Chapter 2: Househunting
Since 1960 over two hundred books and countless reports have examined either single congregations or their species, and any new work such as mine gratefully follows the tracks that many sorts of explorers — consultants, management specialists, sociologists, psychologists, ethnographers, historians, and others — have already laid down.1 Prior to 1960 the investigation of the local church was more occasional, and except for a few books written to enliven parish programs2 and the pioneering sociology of H. Paul Douglass,3 the analysis occurred primarily in Europe.4
All studies, including mine, follow lines that are curiously similar to the ways a family examines a house or an apartment in which it might dwell. There are four approaches from which one examines a potential dwelling: contextual, mechanical, organic, and symbolic,5 To consider seriously the capacities of either houses or local churches, in other words, is to view them as textures, mechanisms, organisms, and means of signification. While all four perspectives are in play in any single instance of inquiry, one of the four generally dominates.
Househunters look at the contextual nature of a possible dwelling. No house or apartment is entirely isolated; it is set in an environment that not only physically surrounds the building but also conditions all household activity. Househunters look at the manner in which its larger context creates the warp and woof of the dwelling’s living texture. They therefore inquire about local costs; they check out the neighbors; they examine the neighborhood — its schools, services, climate, demographic trends — to satisfy themselves that the context is suitable and the place secure. Viewed in this way, a dwelling is a texture whose weaving reveals the strands that originate in the larger context of the neighborhood. No matter how attractive the house or apartment itself, its textured dimensions may be sufficiently disadvantageous to persuade the househunter to look elsewhere. Or the neighborhood context may be so desirable that shortcomings apparent from other perspectives are overlooked.
Dwellings are also viewed as mechanisms, that is, implements that accomplish certain ends, such as shelter, protection, and the delivery of heat, light, and water. Sometimes an engineer is employed by the househunter to check out the mechanical dimensions of the dwelling: its structural stability, the efficiency of its systems, its capacity to withstand whatever undesirable forces the contextual perspective has discovered in the environment. Such engineers are not necessarily concerned about the neighborhood or about the symbolic and familial potential of the place; they seek instead to determine how well the house mechanically operates, how well it does its job.
The organic perspective of the househunter looks at how the dwelling enhances the life and development of its occupying family. Unlike the mechanistic approach that examines the physical work that the house accomplishes in itself, the organic view unites it to the biography of a particular family and focuses on the dwelling’s capacity to create for that household a “happy home.” In probing a dwelling’s organic capacity, househunters envision the way their family would use the property, where and how gracefully the group would eat, sleep, and encounter each other yet each pursue his or her own interests. More the realm of the architect than the engineer, organic considerations include issues of familial style, cohesion, and social grace.
The fourth perspective, the symbolic, is also essential. A dwelling not only simulates its environment, performs tasks, and supports the life of its inhabitants, it also conveys meanings. Househunters examine the capacity of a potential house or apartment to reflect their character. Identity is often critically linked to the building in which one lives. What does this place, househunters ask themselves, suggest about who we are? What are we saying to ourselves and to visitors by the form and symbolic pattern of this house? As real estate brokers attest, it is frequently the image projected by a house that first attracts or repels prospective occupants and that finally clinches a lease or a sale. “This house is us!” cry some househunters when they find their choice, referring to its symbolic identity.
Congregational researchers also use contextual, mechanical, organic, and symbolic approaches to assess the local church, because congregations are also dwellings, but for a different kind of household. Sorting out research approaches according to the four categories throws light on the intentions of each study. It can also reveal the author’s attempt, present in most studies if only by implication, to correct what the writer feels is an overemphasis in the corpus of previous studies on another perspective.
It will be evident that particular categories have dominated certain periods and types of church life in the last twenty-five years. It is important to remember, however, that any congregational inquiry, like the househunt, of necessity employs all four perspectives and may acknowledge their utility. One of the four approaches nevertheless seems to characterize each single inquiry and to encompass its major findings.
The acceleration of congregational studies in the last quarter century sprang in part from fresh and troubling inquiry by sociologists who probed the parish as a social organization. Instead of replicating already familiar and usually benign survey analyses that counted and sorted churchgoers, researchers such as Joseph Fichter, Peter Berger, and Gibson Winter6 disclosed disturbing data about motivation for church membership and its relation to social behavior. Their critique coincided with the swell of the ecumenical movement, a formidable attack mounted by mainline Protestantism against parochialism in the church. Theological hesitations in the 1960s about the church in its congregational form were thus reinforced by both sociological conclusions and ecumenical convictions. In this climate a study apparatus of unprecedented scope for the examination of congregations was established by the World Council of Churches and its national counterparts. Working in groups in western Europe, North America, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, the study team produced and encouraged many papers and books on the problem of the local church.7 Naming as its focus the Missionary Structure of the Congregation, the study proposed that radically different forms of Christian assembly and witness be fostered within the secular context. No longer a protected shelter, the congregation was by ecumenical design to become present in the environment of the workaday world, in its cities, its dilemmas, and delights. Earlier writings of clergy in France and the United Kingdom, who sought to treat their parishes as mission fields, set the stage for this more expansive understanding of congregation as Christian corporate life best fulfilled in its larger secular context.
A remarkable feature of the Study of the Missionary Structure of the Congregation was its inattention to the internal aspects of existing churches: their mechanisms and organic and symbolic functions. The North American working group of the Study, declaring themselves frustrated with the Study’s defined scope, tried to avoid such topics altogether by making a clear but severe decision for a contextual approach:
Instead of starting from the church and the problem of “what is the true church?”, why not start our investigation in the world, especially where attempts are being made to respond to the agenda of the world?8
Although their mandate directed them also to study “existing patterns of church life,”9 all the working groups were generally reluctant to consider the existing structure of the congregation with the same interest and skill they brought to probing its relation to its environment. Some church groups, such as the Lutheran World Federation, objected to the Study’s skewed focus,10 and the editor of one of the project books acknowledged that:
the emphasis on “new forms” of missionary action has incurred the criticism that this study is not living up to its title insofar as it does not show great interest in the work of existing congregations where, it is said, the church after all carries on its major work…. It became soon evident that we were talking not so much about a missionary structure for a congregation, but we were concerned for structures for missionary congregations.11
Such deliberate and thorough avoidance of the internal operations, processes, and symbolic structures of congregations reflected in part a simmering exasperation with parish hypocrisy. “How can we build a church that will not stand in its own way,” begins one study report, “whose organizational structure is not forever contradicting what it says on the mystery of the church, whose budget does not make a mockery of what the church teaches?”12 Members content with things as they are were warned that they practiced a “morphological fundamentalism”13 that prevented the church from revising its structure to assume a more faithful form determined by the needs of the world. Like their individual Christian members, local churches should live not for themselves but for service to their neighbors in crisis. As one book title put it, the congregation was to become “the church inside out.”14 No longer should a church tend its inward processes; rather, it should turn outward to the larger environment that resources the strands from which its textured life is woven.
A congregation serving in a worldly context would not, of course, be primarily interested in an understanding of mission as the conversion of peoples to either doctrinal or morphological fundamentalism. Instead, the missionary action envisioned by the congregational studies of the 1960s was the participation of churches in the missio Dei, the all-encompassing act of God toward God’s full creation. One was to attend society15 in its struggle in the presence of God. One could not assume that the outcome of this missionary action would be new church members.
This thoroughgoing emphasis upon context raised questions about what would be the form of a congregation turned out to its environment. An analysis of how a church converted to the world nevertheless could remain distinguishable from it occupied George Webber’s God’s Colony in Man’s World.16 He conveyed images, which other works later amplified,” of pilgrimage and poverty distinctly Christian yet subordinate to society at large. Toward the end of the decade a number of other studies, almost all directed to the ecumenically oriented sector of Protestant church life, also portrayed the church as transient institution. They argued that a renewed18 or reshaped19 congregation should respond to an era described as one of rapid social change.20 The later studies drew their theory largely from earlier works, but they were designed by denominations to present to broader publics the contextual message. Several contained case studies of congregations considered unusually responsive to the challenge of their environment.
The proportion of congregations in the 1960s and 1970s that actually responded as prescribed to their contexts was in fact very small.21 As neighborhood populations changed racially, some churches whose physical and financial resources lingered after their former membership fled introduced service programs to assist the poor, but the adjustment seems in most cases to have stemmed from necessity or default rather than from deliberate reorientation and restructuring by members who themselves stayed on to be transformed.
The general appeal of contextual studies of the congregation waned rapidly in the early 1970s, leaving the contextual perspective once again almost exclusively to the sociologists.22 Reflecting the introspective tendencies of the period, Protestant Americans began in the 1970s to assert widely that “the local church is a lot livelier than most people think.”23 Church leaders turned from the environment to examine the interior processes of the congregation. Contextual procedures that in the 1960s had promoted the opposite view fell into disuse.24 In part the shift reflected the increasing difficulty of the mainline churches in sustaining contextually oriented agencies and studies whose intention was to revise the church’s basic form of association. In addition, those who had labored for a contextual redirection themselves grew discouraged. The denominations that had earlier supported the missionary structure study and other liberal arguments became increasingly aware that they were losing both membership and financial support while denominations less ecumenically inclined that had avoided the contextual issue grew in size and power.25 For all these reasons, a more traditional interest in the vitality of the congregation quickened, as the 1970s progressed, among church bodies that in the previous decade had promoted its restructuring.26 That interest developed along two lines, one that explicated the congregation in mechanistic terms and the other that took an organicist approach. The more popular of the two developments was the analysis of the mechanical qualities of the local church.
A mechanistic examination of a potential dwelling uncovers how effectively the house fulfills its functions. Whatever the environment may tell a househunter about the house’s milieu, the surroundings by themselves give inadequate information about the specific condition of the dwelling itself. Only a look at the house’s actual mechanisms satisfies our concerns about its capacity to accomplish its purposes as a shelter. How well do things work? Is the house sound or decrepit?
Such concerns about the efficiency of a dwelling also characterize a type of inquiry about congregations that came to national prominence as contextual approaches receded. New emphasis was placed on the internal operation of the local church, as less stress was placed on its environment. Though aware of the social and cultural context of the church and the necessity of an evangelical engagement with it, advocates of the mechanist approach required that prior attention be given to the adequacy of the instrumentality that undertakes the engagement.
Mechanist approaches focus on program effectiveness. Of the several recent schemes that assess and promote accomplishment in the local church, the church growth movement has best captured mechanist hopes for competent congregations. “Growth” in the church growth movement refers to the effective numerical enlargement of the congregation. (Growth as the development of mature sensibilities is an organic Image, discussed in a later section.) Churches that are growing in size both signify and accomplish the work of the Lord. “We can learn more about the way God works”27 when a congregation is studied by church growth principles. “Bigness” is, moreover, a “powerful evangelistic tool”28 and provides the resources necessary for effective programs of worship and ministry.29 The local church is here viewed as a mechanism with the capacity for greater or lesser efficiency in doing the work of God.
Principles for church growth were first devised by Donald MacGavran, who examined churches in the Third World30 and later founded the Institute for Church Growth in Eugene, Oregon. An Institute for American Church Growth was founded by a MacGavran disciple in the early 1970s. The first book that built on MacGavran principles but was directed toward the United States was probably that published by the Episcopalian Boone Porter in 1968.31 In 1971 W. Wendell Belew published Churches and How They Grow;32 it was followed in 1972 by Dean Kelley’s ecumenical and provocative Why Conservative Churches Are Growing.33 Thereafter the growth movement accelerated and many works appeared.34 Studies critical of the movement35 and sociological accounts of church growth and decline36 followed. Several studies that countered the emphasis on growth by affirming the integrity and beauty of small churches37 also emerged, but the number of such works is dwarfed by the prodigious literary production of the church growth movement.
Mechanist approaches operate according to rational principles. A chief spokesperson of the church growth movement, C. Peter Wagner, describes on several occasions the “seven vital signs” of a healthy church. They indicate the value the movement places upon the purposive effort of the congregation, noting the functions and faculties required to accomplish the Christian task.
1. A pastor who is a possibility thinker and whose dynamic leadership has been used to catalyze the entire church into action for growth.
2. A well-mobilized laity which has discovered, has developed and is using all the spiritual gifts for growth.
3. A church big enough to provide the range of services that meet the needs and expectations of its members.
4. A proper balance of the dynamic relationship between celebration, congregation and cell.
5. A membership drawn primarily from one homogeneous unit.
6. Evangelistic methods that have proved to make disciples.
7. Priorities arranged in biblical order.38
Mechanistic images power most of Wagner’s points: dynamics, catalysis, mobilization, size, range, balance, unit, priority, and order.
The mechanist approach differs in both missiology and method from the contextual view, and in each case choice of method is related to missional stance. Contextualism discerned the saving activity of God primarily in the world at large and looked to sociology and ethics to provide information about the world and its requirements. The church growth movement, by contrast, saw God’s salvation occurring in individual souls and thus sought reliable formulas for gathering large numbers of persons into congregations. For dependable, sophisticated techniques it turned to organization science. Wagner compares the movement’s discoveries to a major scientific breakthrough:
Church growth as a science helps us maximize the use of energy and other resources for God’s greater glory. It enables us to detect errors and correct them before they do too much damage. It would be a mistake to claim too much, but some enthusiasts felt that with church growth insights we may even step as far ahead in God’s task of world evangelism as medicine did when aseptic surgery was introduced.39
What Wagner describes in his approach as “consecrated pragmatism”40 would, a decade earlier, have been dubbed “morphological fundamentalism.” By the same token, the contextual requirement that the church empty itself makes little missional or methodological sense from the mechanist vantage point. Why abandon an enterprise sure to succeed? “The principles of success are all here!” vows the outer cover of one mechanistic study.41 Contextual inquiry presented an ethical critique of parish life; mechanistic studies provided the engineering to empower parish life.
By the end of the 1970s, church growth had become for most denominations the most frequent topic of conferences and consultations. Advocates of the church growth movement now claim the substantial attention of churches throughout the country. Wagner notes that “although some overhang from the 1960s still persists like a pesky cough after a head cold . . .. by and large, church growth has edged up toward the top of the agenda in the churches across the board.”42
Church growth science is only one scheme within a much larger battery of methods that examine the congregation as a machine. The technique most relentlessly employed, of course, is the annual report prepared by almost every congregation. Although a few of these may refer primarily to other images, the average report portrays the congregation as a machine whose work is detected by quantitative measurements and program vectors. Data — often crushingly dull — about money, membership, and meetings make up most of the report of collective activity in the previous year. Statistics comparing this year with last are included to reveal the relatively greater efficiency of the parish mechanism; program descriptions attest the frequency and intensity of parish activity. A satisfactory account, by mechanist standards, reports the hum of increased funds and attendance expanded in programs that themselves turn like dynamos.
Many professional church consultants follow mechanist approaches that work to increase the effectiveness of congregational programs. Lyle Schaller, the best-known church consultant in America today, uses a model of intervention and planning that is essentially mechanistic in its pattern. 43 Like most others who help the church professionally,44 Schaller advocates the presence of a consultant to mobilize leaders to examine their potential and plan for a more productive future.45 He eschews both the contextual approach46 and situations where severe interpersonal problems require an organic solution.47 Instead, he enters a congregation as a planner, to diagnose its internal dynamics. After examining the impact of such factors as physical setting,48 size, tenures of staff, ages, roles, and religious intentions of the church and its members, Schaller tailors a planning process that recognizes the strength of the organization and encourages members to gain an understanding of their situation and alternative futures. He follows what he calls an ‘’affirm and build” model that acknowledges the working elements in the congregation and mobilizes their power for the purpose of the church.49
Like householders who insist that a dwelling first possess efficient components and systems, the mechanistically disposed analysts of the congregation argue that, unless basic structures are sound and dynamic, any sort of parish goal is in jeopardy. Mechanists are not opposed to the intentions of service, fellowship, and interpretation advanced in other approaches. They anticipate and welcome such achievements, but to them the primary need of churches today is the rationalization of congregational process and the animation of social will to achieve results.
A congregation may also be treated as an organism, a living entity given not to mechanical production but to sensitivity and maturation. In our househunting analogy, the organic inquiry of the seeker tests the capacity of the dwelling to develop household vitality and style. Whether the house works efficiently is less important to an organicist than whether it enlivens and harmonizes its dwellers. Is the place conducive to good relationships? Does it aid the development of a happy home?
Similar priority is placed on matters of style and fellowship in organic studies of the congregation. Unlike church growth science that works for an efficient homogeneous unit to mobilize the congregation,50 organic approaches recognize the heterogeneity of members and their deep need to be reconciled in a common, if complicated, life. For advocates of the organic view, such as Robert Worley, a local church is “a gathering of strangers”51 whose members are alienated from each other in ways that mechanist approaches tend to overlook. Worley describes the present disarray of church members:
Our current lack of common definitions has led to frustration, bitterness, and even withdrawal from the church by both clergy and laity. The absence of commonly accepted definitions means that people do not feel they have a place, do not know who they are in the congregation. It means that they are not established as persons in the church. In the turbulence of contemporary congregational life diverse definitions of behavior, attitudes and interests exist. Church members have great difficulty dealing with this diversity. In the midst of competing and conflicting ideas and expectations, they suffer an identity crisis.52
Gone from such accounts are not only ideals of homogeneous units but also any mechanistic disposition to employ a diagnostic process that might propel the church to greater efficiency. Organic studies of the congregation instead begin with the disparity of parts; they acknowledge breakdown; they embrace the perplexities of modern association. But they also offer hope that sensitive attention to organization development will create a new, more complex church body.
Organic assessments of the congregation assume its similarity to a living organism that can mature to stages of equilibrium and insight not evident in its present state. Such studies generally have three characteristics: they recognize in the parish a potential fellowship that can transcend the differences and conflicts among its parts; they employ organization development methods; and they encourage all members to participate equally in a congregation’s ministry.53 Each feature deserves separate attention.
First, organicists view the whole of a congregation as greater than the sum of its parts, and they use the term “community” to express the special value and power of the whole. A social body develops through the purposeful interaction of often quite disparate members. “Community is a way to be together,” declare Evelyn and James Whitehead, emphasizing the integrity that develops from the participation of parts. Community, however, does not, for the Whiteheads, imply uniformity:
Community does not point to one particular structure of group life. Rather, the term refers to a range of social forms, a variety of patterns of interaction and communication within groups. One group will incorporate several elements and expectations of primary relations. Another will show more concern for formal patterns of organization. But each may be understood as an intermediate style of group life, as a community.54
In Wagner’s mechanism, the seventh sign of church growth insists upon priorities arranged in biblical order. The system advocates seem, in comparison, more at home in chaos, with its paradoxical promise of integrity.55 How the change from disorder to wholeness occurs is the second characteristic of organic systems approaches: organization development. “The parts of the whole work together,” Mansell Pattison relates.
In any system the subsystems interact with each other and adjust to one another so that the whole is self-modifying. The system exists in an equilibrium between the parts, but an equilibrium that is forever changing. The system is not static but grows and moves…. The possibilities are kaleidoscopic and the process open-ended.56
Although organicists recognize the crisis inherent in discordant parts, they are essentially optimistic about the course of organizational process. A favored term of organic proponents is vitality,57 used to describe robust interaction among members who, possessing different gifts and opinions, are synthesized to new corporate fulfillment.58 Vital congregations are not distinguished by ordered accomplishment; they are lively, instead, by dint of the intensity of their community interaction.
A third characteristic of organic approaches is their emphasis upon full participation. “The systemic purpose is shared by all subsystems,” says Pattison.59 All parts count. They take on the common shape and intention of the whole and are responsible to each other for its future integrity. Worley summarizes the characteristics of an organic participation of all members within their congregation:
Power to contribute, to share, to be involved meaningfully; justice in structures, communication, and decision-making processes; love in relationships and self-understanding as a genuinely contributing member are the elements of reconciliation and the true sign that the institutional church as the body of Christ has as its head Jesus of Nazareth.60
Leaders, in the organic view, have none of the singular authority given by mechanists to leaders of growing churches, who are “motivated by the assurance that they have understood the revealed will of God for world evangelization and that they are attuned to what God expects to accomplish through them.”61 In the organic approach, all parts are responsible for the whole as full partners in decision making, as attested by a number of books that began to appear in the 1970s to promote the democratization of congregational leadership. Many of the books invite the holistic involvement of the congregation in a specific responsibility previously considered part of the clerical role, such as the priestly,62 prophetic,63 kingly,64 and pastoral65 offices. In each case, the point is that the congregational body best performs its ministry by the collaboration of all of its parts. As an organism the local church grows, not necessarily to greater size and efficiency, but to a full ripening of its communal nature.
Still another perspective illuminates the local church, one less frequently advanced, the one this book primarily advocates. The approach considers the congregation less a texture or machine or organism than a discourse, an exchange of symbols that express the views, values, and motivations of the parish.66 While the other approaches explore, respectively, the context, effectiveness, and communal development of the congregation, the symbolic outlook instead focuses upon its identity. Identity mirrors the “we” of a church that persists through whatever changes environment or revised program or interpersonal growth may effect in its midst. Throughout such changes any congregation remains itself, irrepressibly recognizable to its members and other observers. The marks and patterns of that recognition are the symbols this fourth approach seeks to discover.
In househunting terms, the symbolic search is the one undertaken to find a residence that reflects the identity of the family, a place that expresses the self-understanding of its occupants and their transaction with the world. When househunters contemplate the symbolic language of a potential dwelling, they look at a quality different from its neighborhood, efficiency, or familial appropriateness. They ask: What, in any circumstance, does this place say about us? What does it express about our values and the way we engage the world?
Pastors frequently acknowledge congregational identity by speaking of the symbolic network of a congregation as its “personality.” They note that parishes that have similar contextual, mechanical, and organic features display remarkably different personalities. The analysis in congregational literature of symbolic networks, or identity, has proceeded desultorily, not in a widespread or consistent movement like those which have propounded the other approaches. A few histories of local churches have examined the identifying cultural traits of their subjects, exploring the symbolic patterns that give a particular congregation its unique character, instead of the far more common topics of local church history, such as campaigns, catastrophes, and clergy. In 1967, possibly in reaction to the dominantly contextual interpretations of the time, three books appeared that probed congregational culture in other, nonhistorical ways. One was the work of a sociologist, Earl Brewer, who, with the aid of a theologian and a ministries specialist, sought by an extensive content analysis of sermons and other addresses given in a rural and an urban church to differentiate the patterns of belief and value constituting those two parishes.67 The second was the inquiry of a religious educator, C. Ellis Nelson, who departed from a curricular definition of education to envision the congregation as a “primary society” whose integral culture conditions its young and old members.68 James Dittes, the third author, described more fully the nature of the culture encountered in the local church. He called it intractable stuff:
This “stuff” about which the minister develops and exercises intentions — the moods and motives, the whimsies and wiles of people, their responsibilities and irresponsibilities, the structures and clashes of groups, their forms and formalism, commitments and inceptions, ideas and ideals — this “stuff” is active, reactive, insistent, and sooner or later must have the final word.69
Later a pastor, John Harris, likened the stuff to an iceberg:
In the 1970s the study of symbolic interaction in the congregation became increasingly the domain of ethnographers. As might be expected in a society in which white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are slow to recognize their own ethnicity, the first, and still the best, ethnographies of congregations are Samuel Heilman’s study of an orthodox synagogue and Melvin Williams’s description of a black Pentecostal church.71 Heilman and Williams conclusively demonstrate the power of even small, marginal congregations to generate among themselves a rich symbolic communication that gives each its meaning and cohesion. Only a single theologian, Urban T. Holmes, has given protracted attention to the culture of the local church and the symbolic implications of ministry conducted within its network of signs. Holmes’s several books on the ministry sought to counter the mechanist and organic orientations that guide works that view ministry primarily as social profession.72 Since Holmes, a few other theologians have explored, differently and far less extensively, the function of symbols in the life of the congregation.73
The remainder of this book will offer various ways to detect the symbolic and idiomatic discourse of a congregation and to probe its significance to the church members who convey it. To introduce that effort, however, several characteristics of the symbolic approach to congregational study are here set forth that distinguish it from the other principal modes of analysis. The marks are its attention to a pattern of motifs, its use of a linguistic model, and its narrative dimension.
Critical to the cultural analysis of a congregation is the discovery of significant motifs, or themes, that through their conscious and unconscious repetition by church members sanction the world view, ethos, and praxis of the parish. Heilman explains how he established what motifs conditioned the life of Kehillat Kodesh synagogue:
When the events I observed in the setting ceased to reveal novelties to me, I took my six volumes of notes and began to look at what I had gathered. While certain themes had spelled themselves out in the course of the observations, others became apparent only after all the notes were analyzed.
Only a small part of the information I collected could be incorporated in this study. The themes that are treated must therefore not be presumed to describe everything there is to know about Kehillat Kodesh. Rather, they represent those aspects of the setting and action that are most representative of American modern Orthodox Jewish synagogues, as I comprehend them, or vital for a comprehension of the particular social interaction at Kehillat Kodesh.74
Unlike the contextualist who endeavors to explain the congregation in the light of social ideas and forces at work throughout the larger community, the symbolist observes the structure of ideas and actions within the church itself that particularize its outlook and behavior. Note also in Heilman’s remarks the absence of the mechanist concern to modify congregational behavior in order to increase its efficiency. Organicists and symbolists do have in common a focus upon internal community, but for symbolists the task is a search among existing cultural data to discover the matrix of the community already existing, while organicists advocate a social process that develops a future community not now realized.
A second feature of the symbolic approach is its use of a linguistic model to depict congregational culture. Symbolic analysis demands on-site observation, usually for an extended period of time, to detect the signals that convey a church’s culture. The analyst watches, participates, listens, interviews, and reads all that occurs within the life of the congregation. The data the researcher collects must then be shaped in a model that gives it sense and coherence. The model employed is that of a language, the communication pattern Clifford Geertz calls “construable signs.” As noted in the preceding chapter, the idiom of an individual congregation includes not only verbal and written signs but also gestures, smells, touches, and physical configurations. Viewing such data as part of a rich language that members express to each other as information provides the paradigm for ordering and weighing what is observed.75
The third characteristic of the symbolic approach emerges from the other two. When an ethnography finds formal motifs or themes in symbolic discourse, it is disposed to treat the culture it examines in literary terms. Geertz in fact likens the work of an ethnographer to that of a literary critic, and Heilman deliberately sets his study in a dramaturgical framework, suggesting that the relation of empirical study to narrative art may be closer than usually believed. “To those defenders of quantitative social science who will denounce my tendency toward a narrative style,” he writes, “I can only reply that, unlike the novelist, who seeks to make the facts conform to his art, I have throughout made my art conform to the facts.”76 Historians who offer a symbolic approach to the study of the congregation also employ a narrative style to depict their findings. My own understanding of the parish is decidedly narrative in its orientation,77 so much so that the following chapter addresses that topic almost exclusively, and narrative categories will frame the remainder of the book.
So unexpectedly complex is the congregation that it requires comprehension from four quite different perspectives. It cannot be correctly understood without an exploration of the textural qualities that tie it to its larger context. Nor does its function become dear without analysis of the mechanist qualities that trace its dynamics and performance. Nor does this household of God come to life without organicist attention to its growth in community. And the observation of a congregation’s symbolic interaction discloses its identity and web of meanings. I will emphasize this final approach, not because of a lack of appreciation for the other three, but because to date it has been dangerously underrepresented in works that analyze the local church.
1. Carl S. Dudley, ed., Building Effective Ministry, contains an extensive examination of various approaches to congregational analysis and a selective bibliography of local church studies produced since the late 1950s.
2. Willard Augustus Pleuthner, More Power for Your Church: Proven Plans and Projects (New York: Farrar, Straus & Young, 1950); and see Murray Leiffer, The Effective City Church (New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), which preceded plans of the National Council of Churches to study “the effective city church.” Unlike the later contextualist interpretations of the urban church, an instrumentalist emphasis characterized studies and plans of the 1950s. Power was to be evoked, multiplied, and redistributed. Roman Catholic literature in the period follows the same motif but with considerably greater attention to the manner in which power is to be recognized and shared between diocese and parish. See Hugo Rahner, The Parish: From Theory to Practice (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1958); Leo R. Ward, The Living Parish (Notre Dame: Fides Pub., 1959); Casiano Floristan, The Parish — Eucharistic Community (Notre Dame: Fides Pub., 1964); Alex Blochlinger, The Modern Parish Community (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1965).
3. H. Paul Douglass, 1000 City Churches (New York: George H. Doran, 1926); The Church in the Changing City (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1927); How to Study the City Church (Garden City, N.Y.: Doran & Co., 1928). An assessment of Douglass’s contribution both to sociological method and to the study of the local church is contained in Jeffrey K. Hadden, “H. Paul Douglass: His Perspective and His Work,” Review of Religious Research 22 (1980): 66-88.
4. George Michonneau, Revolution in a City Parish (Westminster: Newman Press, 1950); Tom Allan, The Face on My Parish (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); Ernest Southcott, The Parish Comes Alive (New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1956). Several of the Roman Catholic works cited in n. 2 appeared first in European editions.
5. Approaches to househunting and to congregational study resemble Stephen Pepper’s well-known typology in World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1942). Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols, points out the consonance of perceptions that a people hold about their bodies, their society, and the cosmos. Similar isomorphisms about habitations—house, congregation, and world—seem to operate in the present instance. Pepper’s four world hypotheses correspond to house and congregational hypotheses in the following order: Contextualism employs the historical event as its root metaphor and emphasizes the pragmatic truth found in encounter. What is significant about the world is not its form or process but incidents in specific environments. Mechanism works from a machine as root metaphor and emphasizes the discovery of factors as agencies and the delineation of action. For mechanists, the world is a field of force whose properties are basically numerical and instrumental. Organicism develops from the root metaphor of an organism and emphasizes the systemic nature of occurrences. The world is basically a developmental process that works toward an ultimate unity or absolute. Formism builds upon a root metaphor of similarity and emphasizes the correspondence of forms between otherwise unrelated things and events. The world is imagined as certain persistent structures in which life participates.
6. Joseph H. Fichter, Dynamics of a City Church (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951); Peter Berger, The Noise of Solemn Assemblies: Christian Commitment and the Religious Establishment in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1961); Gibson Winter, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches. Fichter’s investigation of a New Orleans parish proved so disturbing to Roman Catholic officials and those of his university that he was prevented from publishing further volumes in what was to be a series entitled Southern Parish.
7. World Council of Churches Department on Studies in Evangelism, Planning for Mission: Working Papers on the New Quest for Missionary Communities, ed. Thomas Wieser (New York: United States Conference for the World Council of Churches, 1966); World Council of Churches, Concept, newsletter published by the Department on Studies in Evangelism, WCC; World Council of Churches, The New Delhi Report: The Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, 1961 (London: SCM Press, 1962), 189- 91; World Council of Churches, New Delhi to Uppsala: Report of the Central Committee to the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Geneva: WCC, 1968), 66-70; World Council of Churches, The Uppsala Report: Official Report of the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Uppsala, July 4-20, 1968 (Geneva: WCC, 1968), 33f., 200f.
8. World Council of Churches, The Church for Others and the Church for the World (Geneva: WCC, 1967), 61.
9. World Council of Churches, New Delhi Report, 189.
10. Herbert T. Neve, Sources for Change: Searching for Flexible Church Structures (Geneva: WCC, 1968).
11. World Council of Churches, Planning for Mission, 26.
12. World Council of Churches, New Delhi to Uppsala, 66.
13. World Council of Churches, Planning for Mission, 134.
14. Johannes Christian Hoekendijk, The Church Inside Out (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966). Cf. Colin Williams, Where in the World? (New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., 1963), and What in the World? (New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., 1964). Williams’s books, widely circulated, were guides that provided for laity a clearly argued theological basis for missionary structure.
15. In some study papers it was proposed that although the church might be of prophetic service in a variety of arenas of public life, the primary locus of church mission should be the urban community. Unlike the congregational studies of earlier decades that treated an urban context as, at most, an environment outside and distinct from the major business of the church, the literature of the 1960s projected urban society as the pervasive ethos of the congregation itself. Only insofar as the congregation as texture strengthened the fabric of urban community would it gain its true nature. See Walter Kloetzli, The City Church, Death or Renewal: A Study of 8 Urban Lutheran Churches (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961); Robert Lee, ed., Cities and Churches: Readings on the Urban Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962); Richard E. Moore and Duane L. Day, Urban Church Breakthrough (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); George W. Webber, The Congregation in Mission (New York: Abingdon Press, 1964); Gibson Winter, The New Creation as Metropolis (New York: Macmillan Co., 1963). See also Ezra Earl Jones and Robert L. Wilson, What’s Ahead for Old First Church? (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), and Gaylord Noyce, Survival and Mission for the City Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975). Published in the next decade, the works of Jones and Noyce are more centripetal in their focus, treating the city as surrounding environment rather than the total context for church life. Several books of the contextual sort also considered the suburban environment: Andrew W. Greeley, The Church and the Suburbs (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959); Frederick A. Shippey, Protestantism in Suburban Life (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1964); Gaylord Noyce, The Responsible Suburban Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970); W. Widick Schroeder, Victor Obenhaus, Larry Jones, and Thomas Sweetser, Suburban Religion: Churches and Synagogues in the American Experience (Chicago: Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1974).
16. George W. Webber, God’s Colony in Man’s World (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960). See also Steven Rose, The Grass Roots Church: A Manifesto for Protestant Renewal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), which poses a more visionary structure of Christians organized not in congregations but in clusters for service and teaching.
17. Gerald Jud, Pilgrim’s Process: How the Local Church Can Respond to the New Age (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1967). Defying the different ecclesial tastes of the 1970s, George W. Webber also published Today’s Church: A Community of Exiles and Pilgrims (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979), which advocates a style of transience more radical than the one proposed in his earlier works.
18. Robert W. Long, ed., Renewing the Congregation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966); M. Edward Clark, William L. Malcomson, and Warren Lane Molton, The Church Creative (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967); Waldron Howard, Nine Roads to Renewal (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1967); Wallace E. Fisher, Preface to Parish Renewal: Study Guide for Laymen (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968); Gerald H. Slusser, The Local Church in Transition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966); Joan Thatcher, The Church Responds (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1970); William R. Nelson and William F. Lincoln, Journey Toward Renewal: New Routes for Old Churches (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1971); Anthony Wesson, Experiments in Renewal (London: Epworth Press, 1971).
19. Robert A. Raines, New Life in the Church (New York: Harper & Row, 1961); Reshaping the Christian Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1964); The Secular Congregation (New York: Harper & Row, 1968); Rudiger Reitz, The Church in Experiment: Studies in New Congregational Structures and Functional Mission (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969); Eugene Stockwell, Claimed by God for Mission: The Congregation Seeks New Forms (New York: World Outlook Press, 1965).
20. Marvin Bordelon, ed., The Parish in a Time of Change (Notre Dame: Fides Pub., 1967); Grace Ann Goodman, Rocking the Ark: Nine Case Studies of Traditional Churches in the Process of Change (New York: United Presbyterian Church U.S.A., 1968). More recently, B. Carlisle Driggers, ed., Models of Metropolitan Ministry: How Twenty Churches Are Ministering Successfully in Areas of Rapid Social Change (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979).
21. Robert S. Lecky and H. Elliott Wright, Can These Bones Live? The Failure of Church Renewal (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1969).
22. Theologians such as Joseph C. Hough have since insisted that the congregation needs to be analyzed “in the light of the universal theological dialogue in the church about the mission and ministry of the church as the body of Christ in the world” (in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 112), but most theological studies of the church since 1970 do not analyze the local church. Sociological studies of congregational context since 1970 include Arthur L. Anderson, Divided We Stand: Institutional Religion as a Reflection of Pluralism and Integration in America (Dubuque: Kenda/Hunt Pub. Co., 1978); Thomas C. Campbell and Yoshio Fukuyama, The Fragmented Layman: An Empirical Study of Lay Attitudes (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1970); James D. Davidson, “Religious Belief as an Independent Variable,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 11 (1972): 65-75; James D. Davidson, “Religious Belief as a Dependent Variable,” Sociological Analysis 33 ( 1972): 81-94; James D. Davidson, “Patterns of Belief at the Denominational and Congregational Levels,” Review of Religious Research 13 (1972): 197-205; David R. Gibbs, Samuel A. Miller, and James R. Wood, “Doctrinal Orthodoxy, Salience and the Consequential Dimension,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12 (1973): 33-52; William McKinney, and others, Census Data for Community Mission (New York: Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church of Christ, 1983), part of a denomination-wide study of census data relevant to each congregation in the United Church of Christ; David O. Moberg, `’Theological Position and Institutional Characteristics of Protestant Congregations: An Explanatory Study,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 9 (1970): 53- 58; Wade Clark Roof, Community and Commitment; Thomas Sweetser, The Catholic Parish: Shifting Membership in a Changing Church (Chicago: Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1974).
23. Edgar R. Trexler, Creative Congregations: Tested Strategies for Today’s Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972), 9. Cf. James B. Sauer, Congregational Vitality: Foundation for Integrity in Evangelism (New York: National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., n.d.), 1: “The local congregation is a lot livelier than most people think.”
24. Writing in 1982, after a decade in which the church as a whole had pursued the inner mechanisms of congregations, several sociologists reported as follows: “We share the conviction that in recent years congregational analysis has over-emphasized the internal dynamics of congregational life and has failed to sufficiently account for the influence of the social and ecological context of the church’s inner life. We argue, in other words, that congregational analysis should work from the ‘outside in.’ While we do not subscribe to a deterministic view, we believe that the environment both sets limits on and provides opportunities for a congregation.” Jackson Carroll, William McKinney, and Wade Clark Roof, “From the Outside In: A Sociological Approach,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 84-85. See also David S. King, No Church Is an Island (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1980).
25. Dean A. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).
26. C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1976), 43.
27. Ibid., 1, 28.
28. Ibid., 89.
29. Ibid., 87.
30. Donald A. MacGavran, Bridges of God (New York: Friendship Press, 1955); How Churches Grow (New York: Friendship Press, 1959).
31. H. Boone Porter, Growth and Life in the Local Church (New York: Seabury Press, 1968).
32. W. Wendell Belew, Churches and How They Grow (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971).
33. See n. 25, above.
34. In addition to the works already mentioned: Charles L. Chaney and Ron S. Lewis, Design for Church Growth (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1977); Vergil Gerber, God’s Way to Keep a Church Going and Growing (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1973); Donald A. MacGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Pub. Co., 1970); Donald A. MacGavran and Winfred Arn, How to Grow a Church (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1973); Donald A. MacGavin and Winfred Arn, Ten Steps to Church Growth (New York: Harper & Row, 1977); Donald A. MacGavin and George Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies That Work (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980); Donald J. MacNair, The Growing Local Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975); Charles Mylander, Secrets for Growing Churches (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979); Wilbert R. Shenk, The Challenge of Church Growth (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973); Ebbie Smith, A Manual for Church Growth Surveys (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1976); Bob Waymire and C. Peter Wagner, The Church Growth Survey Handbook (Santa Clara, Calif.: Global Church Growth Bulletin, 1980); C. Peter Wagner, Our Kind of People (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979); The Global Church Growth Bulletin (Box 66, Santa Clara, Calif.), published bimonthly.
35. Robert K. Hudnut, Church Growth Is Not the Point (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).
36. Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen, eds., Understanding Church Growth and Decline: 1950-1970 (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979); Carl S. Dudley, Where Have All Our People Gone? (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1979), a digest of material in the Hoge and Roozen volume.
37. Jackson Carroll, Small Churches Are Beautiful (New York: Harper 8z Row, 1977); Carl S. Dudley, Making the Small Church Effective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978); Bernard Quinn, The Small Rural Parish (Washington, D.C.: Glenmary House Missioners, 1980).
38. Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, 159. See also Wagner’s summary article in Hoge and Roozen, Understanding Church Growth, 270-87.
39. Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, 41.
40. Ibid., 31.
41. Robert H. Schuller, Your Church Has Real Possibilities (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1974).
42. Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, 27.
43. Lyle E. Schaller, “A Practitioner’s Perspective,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 160-74. See also Lyle E. Schaller, Survival Tactics in the Parish (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1977); Assimilating New Members (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978); Effective Church Planning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979); Activating the Passive Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982); and many other works. Note the mechanistic approach of another consultant in Roy M. Oswald, Power Analysis of a Congregation (Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute, 1981).
44. Many consultants and others who study the congregation are listed in Elizabeth Whipple, The Study of the Local Church: A Directory of Participants (Atlanta: Project Team for the Study of the Congregation, Rollins Center for Church Ministries, Emory University, 1983).
45. Lyle E. Schaller, “A Practioner’s Perspective,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 161.
46. Ibid., 162-64.
47. Ibid., 168.
48. “I have become convinced that the organizational structure, the size of the governing board, the frequency of their meetings, the nature of the room in which they meet, and the choice of who will preside at the meetings of the governing body have a significant impact on what happens in the life of a congregation. The design of the building has a great impact on the degree of ‘friendliness’ displayed by the members. In another setting I have argued that the importance of place may be the most neglected factor in church planning” (ibid., 164).
49. Some church consultants—for instance, those of the London-based Grubb Institute of Behavioral Studies—again use a mechanist approach to the congregation, but with more attention to organicist methods than Schaller employs. Bruce Reed, based at the Grubb Institute, and his American associate Barry Evans probe the psychology of members of a congregation and advance hypotheses about behavioral dynamics characteristic of a particular church to determine its “primary task—its normative function in the community” (Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 38). Though the congregation is also understood as an “open system” functioning developmentally, “the process of transformation is [itself ]called a ‘task’ which is susceptible to analysis and definition” (ibid., 39). Bruce Reed, The Dynamics of Religion: Process and Movement in Christian churches (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1978), analyzes a process of oscillation through which members and congregations regularly move. He also develops a theory of functional and dysfunctional behavior in church activities. The dominant image of the local church, the one that gives Reed’s and Evans’s findings much of their coherence and argument, is that of the congregation as a mechanistic field of traceable forces. See also Bruce Reed, The Task of the Church and the Role of Its Members (New York: The Alban Institute, 1976).
50. Wagner’s Our Kind of People is a protracted argument for a homogeneous congregation. See also his fifth vital sign, in Your Church Can Grow, 33.
51. Robert C. Worley, A Gathering of Strangers: Understanding the Life of Your Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).
52. Ibid., 18. Worley goes on to clarify his use of “identity crisis,” disclosing his organic bent by associating his use of the term with Erik Erikson’s discussion of identity formation in late adolescence.
53. E. Mansell Pattison, Pastor and Parish: A Systems Approach (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 6- 12, notes three aspects of systems theory—holism, open synergy, and isomorphism—that correspond to the characteristics I describe.
54. Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead, Community of Faith: Models and Strategies for Developing Christian Communities (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), 21, 32.
55. Loren Mead describes parishioners who “feel trapped, unable to free their congregation from its hang-ups…. In its corporate life the parish often becomes an institution of frightened people. It becomes defensive, self-protective—the very antithesis of loving freedom proclaimed by the gospel and believed by many of its members” (New Hope for Congregations, 22-23). But, for Mead and the Alban Institute that he directs, such situations when squarely faced contain the seeds for resolution. “Congregations can change…. Purposeful people can determine much about the direction of a congregation’s life” (ibid., 93).
56. Pattison, Pastor and Parish, 7.
57. James D. Anderson, To Come Alive!; John E. Biersdorf, Hunger for Experience: Vital Religious Communities in America (New York: Seabury Press, 1975); Paul Dietterich and Russell Wilson, A Process of Local Church Vitalization (Naperville: Center for Parish Development, 1976); James C. Fenhagen, Mutual Ministry: New Vitality for the Local Church (New York: Seabury Press, 1977).
58. Newton Malony describes how organization development enlivens the church body: “Organizations were hereby conceived as organic, systemic and alive entities that could be improved by intentional efforts. The goal is to improve the way they are organized, the jobs they provide and the relationships they engender, so that they function more efficiently and fulfill their members’ lives more fully. It is important to note that organization development consultation assumes that the ‘fulfilling of the members’ lives’ is just as important as increasing production…. More important, it assumes that participation in the organization is the way that the members’ lives will become more satisfying. It is a mutually dependent and necessary relationship because nowhere else in modern society is it possible to increase life satisfaction so fully as in organizational life.
“When the church is perceived through this systems approach, it is seen as a place where the importance of fulfilling lives is probably more important than any program the church may produce or any building it may construct” (“Organization Development: A Framework for Understanding and Helping the Church,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 179).
59. Pattison, Pastor and Parish, 8.
60. Robert C. Worley, Change in the Church: A Source of Hope (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), 93.
61. Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, 30.
62. Aidan Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (New York: Pueblo Pub. Co., 1978); Gwen Kennedy Neville and John H. Westerhoff, Learning Through Liturgy (New York: Seabury Press, 1978); William H. Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979); Walter Wink, The Bible in Human Transformation: Toward a New Paradigm for Bible Study (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).
63. Don S. Browning, The Moral Context of Pastoral Care (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976); Thomas Downs, The Parish as Learning Community: Modeling for Parish and Adult Growth (New York: Paulist Press, 1979); Thomas H. Groome, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Our Vision (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); C. Ellis Nelson, Where Faith Begins (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1967); John H. Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith? (New York: Seabury Press, 1976).
64. Stephen B. Clark, Building Christian Communities (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1972); Speed Leas and Paul Kittlaus, Church Fights, is representative of several works on church conflict (see chap. 10, n. 8). See also Jones and Wilson, cited in n. 15; Douglas Walrath, Leading Churches Through Change (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1979).
65. Roger A. Johnson, Congregations as Nurturing Communities (New York: Division for Parish Services, Lutheran Church of America, 1979); Samuel Southard, Comprehensive Pastoral Care: Enabling the Laity to Share in Pastoral Ministry (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1975); Howard W. Stone, The Caring Church: A Guide for Lay Pastoral Care (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983).
66. James Gustafson, Treasure in Earthen Vessels: The Church as a Human Community (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), developed the concept of the church as a community of language, although he does not press the implication of language beyond its Christian symbols; nor does he argue that the community employing this language is either essentially or primarily the local church.
67. Earl Brewer, Theodore Runyon, and Harold McSwain, Protestant Parish: A Case Study of Rural and Urban Parish Patterns (Atlanta: Communicative Arts Press, 1967).
68. Nelson, Where Faith Begins. See also John H. Westerhoff and Gwen Kennedy Neville, Generation to Generation.
69. James E. Dittes, The Church in the Way (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), 41. Clifford Geertz uses a similar notion of “bodied stuff” to distinguish the object of culture analysis from the abstractions that form nomothetic observations (The Interpretation of Cultures, 23). Like Geertz, Dittes further relates stuff to narrative style, and he sees, as I do, the implication of idiom for understanding the struggle of society at large.
70. John C. Harris, Stress, Power and Ministry: An Approach to the Current Dilemmas of Pastors and Congregations (Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute, 1977).
71. Samuel C. Heilman, Synagogue Life; Melvin D. Williams, Community in a Black Pentecostal Church: An Anthropological Study (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1974). Melvin D. Williams, “The Conflict of Corporate Church and Spiritual Community,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 55-67, and Michael H. Ducey, Sunday Morning: Aspects of Urban Ritual (New York: Free Press, 1977), study white Protestant churches from an anthropological perspective. Suggestions to students of congregations who wish to begin an ethnographic study of a church are offered, largely in exercise form, in Dudley, Making the Small Church Effective, and in Neville and Westerhoff, Learning Through Liturgy, 71-88. See also William H. Anderson, “The Local Congregation as a Subculture,” Social Compass 18 (1971): 287-91.
72. Urban T. Holmes’s most extensive analysis of congregational culture occurs in Priest in Community: Exploring the Roots of Ministry (New York: Seabury Press, 1978).
73. Don S. Browning, “Integrating the Approaches, An Overview,” and David S. Pacini, “Professionalism, Breakdown and Revelation,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 220-37 and 133-52.
74. Heilman, Synagogue Life, xii.
75. In his study of Zion, a black Pentecostal church, Melvin Williams observes: “The system of symbolic expression in Zion validates this church community; the communication code . . . allows the members not only to belong to this religious community but also to be carriers of the community content wherever they find themselves in interaction with other members of Zion…. The members identify with Zion and one another. They embody the stuff of community. They reinforce, identify, and conceptualize in terms of images of whom that community represents. Thus their communication code, full of references to food, the farm, the rural landscape, human anatomy, death, the physical world, and the supernatural, contains messages and is indicative of a system of symbolic expression that validates and identifies these southern Black rural (peasant) migrants apart from a wider society” (Community in a Black Pentecostal Church, 175).
76. Heilman, Synagogue Life, xii. Cf. Frederika Randall, “Why Scholars Become Storytellers,” The New York Times Book Review, 29 January 1984, 1, 31.
77. Cf. James F. Hopewell, “The Jovial Church: Narrative in Local Church Life,” in Dudley, Building Effective Ministry, 68-83.