“… on such church planting efforts and it is crucial that they have a way of knowing whether such efforts will in fact denominational sustainability. ”
Denominations are bearers of traditions, theologies and practices that are likely to be with us for the future. Thus when church bodies plant churches they are seeking to reproduce these traditions in new contexts and among new populations. My project will seek to understand how new denominational bodies utilize church plants for this purpose as well as how church planters and their newly established congregations relate to their denominations. I will focus on mainline and evangelical denominational church plants, specifically congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Assemblies of God, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church of America, and the Southern Baptist Convention. From preliminary research, I have found that mainline and evangelical church planters and their new congregations follow different models and strategies, often in ways that allow them to support different elements of denominational identity (for instance, retaining a liturgical dimension). At the same time, I am interested in how denominations invest in church planting often to "rebrand" their identity and strengthen religious vitality.
For this research, I will employ the ethnographic research method, conducting interviews with denominational officials, and congregation leaders and laity, as well as participant observation in 50 congregations. I will also conduct textual analysis of the web sites of 200 of these new congregations, studying how they relate to their wider denominations and to established fellow congregations through their content and links.