The primary purpose of a congregational study is to better understand the ways in which the shared history, identity, culture, community and resourses affect the way a congregation works. A key point to this congregational study, however, is to understand the theology within that defines the congregation. How does the congregation recognize, understand, and embody the relationship between the community and God. Understanding how the community understands and relates to God can provide insights into where the congregation now finds itself, and what shifts or transitions may be needed to maintain its vitality.
Studying congregations requires a variety of research methods and paths. An important component for understanding where the congregation is involves understanding where it has been:
- What are the common stories that define the congregations past? Who are the (past and present) heroes of the congregation?
- What creeds, hymns, and scriptures are central to the congregation and denomination?
- What are the longstanding practices of faith that are vital to the history of the congregation?
A study of a congregation must also examine the current realities of life within the congregation:
- How has the community (including the town or neighborhood) around the congregation changed or shifted?
- What sorts of resources — in terms of finances, members, reputation, etc. — does the congregation have and regularly use?
- How do things get done within the congregation? Are there strong laity, or do the paid staff do a lot of the work? Does the pastor make a lot of decisions, or do most of the decisions come from a Board or Committee?