Researching the Church at the Local Level: Reflections from the Lausanne Researchers Conference

While several papers at the 6th International Lausanne Researchers Conference focused on overall issues in Worldwide Christian mission, a number of researchers presented papers outlining issues in research at the local church level. Each of the papers presented a local context for church ministry: the vitality of local evangelical churches in Rio de Janeiro, alternative models of church development and planning in Germany, and the inclusiveness of churches to disabled people in Brazil.

Jair Ribeiro, from the Paraclete Institute in Rio de Janeiro, is researching the vitality of local churches using survey questionnaires founded on a theology of the church. Ribeiro presented a model for evaluating local churches in the city using a questionnaire comprising 25 questions divided into five dimensions: fellowship, proclamation, service, worship and witness. These five dimensions for evaluation have been developed by a number of scholars, and are an expansion of a similar model using four dimensions of church ministry: testimony (martyria), service (diakonia), communion (koinonia) and teaching (kerygma). Importantly, the foundation for the models starts with Jesus Christ as the basis for the mission, and sees the church (the people) going out into the world.

Rainer Schacke has been investigating tools for church development and missiological research in churches in Germany. Using a tool called Sinus milieus, the research approach aimed to describe the attitudes and behaviour of the population against the background of changing values (Sinus Sociovision, 2005a, Information on Sinus-Milieus 2005. Heidelberg: Sinus Sociovision). Sinus milieus is a commercial tool developed in Germany primarily as an aid to targeted marketing.Schacke’s presentation focused mainly on looking at the model applied in the study and asking whether it is an appropriate instrument for contextualisation in local churches. Schacke argued that the Sinus milieus model could be integrated into church development strategies, and that it could easily be implemented into international and intercultural mission research, due to its transferable framework across cultures.

With a particular interest and concern for the deaf, Souza (who has spent 10 years working with the Brazilian Deaf Community) suggested there is as much inaccessibility to the Gospel with many of Brazil’s disabled, as there is with the many ‘unreached’ tribal groups throughout the country. Using a case study of Brazil’s deaf, Souza examined a number of issues, including accessibility policies in churches in Brazil, and the Brazilian Sign Language Bible translation project. He believes there is a necessity for greater understanding of disabled people groups, and for cross-cultural forms of expression that address the statement that ‘it is reprehensible to continue allowing the disabled to be “invisible” to mobilization and evangelism efforts.’

The research presented by these three speakers grappled with local church issues – how to make local churches become vital and inclusive communities within their own settings. The issues are equally relevant to Australian churches. Understanding the vitality of churches is not just a matter of understanding the internal dynamics of church administration, organisation and leadership, but has to do with its alignment with the overall mission of the church, how the church relates to its context and its inclusiveness of people who live within and around it.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 2, Pages 6-7

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