From 2014-2017, the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) undertook a three-year project that was focused on questions related to whether, and how, competition and various elements of geographic place may lead to creative innovation and religious change within congregations and other religious organizations. The project also includes a comparative component with Seoul, South Korea.

In what follows, CRCC senior writer Nick Street provides an overview of their first visit to Founders Metropolitan Church, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Los Feliz is in many ways quintessentially Los Angeles: it is located northwest of the downtown core with Griffith Park on one side and Hollywood on another. It is rapidly gentrifying, is full of young “hipsters,” and is generally considered a “cool” place to live.

 Los Feliz also has a surprisingly diverse religious ecology. To this point we have identified over fifty congregations in this 2.6 square mile neighborhood, including Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and mainline Protestant, Scientology, Latter Day Saints, Sikh, the Self Realization Fellowship, Atheist and many more. Also represented are many different ethnic/national/immigrant groups with either their own congregations (whether in their own buildings or renting space from other congregations), or as a part of a larger congregation but conducting services in Spanish, Korean, or Tagalog. In short, the Los Feliz neighborhood enables us to ask questions about whether competition actually stimulates the different innovative strategies this diverse set of congregations pursues to attract participants, or, if other variables influence their approaches.

Around the world, congregations face the challenge of adapting to changing contexts. What’s happening in your neighborhood?