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What is a Flourishing Congregation? Leader Perceptions, Definitions, and Experiences

  • Joel Thiessen
  • Arch Chee Keen Wong
  • Bill McAlpine
  • Keith Walker
Article

Abstract

How do Canadian congregational and denominational leaders in Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant settings perceive and define what constitutes a flourishing congregation? Drawing on interview and focus group data with over one hundred leaders across Canada, we bring to description the perceptions, narratives, and experiences that church and denominational leaders hold about flourishing congregations. We highlight three central findings: (a) there is a divide between those who believe that flourishing entails numeric growth and those who do not; (b) depending on the Christian tradition in question, there are several partially overlapping and conflicting pictures of what constitutes a flourishing congregation, evident in three overarching domains and several subsequent dimensions—organizational ethos (clear self-identity, leadership, innovation, and structure and process), internal factors (discipleship, hospitable community, engaged laity, and diversity), and outward variables (evangelism, neighborhood involvement, and partnership); and (c) supernatural discourse figures into how leaders discuss flourishing congregations over and against secular or human-controlled narratives. We draw on cultural sociology, notably discussions on group boundaries (between Christian traditions, within Christian traditions, and between Christian and non-religious organizations), to describe and explain the similar and dissimilar cultural narratives that Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant leaders hold about flourishing congregations. We then encourage social scientists to pay greater attention to how leaders themselves perceive and define a flourishing congregation, including the narratives and boundaries that contribute to leader constructions of reality.

Keywords

Congregations Parishes Canada Sociology of religion Practical theology Positive organizational studies 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Ambrose University, Cardus, Christian and Missionary Alliance Western Canadian District, Christian and Missionary Alliance Midwest Canadian District, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Grant No. 435-2017-0930), Turning Point Consulting, University of Saskatchewan, World Vision Canada, and Willow Creek Canada. More information about these partnerships can be located at www.flourishingcongregations.org.

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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ambrose UniversityCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.University of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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