Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Acta Theologica]]> vol. 35 num. lang. en <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>An introduction to the exploration of congregations in South Africa: Seeking significance</b>]]> <![CDATA[<b>The utility of practical theology: Mapping the domain, goals, strategies and criteria of practical theological research</b>]]> Historically practical theology entered the theological encyclopaedia as a discipline of 'crises' in the praxis which ministers, congregations and churches experienced in making the Christian tradition relevant in the life of individuals, communities or in society as a whole. Among scholars in practical theology there is a deep consensus that practical theology starts with practical concerns and contributes to practice, but what is the utility of practical theology? This article want to 'deconstruct' the consensus that all practical theology is by default practical. If practical theology wants to construct knowledge about the improvement of practice, some strategies are preferable compared to other strategies. The question of utility refers to the methodological criteria of empirical research regarding (a) the object of research or the problem to be solved, (b) the needs of the stakeholders as to the research and its results and, (c) the type of knowledge to be produced. If utility is the target of practical theological research, then the question is which research strategies meet these methodological criteria better than other criteria. Some research strategies are strong on reaching certain goals, but are weak regarding other goals. It is only in the complexity of the type of knowledge, research strategy and methodological criteria that the focus on practice orientation can be decided. <![CDATA[<b>Practice-oriented research in service of designing interventions</b>]]> The strength of the practice-oriented research strategy is to develop knowledge about the improvement of practices. Practice oriented research is research in which the research goal is coming from the professional practice and in which the knowledge created in the research contributes directly to this professional practice. The problem does not originate in theory, and the knowledge created in the research is not valued because it contributes to theory. It is not knowledge-for-its-own-sake, but the knowledge is valued because it contributes to the improvement of the practice which is considered (by ministers and lay people) to be a problem. Practice-orientated research is especially relevant to congregational studies because the congregational ministry is conducted within a specific context that is challenging it to be relevant. The major steps or questions in developing a research design of practice oriented research is: what is the problem you are going to study? Why is it interesting to get this new knowledge and for whom is it interesting? How are you going to reach your research objective? How much do you want to know? And what are the conceptual instruments which you are going to use in your research? In following these steps the specific research orientation of practice oriented research is introduced. <![CDATA[<b>Survey research in practical theology and congregational studies</b>]]> Empirical research is understood as the search for knowledge-based empirical data. The best-known data-based research strategy is survey research. In practical theology, survey research is probably one of the most used research strategies. In the exploration of congregational life, a broader (quantitative) lens is required in order to investigate congregations. The aim is to explore the use of survey research in practical theology and congregational studies. First, we shall describe survey research as a methodology, in order to explain its relevance as an empirical method for doing practical theology. Secondly, we shall explain the relevance of survey research for congregational life. Surveys make a valuable contribution to congregational studies, as they provide a quantitative perspective on congregational life and its context. National and local demographics are an important part of the positioning and ecology of a congregation. Thirdly, we shall evaluate the relevance and contribution of the survey research methodology for congregational studies. <![CDATA[<b>Exploring the practical theological study of congregations</b>]]> The first congregation was formed in Jerusalem, giving rise to faith communities throughout the New Testament. In the ensuing two millennia, congregations are found worldwide. The aim of this article is to describe congregations and the study of congregations from a practical theological perspective. An introduction to the study field of congregations is followed by a description of the development of the study field of congregational studies from the perspective of four countries, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and South Africa. The aim is not to give a comprehensive historical overview of the discipline, but to trace some trends that have an influence on the discipline within the South African context. The second part of the article describes the exploration of congregations from a practical theological ecclesiology (the identity, mission and ministry of the congregation) and an analytical perspective (external interaction between congregation and community, and the internal life of the congregation). A practical theological ecclesiology and an analytical framework should interact critically with each other. <![CDATA[<b>Empirical research and congregational analysis: Some methodological guidelines for the South African context</b>]]> Empirical research is an inescapable part of responsible congregational analysis. The first question pertains to the value and contribution that empirical research has made to the process of congregational analysis. This article will briefly refer to such contributions. Such analysis can be approached from many different angles and in many different ways. The question remains: Which principles and guidelines should be taken into account when we do such an analysis? On top of all of this is the challenge to do it within the South African context. What should a congregational analysis which will help South African congregations look like? In the search for some methodological guidelines for congregational analysis for the South African context there will, firstly, be a discussion of a number of theological points of departure for a congregational analysis. Following on that will be the methodological guidelines for congregational analysis and, thirdly, guidelines for the South African context will be discussed. The argument in the article ends with a critical reflection of the markers discussed, and a look at the road ahead. <![CDATA[<b>Identity and community in South African congregations</b>]]> The religious identity of both worshippers and congregations is not static, due to a changing context. Do congregational members believe, belong and engage in the same way as they did previously, or is it possible to track certain changes? Two Congregational Life Surveys were conducted in 2006 and 2010 among the membership of Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) congregations. The two surveys suggest that attenders prefer a private expression of their religion in which the Bible plays an important role. They have a strong bond with the congregation, but the preferred role of the congregation is to provide in the spiritual needs of the attenders. The engagement with the community is not so important for the attenders; in fact, the majority of them are not involved in the community. They value what the congregation does in the community, but personal involvement does not receive much attention. The biggest challenge for the reformation of a religious identity for both the membership and congregations of the DRC is to be more contextual and engaged in their social environment and culture. The two surveys suggest a movement in the opposite direction. <![CDATA[<b>Reasons for the migration of church members from one congregation to another</b>]]> This article2 aims to determine the reasons why members of one congregation migrate to another, and to identify factors that play a role in this process. These are determined by the nature and functioning of congregations. This qualitative research involved members of three different congregations that had recently experienced a positive growth in membership numbers. The effects of secularisation and the Enlightenment, and their consequences at various levels, as well as the theories of McDonaldisation and Consumerism were taken into consideration to explain the migration of church members between congregations. The answer is not simple in the sense that two tendencies can be identified: 'push' factors that activate the tendency to move out of the previous congregation, and a drawing or 'pulling' tendency, representing those factors that attract people. It can be stated that the reasons for migration can, to a large extent, be traced to the nature and functioning of the congregation. In addition, clear tendencies can be identified in terms of 'push' and 'pull' factors. <![CDATA[<b>Leadership in rural congregations and communities: An exploration in the north-eastern Free State</b>]]> Rural communities and congregations cannot simply be overlooked. Communities in the north-eastern Free State are typical rural towns with a strong emphasis on agricultural activities and less emphasis in terms of processing products and other activities. Over the past few decades, rural communities have experienced many changes in terms of depopulation, the decline of the rural economy, poverty, and unemployment. Congregations in rural communities and their leadership cannot escape these changes that affect their functioning and existence. The key research question is thus: What is the congregational leadership's opinion and argument about leadership in both the congregation and the community? The research indicated that a shift is taking place as far as the minister's role in the leadership of the congregation is concerned. The congregational leadership needs to develop a missional perspective that brings the wider community into the ministry of the congregation. Although there is an awareness in respect of the missional calling of the church and the congregation, the change is still limited and there is room for a greater and more deliberate involvement of the congregation and its leadership within the community. <![CDATA[<b>An exploration of the use of technology by congregations</b>]]> The internet, cell phones and, more broadly speaking, the social media, have changed the world over the past twenty years, resulting in what is called "the network society". What is the response of South African congregations to the use and role of technology in congregational life? The aim is to provide an empirical and theoretical description of the situation in this regard. An empirical survey was conducted among congregations in the eastern suburbs in Pretoria and the northern suburbs of Cape Town and it was found that congregations communicate mostly information through the social media. Congregations that function within a fluid network society should earnestly consider devising a proper and effective digital and electronic communication strategy for the congregational ministry. Congregations that wish to remain relevant within the aetas digitalis must undergo a shift from being mere providers of the correct information, to becoming mentors, co-travellers and wise guides who assist one another, as well as others, to make sense of this information in order to apply it, to the glory of God and for the benefit of others.