“Congregations of the old Protestant mainline denominations … continue to sponsor many educational activities, but they lack the intentionality, the coherence and the continuity needed to maintain and renew their identities as communities of faith.”
Charles R Foster, From Generation to Generation
(Eugene: Cascade Books, 2012), p45.
Today I’m going to start to blog about my doctoral research, simply by doing a 10 minute ‘brain dump’ every few days and see where it goes. I’m just completing writing 20 half-hour sessions of Christian education for congregations in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, which has been helpful for making think and write in bite-sized chunks. Plus it’s been helpful in doing some more thinking towards how to frame it as a book
In 2011 and 2012 I undertook a national research project for the Uniting Church in Australia, designed to help the Assembly consider its role in Christian education. The research included a literature review, gathering the views of Assembly staff, a consultation within each synod, and field interviews with 25 people in 21 congregations across Australia. The congregations were selected through a peer recommendation process from synod and presbytery mission and education staff, who were given criteria for selection. The aim was to find congregations and ministers/leaders who were deemed to be effective in Christian education. From about 80 suggested churches and leaders I constructed a sample seeking to reflect the diversity of the Uniting Church in terms of geography, church size, location, demography, theology, ethnicity, ages, gender and sense of mission. Ethnicity and gender were the two most difficult to achieve in terms of balance. The field inteviews took place in mid-2012, and were preceded by four pilot interviews which allowed me to refine my questions. All interviewees allowed me and the UCA to identify them. The interviews lasted 60 minutes to about 90 minutes. Interviewees were mainly ordained ministers, and included three married couples.
I produced an extensive report for the UCA Assembly at the beginning of 2013. My doctoral thesis was submitted in July 2018 and I graduated in December 2018.
[The drive to Mapoon from Weipa]
The locations of the congregations were as follows:
Queensland – North Lakes, Aitkenvale, Mount Louisa, Mapoon UAICC, The Gap
NSW – Mid-Lachlan Mission Area (centred on Parkes), Maroubra, Mid-North Coast Region (and Wauchope), Tonga Parish (Sydney)
ACT – Kippax
Victoria – North Ringwood, Korean Church of Melbourne (youth & young adults congregation), Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale
Tasmania – North Hobart, Ulverstone
South Australia – Christ Church (Wayville), Clare
Western Australia – Nedlands, Coolbellup UAICC, Eaton-Millbridge
NT – Nightcliff
For several reasons, my doctoral thesis focused on a reduced sample of thirteen congregations/regions – North Lakes, Mapoon, The Gap, Mid-Lachlan, Maroubra, Mid-North Coast Region (and Wauchope), North Ringwood, Queenscliff & Point Lonsdale, Wayville, Clare, Nedlands and Eaton-Millbridge.
I plan to write a couple of journal articles putting some of the other congregations alonside the findings included in my thesis.
My research question was “How are churches reframing Christian education in order to be effective in growing faith and engaging in mission in Australian society in the 21st century? ”
I have plenty that I could say about methodology and method. The research followed a Shared Praxis method of doing practical theology. The interviews were semi-strcutured and the approach derived from grounded theory, However the approach was structured around three particular themes deemed important, based on the literature reviews, observation of themes in the life of the UCA, and my own thinking, namely:
- Congregation as a learning community
- Leadership in formation and education
- Mission and discipleship
For the sake of inquiry, the above were construed quite broadly.
In the analysis, this was expanded into four areas:
- Congregations as learning communities
- Congregations as communities of practice
- Leadership of learning communities
- Forming disciples for mission
The thesis is publicly available from Flinders University here. You can click on the link and read the abstract for an overview.
Next post: Shifts in Christian education in recent decades