wholeness through a variety of avenues, project findings led the team to affirm that the parish or congregation continued to remain an important place for spiritual guidance, religious education, outreach, and a sense of community.</p>