The problem this study addresses is that the Christian church in the postmodern west is in a condition of zero growth and even decline. Conventional strategies intended to reverse this condition have tended to focus on improved implementation of traditional methodologies of church growth. Despite the application of such strategies the church continues to decline, indicating the urgent need for additional approaches. Practical theology suggests such an additional approach: greater engagement with the local community. Certain churches have been identified whose congregations, acting, it is believed, under the leadership of the Spirit, are engaging their immediate communities in a wide variety of ways often with the result that people touched by the church respond with a new or renewed interest in the Christian faith and in some instances join or rejoin the Christian family. The implication, and the hypothesis of the study, is that widespread application of the practices of such community-engaging congregations, called “holistic” congregations, might have a positive impact in terms of growth in the wider church community. To determine the validity of this implication a small-scale inductive, empirical, effect-to-cause study was undertaken. Combining qualitative and quantitative research methods intended to identify the ethos of those churches that meet the developed criteria of “holistic” churches, as compared to a second group of “non-holistic” churches, the study addresses the question: Is it possible to discover the ethos of holistic churches with a view to reproducing that ethos in other churches? Analysis of the data gathered during the study identifies a number of specific characteristics shared by the holistic churches. In addition to suggesting strategies that may profitably be investigated and implemented by churches that wish to become, or become more, holistic in terms of their outreach ministry, the results also advocate the further study of holism as a possible key feature to the future of the Church.
Thesis (PhD (Practical Theology))--University of Pretoria, 2007.