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This frame has three dimensions: what we do here (rituals and routines), what we make (artifacts), and the stories we tell (language, myths, local histories, sacred stories).

(A) Artifacts – hymnals.

You can learn a lot by what one finds in a congregation — the very things made specifically for that place. Take a hymnal for example. Where did it come from? Who published it? Does it contain just songs or does it include liturgy as well?

(B) Artifacts – new technology.

Increasingly congregations engaging in both contemporary and traditional music are taking advantage of new technology. Take a look around the sanctuary. Are there speakers or sound systems? Projection Screens and/or computers? What do these artifacts say about the congregation?

(C) Artifacts – pictures.

In most congregations you can find pictures displayed in hallways and offices, fellowship halls and perhaps even near the entrances. What’s depicted in these photos? Chances are, they provide helpful clues to understanding what’s important to the people of this congregation.

(D) Artifacts – websites.

How congregations present themselves online is also very important. Not only does it convey something about how this congregation communicates among its members, it is also an expression of the congregation’s identity.

(E) Artifacts – buildings.

Perhaps the most obvious, and certainly the largest, thing congregations make are their physical spaces. Buildings are themselves sites of culture. The set the stage for what a congregation does and they often play a key role in the stories a congregation tells.

(F) Artifacts – budgets, documents and archives.

Congregation produce an incredible array of documents. From budgets to bulletins, the documents a congregation creates provide insights into the people of the congregation, their sense of purpose, what they’ve done and how they carry out their collective lives.

(G) Rituals & Routines.

Congregations often spend much of their time, energy and resources crafting religious rituals. Whether they’re Shabbat services, Friday prayers or Sunday liturgies, these rituals set aside a special time for worship, religious instruction and marking significant milestones for members of the community.

(H) Rituals & Routines.

While rituals are certainly important, it’s also important to pay attention to the ordinary, everyday routines of congregational life: the meals shares, informal times of fellowship, small groups, hallway chatter and the like. These routines help build relationships among members and they help us feel as if we really belong to our congregations.

(I) Rituals & Routines.

Whenever considering the things a congregation does, it’s also very important to pay attention to who is leading or doing the action. Is it a clergy person or another religious leader? Is this activity for everyone or just for children or just for adults? The actors who make up the activity are just as important as the actions themselves.

(J) Stories.

Congregations tell many stories in many ways. One way is through their use of symbols (both religious and non-religious). Look for symbols of the congregation in prominent places such as worship spaces and places where the congregation gathers. But also look for them in the more out-of-the-way places: on the clothing official leaders wear, on furnishings and in the architecture. How do these symbols connect the life of the congregation to larger stories of the religious tradition, community or the nation?

(K) Stories.

Another way congregations tell a story is through the everyday conversations of their members. Participants share stories with one another about their everyday lives: about their families, their work, how their week went, how they have been struggling or celebrating.

(L) Stories.

The collective lives of congregations are often crafted and curated by those who have been around for a while. How a congregation tells it’s history is itself a very important story worth telling and hearing. Often you can find these local histories told orally and written down.

(M) Stories.

Sacred stories, such as those in the sacred books of a religious tradition, are also among the stories congregations tell. They perform these stories in rituals, they learn of them during times of religious instruction and they seek to connect these stories to those of their everyday lives.

Frame in Action

What to do about the building

A recent article in The Atlantic proclaimed ”an epidemic of empty churches.” And the very same week the Washington Post asked, ”Does a religious community need its own building to flourish?” Both authors pointed to the reality that buildings are often a problem, and finding the right solution will require congregations and their leaders to do a careful assessment of their resources — but also of their place in the community and their own culture and theology. Some congregations are wondering if rented space or ”pop up” space or a corner table at the pub might not better suit today’s needs. In their infancy, congregations have long sought out spaces that are otherwise empty on...
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Who is Your Neighbor? Who Decides?

Immigration has become one of the most difficult issues facing people throughout Europe and North America. And congregations are on the front lines in many ways. Whether offering services to immigrants and refugees once they arrive or protecting those facing deportation, being involved with these neighbors also brings congregations into conversation with a larger public and with legal authorities. Governmental agencies are a part of the community ecology that is invisible most of the time to most religious leaders – but they shouldn’t be. There are, of course, building inspections and financial regulations. And when congregations choose to become part of the social safety net, they...
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The Songs We Sing

An important part of the culture of every congregation is the music they experience together.  Whether it is the pipe-organ-accompanied hymns sung in a grand gothic cathedral or the a capella singing of a ”non-instrumental” Church of Christ or the chant of a cantor at Yom Kippur or the festive dance of a Hindu festival or the heavy metal of a praise band or the Muslim call to prayer. Vastly different styles and settings, but each is an expression of the people who gather in a particular congregation. Even the Sunday Assembly, a congregation for nonbelievers, keeps the tradition of singing together – in their case pop songs rather than hymns. Paying attention to that relationship between...
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When Congregations Share Their Properties – 5 Principles for Good Decisions

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Feature Photo Information: Muslim women perform Ramadan prayers at Heartsong Church, suburban Memphis. Heartsong Church: Source: Photo by Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal.   Written by Paul D. Numrich, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Capital University My recent studies of congregations have shown me that a shared parking lot often isn’t just about parking. More than that, any kind of property-sharing arrangement, whether with outside groups or diverse internal groups, requires careful assessment of why and how, as well as careful tending of the relationship. Guiding these...
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“When a Shared Parking Lot Isn’t Just About Parking” by Paul D. Numrich

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|| Written by Paul D. Numrich, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Trinity Lutheran Seminary || What happens when a Catholic church provides overflow parking to a Hindu temple? Is it primarily an exchange of resources? Or is something more going on? In our book on immigrant congregations, Sacred Assemblies and Civic Engagement, Fred Kniss and I noted with surprise the number of shared parking arrangements we encountered in Chicago. I am now researching the many variations on space-sharing among religious groups in the US. There are churches that allow other congregations to rent or otherwise use their property, buildings owned jointly by two or more congregations, and congregations...
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Social Engagement and the London Megachurch

The Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK has funded a three-year study of London’s megachurches and their social engagement activities, to be complete at the end of 2016. Using the definition of a megachurch developed at Hartford Seminary Institute for Religion Research as 2000 or more people per week attending a Protestant church for worship, twelve megachurches were identified in the UK as of 2016, with ten located in London. Although there has been considerable writing and research regarding megachurches in the USA, far less has been done to study megachurches in the rest of the world. This project seeks to contribute to conversations about megachurches in the global...
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