Episcopal Church bases campaign on Penn State professor's research

January 20, 2010

University Park, Pa. - At a time when divisions and controversial changes in the Episcopal Church often make headlines, the church has launched a landmark project promoting the common attributes, feelings and beliefs of church members based on research coauthored by a professor at Penn State's Smeal College of Business.

This fall, the church released the Around One Table report, complete with abridged and unabridged print versions, a Web site and videos, all with the goal of starting an ongoing discussion in Episcopalian dioceses, parishes, and families about the ties that bind the church and its members.
 
The report, written by David Gortner, a reverend and professor of evangelism and congregational leadership at the Virginia Theological Seminary, is based on several years of research conducted by Smeal's Glen Kreiner, assistant professor of management, along with Elaine Hollensbe of the University of Cincinnati and Mathew Sheep of Illinois State University.
 
Kreiner and his colleagues are interested in studying organizational identity and how individual identity relates to the overall health of organizations. They have spent five years studying the Episcopal Church, interviewing priests and parishioners, and conducting surveys in an initiative called the Episcopal Identity Project.
 
Funded in part by the College for Bishops and CREDO Institute Inc., the project arose while the researchers were working on other research projects with CREDO.
 
"It struck the group that the church was at an opportune moment for an in-depth study of its identity," wrote Gortner. "They agreed that key to the success of the study would be collecting data from a multitude of perspectives, using a variety of research methods and conducting the study over time. The researchers envisioned that a comprehensive study of Episcopal identity could greatly benefit the church now, as well as provide a benchmark for the future, when the church might step back and take stock again."
 
Gortner went on to say that the researchers "have worked with the Episcopal Church to help it examine how the church and its members, as a whole body and as constituent parts, respond to events that raise the possibility of change in the church's life. Specifically, the Episcopal Identity Project explores how people's perceptions about Episcopal identity are related to these events and forces."
 
Hollensbe, Kreiner and Sheep approached the project with guiding research questions in eight groups: 
  • -- How do people understand Episcopal identity? What are different themes of Episcopal identity and how varied are they? How do different people relate to these various themes of Episcopal identity? 
  • -- How do Episcopalians describe the formation of Episcopal identity and whether it has changed or stayed the same over time? 
  • -- How have Episcopalians both pursued and responded to changes in the church during the past several years? How do people's perceptions of Episcopal identity affect their language and discourse? How then do people use language to construct, debate and deconstruct Episcopal identity? 
  • -- How do church identity and organizational change influence each other? 
  • -- When identity shifts, what happens to church stability, development and health? 
  • -- How does emotion both shape and get shaped by Episcopalians' perceptions of their church's identity? 
  • -- How do people's perceptions of Episcopal identity affect their sense of personal connection with and investment in the church? 
  • -- What relationships are there between people's perceptions of church identity and their health and well-being?
The researchers surveyed more than 2,500 church members, ranging from lay members to clergy to bishops. They conducted interviews with 75 church leaders and members. They examined more than 1,000 documents related to the church, including media stories, news releases, statistical and historical documents, and Web-based opinions and commentaries on changes taking place in the church. Finally, they visited Episcopal churches, conferences, and other gatherings for observations and on-site interviews.
 
Kreiner and his colleagues discovered 23 identity themes that Episcopalians used most often to describe themselves, illustrating "how Episcopalians group certain themes of the church's identity together, and how respondents rated the themes in terms of centrality."
 
Using these themes, the church hopes "to engage people in constructive conversations about the identity and mission of the Episcopal Church and how that relates to their lives and ministries."
 
The entire Around One Table report can be found at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/AroundOneTable/docs/AOT%20Report_Exp-092509HR.pdf online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017