IST 2006--Hybrid Version

Instructor: Antony Alumkal


Office Phone: 303-765-3131

(Hint: Contacting me by email will get a faster response than contacting me by Canvas message.)

Course Description

An introduction to the social scientific literature on congre­gations. Students will learn basic methodology for analyzing congregations and their surrounding communities. A review of the empirical literature on congregations will cover issue such as congregational cultures, leadership styles, adaptation to community change, racial/ethnic diversity, and membership growth and decline.

Click link below for syllabus in Word file:


The course aims to introduce students to the following:

  1. Variations in congregational cultures.
  2. Basic methodology for conducting an analysis of a congregation.
  3. How congregations are affected by denominational and other institutional contexts.
  4. How congregations reflect racial, ethnic, and theological traditions.
  5. The relationships between congregations and their communities.
  6. Being critical consumers of social scientific research on religion.


1. The following books are required texts for the course. Note that most of these are standard texts in congregations courses around the country, and used copies are plentiful.

Ammerman, Nancy. 1997. Congregation and Community. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Ammerman, Nancy, Jackson Carroll, Carl Dudley, and William McKinney. 1998. Studying Congregations: A New Handbook.  Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Becker, Penny Edgell. 1999. Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wellman, James K. 2008. Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 


2. The following readings are available as pdfs on the Canvas site:

Chaves, Mark. 2014. “Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53(4):676–686.

Floyd-Thomas et al. 2007. Black Church Studies: An Introduction. Nashville: Abingdon Press. Chapter 7.

Kim, Sharon. 2010. “Shifting Boundaries within Second-Generation Korean American Churches.” Sociology of Religion 71:98-122.

Mamiya, Larry. 2006. River of Struggle, River of Freedom: Trends among Black Churches and Black Pastoral Leadership. Durham, NC: Duke Divinity School.

Marti, Gerardo. 2012. “The Diversity-Affirming Latino: Ethnic Options and the Ethnic Transcendent Expression of American Latino Religious Identity.” Pp. 25-45 in Sustaining Faith Tradition: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation. New York: New York University Press.

Marti, Gerardo and Gladys Ganiel. 2014. The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. Introduction.

Pew Research Center. 2019. “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.


3. The following readings are available for free download.

Nieuwhof, Carey. 2020. “The Original 2020 is History: 7 New Disruptive Church Trends Every Church Leader Should Watch”


Roozen, David. 2015. 2015 American Congregations Report: Thriving and Surviving. Hartford: Hartford Institute for Religious Research.


Thumma, Scott. 2020. “The Challenging Climate for US Congregations”


Thumma, Scott and Warren Bird. 2015. 2015 Megachurch Study.



1. The first type of assignment in the course will be regular postings on Canvas. Each posting assignment will require a minimum of two posts from you. The first post will involve answering the assignment question, which will be on Canvas. The second post will involve responding to another student’s answer. I will indicate the due dates, but the initial post will always be due on a Monday, and the response post will be due on the following Thursday. The responses should involve more than simply saying “I agree” or “I disagree” by adding more analysis (e.g. discussing why the statement may be true), nuance (e.g. saying that you believe the statement is true in some cases but not in others), or application (e.g. here are some implications for pastors of congregations). The point is to have a conversation. If you post at all required times and your posts are good quality, you can expect to get full credit (that mean an A).4

2. Students are required to attend the Zoom sessions on September 22, October 13, and November 3, all from 2:30 – 3:45 pm.

3. Each student should choose a congregation to study and write up a pilot research report. If you are working at a congregation, you are free to study that one if you wish. The due date is 11:59 pm (Denver time) on November 20, submitted on Canvas. It should be 15-20 pages (double-spaced) and include the following:

a. Brief history of the congregation. (Be sure to cite any church documents you use!)

b. Demographics of the immediate location.

c. Profile of the leader(s) and an analysis of their style(s) of leadership.

d. Profile of the membership.

e. Denominational and other relevant networks.

f. Current goals and challenges for the leaders and for the congregation as a whole.

g. A list of 3-4 research questions that you would investigate if you had time and money for a lengthier study. Discuss why these questions are important and how they can be answered. If answering the research questions would involve interviews, describe whom you would interview and what kinds of questions you would ask.

h. Throughout the report, you should make references to the course readings. For example, you can argue, “this congregation looks like Becker’s family model” or “this congregation does not fit neatly into any of Becker’s congregational models.” Papers that do not reference the course readings will be marked down significantly.

The research for this report will likely involve some combination of observing services and other meetings and interviewing congregation members and clergy. Since this is a short-term project, it is okay for your findings to be tentative and for you to discuss what you suspect might be true in the congregation. Just be sure to discuss what observations lead you to your speculations. Students often draw from official church histories. It is best to paraphrase and use select quotation where helpful. In other words, do not cut and paste several pages of text!

As with all Iliff papers, be sure to use proper citation for sources and quotations. I do not specify which citation style you need to use, so use whichever one you prefer. (Hint: Go to to see the citation method commonly used by sociologists. This is one of the easiest methods.)


Discussion Group Conduct

The course should involve a free exchange of ideas, which means you are welcome to express your viewpoints and to disagree with the viewpoints of the instructor or your fellow students. This should always be done in a way that shows respect for the other people involved in the course. If you are not sure how to disagree without coming across as disrespectful, try saying, “I would like to respectfully disagree with that.” Many students like saying, “Let me push back on that…” which also works. Posts that fail to adhere to Iliff’s standards of conduct will be marked down.


Lectures: Each week there will be one written lecture (Word file) posted on Canvas along with a short video providing additional information.


Discussion Group Posts: 30%

Zoom Participation: 20%

Final Paper: 50%

My assumption is that students in a masters program can be expected to produce above average academic work. Therefore, the modal grade I assign is B+. An assignment will earn a B+ if it 1) fulfills all of the requirements and 2) demonstrates that the student has a solid (though not necessarily flawless) understanding of the con­cepts in the course readings and lectures. An assignment will earn a grade higher than a B+ if it fulfills the assignment and demonstrates exceptional insight into the course concepts. An assignment will earn a grade of B or B- if there are minor to moderate shortcomings in either fulfilling the assignment or demonstrating understanding of course concepts. Grades below B- are reserved for assignments with major shortcomings in either area.

This course may be taken pass/fail, but you must request this (by email) during the first two weeks. You do not need to provide a reason for your request.

Sep 15, 2020TueIntroduction, Congregational Culturesdue by 05:58AM
Sep 15, 2020TueDiscussion 1due by 05:59AM
Sep 22, 2020TueCongregational Culturesdue by 05:58AM
Sep 22, 2020TueZoom Meeting 1due by 08:30PM
Sep 29, 2020TueMega, Emerging, and New Immigrant Churchesdue by 05:58AM
Sep 29, 2020TueDiscussion 2due by 05:59AM
Oct 06, 2020TueCongregational Case Studiesdue by 05:58AM
Oct 06, 2020TueDiscussion 3due by 05:59AM
Oct 13, 2020TueCongregational Case Studiesdue by 05:58AM
Oct 13, 2020TueZoom Meeting 2due by 08:30PM
Oct 20, 2020TueMethodology for Congregational Analysisdue by 05:58AM
Oct 20, 2020TueDiscussion 4due by 05:59AM
Oct 27, 2020TueAfrican American Churches; Evangelical and Liberal Protestant Congregations due by 05:58AM
Oct 27, 2020TueDiscussion 5due by 05:59AM
Nov 03, 2020TueEvangelical and Liberal Congregationsdue by 06:58AM
Nov 03, 2020TueZoom Meeting 3due by 09:30PM
Nov 10, 2020TueRecent Trendsdue by 06:58AM
Nov 21, 2020SatFinal Paperdue by 06:59AM