Study of Conflict in Congregations

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Fri, 08/01/1997
End Date: 
Thu, 05/31/2001

Many ministers, desiring to make changes in worship, believe that any and all objections from their congregation will disappear in the face of appropriate education as decided by the minister. Therefore, worshippers’ continued objections may be disregarded as a lamentable fear of change. Meanwhile, the worshippers have their own sources of information—personal experience, emotional knowledge, the Internet, and the like—that, contradicting the ministerial knowledge, they still feel is legitimate. They may resent the implication that their stubborn ignorance is preventing renewal. <p>With this observation, Dr Frederic M. Roberts and his Michigan State University team investigated twelve Detroit and Lansing area churches to determine an improved way to make liturgical changes. They became intimately involved in the heart of eight Protestant churches and four Catholic churches by worshipping with the people and volunteering for programs. This participant observation provided an extensive amount of in-depth field information. <p> In addition, the researchers conducted spiritual life history inventories (SLHI) with 125 core members of the twelve churches, exploring how these persons came to hold their core beliefs. Furthermore, a smaller portion of this core group gave information on their emotional reactions in worship. That survey was taken due to a notion that decisions concerning worship were made more with emotional knowledge, i.e., the types of feelings persons experience and feel are appropriate to experience, than with cognitive knowledge, i.e., the theological bases and assumptions that underlie particular forms of worship. Additionally, an abridged version of the SLHI was given to the general worshipping community with an overall return rate of fifty-eight percent. Plus, all staff—ordained and lay, full-time and part-time, paid and unpaid—were interviewed. <p>Presently, no organized dissemination of the results of this extensive research has made the information available to those beyond the participating churches in the study. However, work is underway on both a book, How to Make Your Good Church Better: Learning what the People in the Pews Know and a website,

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