Seminaries Urged to Heed "FACT" Concerns About Theological Education

Eden seeks leading role in further study and evaluation of leadership preparation for congregations.

ST. LOUIS--March 13, 2000--Eden Theological Seminary president David M. Greenhaw is urging seminaries to heed concerns raised by the Faith Communities Today (FACT) report on religion in the United States and to use the information it provides to strengthen theological education. Among its many findings, the FACT report raises questions about the educational process of preparing leaders for congregations.

"This study should serve as a wake-up call to seminaries everywhere," said Dr. Greenhaw. "This is vitally important new information--while it raises concerns, it also begins to give us information that will be invaluable in our work of strengthening theological education. If seminaries are truly to serve the church by preparing effective and dynamic leadership for congregations, we dare not ignore this landmark study."

Findings of the study, "Faith Communities Today: a Report on Religion in the United States Today," are being released at a March 13 news conference in New York City. Dr. Greenhaw is participating in the news conference as the seminary project resource person.

The study draws its findings from 14,301 congregations in more than 40 denominations and faith groups--the broadest religious coalition ever assembled for research in this country. The study is the most comprehensive picture of U.S. churches, synagogues, mosques and other bodies ever developed. It provides significant information about the changing face and needs of today's congregations, offering an unprecedented view of congregational life, health and mission. Researchers looked at such areas as worship and identity, location and facilities, programs, participants and finances.

But the study also examined issues of congregational leadership, providing a yardstick by which seminaries can better tailor the experience of theological education for today's congregations and suggesting several areas of concern.picture

The report concludes, "...congregations with leaders who have seminary education are, as a group, far more likely to report that in their congregations they perceive less clarity of purpose; more and different kinds of conflict; less person-to-person communication; less confidence in the future and more threat from changes to worship." Researchers also reported that seminary graduates may be slightly less likely than non-seminary grads to be located in congregations that are vital and alive, growing in members, using contemporary worship, clear about purpose and mission and well organized.

While the researchers clearly point out that these and other findings may be due to factors other than the education of the leaders, they suggest the need for careful review of seminary preparation. Eden is currently seeking a grant to further interpret and find ways to apply the information gathered by FACT researchers.

"It is clear that we must take the next step," said Dr. Greenhaw. "It is simply not enough to be aware of these concerns. We must understand and use the FACT findings to adapt seminary education for a dramatically changing church. We are always seeking ways to serve the church more effectively. The exciting news is that we now have a resource rich with the kinds of raw materials we've never before had; it is now up to us to use those materials to create more effective leadership for the church we care so much about."

The FACT study is a research and educational program of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project, coordinated by The Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary. The participating religious groups are funding research, analysis and follow-up with support from the Lilly Endowment Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Eden Theological Seminary, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2000, is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Approximately 180 students representing 18 denominations and faith groups are enrolled in studies at Eden.

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Editor's note: For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Lois Ford Long, director of media relations, at (314) 918-2568 or by mobile phone at (314) 494-7442. For more information on the FACT study, contact J. Martin Bailey at (973) 324-9684 or visit the website at http://fact. hartsem.edu.