Phase 3 Congregational Portraits

Left to right
Allison Senyard, Madison Deluca, Lissette Gonzalez-Sosa, Esther Chiang, Maggie Akinleye, Anne Nelson, Natalia Dahlgren, Jacob Hunter, Reni John, Rev. Dr. Erin Raffety, Zotea Zonunsanga, and Jon Chan.

In the Spring 2023 course, “Pastor as Ethnographer, Coach, and Spiritual Leader,” led by Rev. Dr. Erin Raffety, theological students studied the question, “How do skills for researching and coaching congregations enhance and support practical ministry and leadership?”

In this course, which was based on ongoing ethnographic research conducted as part of the “Imagining Church” research project at Princeton Seminary, students collaborated with five local congregations situated within a 20-mile radius of Princeton. In this partnership, students applied both digital and in-person ethnographic research methods, drew upon design thinking theories, and provided coaching to the congregations to facilitate innovation and change. As a result of their work, they produced a detailed portrait of each congregation.

Throughout the course, students also engaged in critical theological reflection to explore how they could integrate the skills and knowledge gained from this experience into their ongoing theological education and future roles in spiritual leadership.

In May, the five congregations received mini-grants to support and implement innovative projects launched during the summer of 2023. Pastors and congregational teams then gathered at Princeton Seminary in mid-September for conversation and reflection on how these projects could act as a resource for future congregational thriving.

Phase 1 Congregational Portraits

The “Imagining Church” project used ethnographic methods and qualitative data from a sample of 23 diverse thriving congregations to produce “portraits” of ecclesial imagination (a church’s view of God, its congregation, its mission, its understanding of the needs of the community, and its approach to decision-making leadership). We used that data to refine conceptual and theological understandings of ecclesial imagination and how it functions in a variety of congregational contexts.

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