Congregational Research and Development

How do congregations address such pressing concerns as Spanish Biblecultural and ethnic diversity, dissent from church teachings, religious pluralism, the practice of economic justice, the changing roles of women in society, and the inclusion of marginalized or unrecognized cultural groups? The healthy engagement of congregations in the public life of their communities requires solid contextual analysis, careful historical and theological reflection, and creative practical strategies.  At the start of a new millennium, new cultural contexts create enormous challenges and tremendous opportunities for the public role of congregations as well as for the shape of congregational mission to and interaction with its community.

The central activity of the Congregational Research and Development (CRD) project is contextual ecclesiological research. By bringing together a community of scholars, teachers, students, and congregational leaders, the Center hopes to deepen our understanding of the manifold contours of contemporary culture and, by doing so, to find better ways of living out the gospel as a church in diverse settings and among diverse populations. Research-based strategies for nurturing more publicly-engaged congregations help future religious leaders find creative methods for helping congregations not only survive, but thrive.

The Project hosts the following resources:

♦ Articles, books, media, and bibliographic resources in the areas of Congregational Development, Evangelism, and Practical Theology
♦ Current and ongoing research of scholars, students, and congregational leaders in both new church development and congregational transformation
♦ Information, plans, and strategies for model church development projects

The Project sponsors conferences that bring together students, congregational leaders, scholars, and expert practitioners to learn together and share resources in new church development and congregational transformation. The conferences link theological reflection with strategic practice, and feature guest speakers, workshops, small group interaction.

The continuing efforts of the Project support a network among leaders of faith communities nationwide. The Project acts as a clearinghouse for sharing cutting edge resources and for learning from the experiences of practitioners in order to share that information and experience with others engaged in congregational development.

The research, educational and networking activities of the Project all converge in its hands-on efforts at working alongside congregational and denominational leaders:

♦ To identify and research potential sites for new church development and congregational renewal
♦ To mobilize technical, human, and financial resources in the service of congregational renewal and birthing
♦ To engage in the actual creation and development of faith communities throughout New England.

Pub Church

An example of the ongoing work of the Congregational Research and Development project is the Pub Church.  The Pub Church had their first “official” gathering on April 26, 2008, at Tommy Doyle’s Irish Pub in Harvard Square. The start of The Pub Church was preceded by a six month period of planning and discernment with a small group of interested persons. As the congregation rotated among different Boston-area pubs, they realized they wanted to have just one place as their pub church home – that place is the Dugout Cafe where the pub church has been gathering weekly since September, 2008.

People’s desire to have a church they felt good about participating in, unlike other churches they had experienced, was the inspiration behind the pub church. It started with the simple vision of “participating with Spirit.” The discernment of what that means and what that looks like is an ongoing process to which all pub church participants contribute.

To learn more about the Pub Church, click here.

Consultation on Congregations and Religious Knowing–Collaboration with MF Norwegian School of Theology

Another important of work in this project is the School of Theology’s collaboration with MF Norwegian School of Theology. In September 2013, the Center for Practical Theology and School of Theology hosted a consultation in collaboration with a research team from the MF Norwegian School of Theology. The consultation focused on the “Socio-Cultural Dynamics of Religious Knowing.” The Center and School had hosted the same research team in Fall 2010, at that time sharing the early phases of our diverse research projects–those of the Norwegian team and those of School of Theology faculty and doctoral students. The purpose of the 2010 and 2013 events was to build a research collaboration in which we learned from one another over time and through which we enhanced one another’s research through an international dialogue. The 2010 consultation took place in an early phase of the Norwegian research team’s project and was also at an early phase for most presenters from the BU School of Theology. The 2013 consultation was a sharing of late phases of our research projects, and the discussions built upon the earlier discourses and the research accomplished in the three-year interim. The result in 2013 was a robust two days of research-sharing, probing dialogue, and informal conversation. The Norwegian and STH participants were delighted in what we learned from and with one another.

The most tangible results of this consultation are the more than 20 research projects that will be published in monographs and articles during the coming two years. Equally significant are the relationships formed, two of which are already developing into new opportunities for collaboration. Another important outcome was the opportunity for two STH doctoral students and one post-doctoral fellow to participate as presenters and six others as full participants in the consultation. Likewise, STH students and faculty were able to hear one another and get to know the rich projects that we are doing in our own community.