Tag Archives: suburbs

Deep in the Burbs Bibliography

Arens, Edmund. Christopraxis: A Theology of Action. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Barnes, Michael R. “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology.” Theological Studies 56, no. 2 (1995): 237-250.

Baum, Fran, Colin MacDougall, and Danielle Smith. “Participatory Action Research.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60, no. 10 (2006): 854-857.

Bennett, Marlyn. “A Review of the Literature on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Participatory Action Research.” First Peoples Child & Family Review 1, no.! (September 2004): 19-32.

Bevans, Stephen B., and Roger Schroeder. “Missiology after Bosch: Reverencing a Classic by Moving Beyond.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29, no. 2 (2005): 69-72.

Black, Gary. The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

Bliese, Richard H., and Craig Van Gelder. The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005.

Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.

Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series no 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

Brookfield, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.

———. The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

———. Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices. The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986.

Cameron, Helen, Deborah Bhatti, and Catherine Duce. Talking About God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology. London: SCM Press, 2010.

Charmaz, Kathy. Constructing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006.

Coakley, Sarah. God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘on the Trinity’. 2013.

Conde-Frazier, Elizabeth. “Participatory Action Research: Practical Theology for Social Justice.” Religious Education 101, no. 3 (2006): 321-329.

Conn, Walter E. Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender. New York: Paulist Press, 1986.

Davis, Dent C. “Dialogue of the Soul: The Phenomenon of Intrapersonal Peace and the Adult Experience of Protestant Religious Education.” Religious Education 102, no. 4 (2007): 387-402.

Deshler, David, and Merrill Ewert. “Participatory Action Research: Traditions and Major Assumptions.” http://actmad.net/madness_library/POV/DESHLER.PAR (accessed March 20).

Dirkx, John M. “Images, Transformative Learning the Work of Soul.” Adult Learning 12, no. 3 (Summer2001 2001): 15.

ELCA. “Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”  (2011): 232 p.

Ellison, Pat Taylor, and Patrick Keifert. Dwelling in the Word. St. Paul: Church Innovations Institute, 2011.

Engelsviken, T. “Missio Dei: The Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept in European Churches and Missiology.” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (2003): 481-497.

Farley, Edward. Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Fink, Ben. “Organized Ideas, or Defeating the Culture Wars (What We Need to Know, and How We Need to Know It).” PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2014.

Fishman, Robert. Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Flett, John G. The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010.

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline : The Path to Spiritual Growth. 20th anniversary ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

———. “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Richard Foster Shares His Three Priorities for the Next 30 Years.” Christianity Today 53, no. 1 (2009): 28-33.

Foster, Richard J., and Julia L. Roller. A Year with God: Living out the Spiritual Disciplines. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Continuum, 2000.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. London: Sheed & Ward, 1975.

Garreau, Joel. Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Gorringe, Timothy. “Living toward a Vision: Cities, the Common Good, and the Christian Imagination.” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 4 (2009): 521-537.

Grenz, Stanley J. Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004.

Grenz, Stanley J., and John R. Franke. Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Groome, Thomas H. Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures. Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

———. The Theory of Communicative Action. 2 vols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Hall, Budd L. “In from the Cold? Reflections on Participatory Research from 1970-2005.” Convergence 38, no. 1 (2005): 5-24.

Hatch, Mary Jo, and Ann L. Cunliffe. Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.

Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Hess, Mary E. “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education.” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 271-293.

———. “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education.” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001).

———. Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind. Communication, Culture, and Religion Series. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

———. “Pedagogy and Theology in Cyberspace: All That We Cant Leave Behind.” Teaching Theology & Religion 5, no. 1 (2002).

———. “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community.” Word & World 30, no. 3 (2010): 281-290.

Horsfield, Peter G., Mary E. Hess, and Adán M. Medrano, eds. Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Hunsberger, George R., and Craig Van Gelder, eds. The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996.

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Jennings, Willie James. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

Jenson, Robert W. Systematic Theology. 2 vols. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

———. The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982.

Kegan, Robert. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

———. In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Kegan, Robert, and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Leadership for the Common Good. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Keifert, Patrick R. Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.

———. “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum.” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998): 282-290.

———. We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery. Eagle, ID: Allelon Publishing, 2006.

———. Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Kelsey, David H. To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Knowles, Malcolm S., Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 7th ed. Boston: Elsevier, 2011.

Martin, Bruce. “Transforming a Local Church Congregation through Action Research.” Educational Action Research 9, no. 2 (2001/06/01 2001): 261-278.

Mead, George Herbert, and Charles W. Morris. Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934.

Melancthon, Philip. The Augsburg Confession. Edited by F. Bente and W.H.T. Dau. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921. .pdf.

Merriam, Sharan B., Rosemary S. Caffarella, and Lisa Baumgartner. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Mitchell, Jolyon P. Media Violence and Christian Ethics. New Studies in Christian Ethics 30. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1986.

———. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans; WCC Publications 1989.

Norton, Christine Lynn, Amy Russell, Betsy Wisner, and John Uriarte. “Reflective Teaching in Social Work Education: Findings from a Participatory Action Research Study.” Social Work Education 30, no. 4 (2011): 392-407.

Orfield, Myron. Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability. Cambridge, MA: Brookings Institution Press; Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1997.

Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. 10th anniversary ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

———. To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. 1st HarperCollins pbk ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Placher, William C. The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Platt, David. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. 1st ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010.

Polkinghorne, J. C. The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010.

Powell, Samuel M. Participating in God: Creation and Trinity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Reynhout, Kenneth A. Interdisciplinary Interpretation: Paul Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Theology and Science. text.

Roxburgh, Alan J. Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition. Leadership Network. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Scandrette, Mark. Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011.

Scharer, Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen. The Practice of Communicative Theology: Introduction to a New Theological Culture. New York: Crossroad Pub. CO, 2008.

Schneiders, Sandra M. “A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Balitmore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

———. “The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Discipline.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Democratizing Biblical Studies: Toward an Emancipatory Educational Space. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Sheldrake, Philip. “Christian Spirituality as a Way of Living Publicly: A Dialectic of the Mystical and Prophetic.” In Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality, edited by Elizabeth Dreyer and Mark S. Burrows. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

———. Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998.

Shults, F. LeRon. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999.

Simmons, Ernest L. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

Simpson, Gary M. Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination. Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

———. “No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity.” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998): 264-271.

Stoecker, Randy. “Are Academics Irrelevant? Roles for Scholars in Participatory Research.” In American Sociologcial Society Annual Meeting, 1997.

Tanner, Kathryn. Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology. Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.

Teaford, Jon C. The American Suburb: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Thomason, Steven P. “Thketch of Kegan’s Five Orders.” 13:09, 2012.

Tisdell, Elizabeth J. Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Van Gelder, Craig. “Effects of Auto-Mobility on Church Life and Culture.” Word & World 28, no. 3 (2008): 237-249.

———. The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

———. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Van Gelder, Craig, and Dwight J. Zscheile. The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. The Missional Network. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011.

Vella, Jane Kathryn. Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Sacra Doctrina. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Wallis, Allan D. “Filling the Governance Gap.” National Civic Review 87, no. 1 (1998).

Welker, Michael. God the Spirit. 1st English-language ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002.

Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Zizioulas, Jean, and Paul McPartlan. Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. New York: T & T Clark, 2006.

The Suburban Frame | A Summary

The RT was a unique combination of stories that gathered in a particular frame of time and constructed a particular set of knowledge. However, the two dominant stories that brought this team together were those of the B/D suburb and the ELCA congregation existing within it. The generalized description of congregations similar to those of RT may read as follows:

The suburban ELCA congregation consists of older, ethnically oriented (Scandinavian) members mixed with younger, transient, middle-class families who have a vague cultural memory of religious commodities such as Sunday School and confirmation. It is connected to a hierarchical power structure of which it is the lowest of three rungs.[1] It is situated in a brick-and-mortar building that was first established to house the religious commodities needed for the Lutheran constituents within the sprawling suburban region. The members travel a number of miles, past other, closer church buildings, from multiple residential communities to gather in the building for liturgical practices that are in keeping with the traditional Lutheran patterns of the proper administration of Word and Sacrament. In the suburban culture of increasing dislocation, the commodification of self, consumerism, and the hectic lifestyle of auto-mobility, social-networking, and self-indulgent consumer based entertainment, the local congregation is just one small commodity on a vast smorgasbord of viable options for the American consumer of religious goods and/or recreational, self-gratifying activities. The leader who seeks to structure missional spaces in ELCA suburban congregations must be aware of these dynamics and seek ways to fully embrace the paradoxical nature of Lutheran theology and help the ELCA creatively adapt to the ever-changing suburban environment.


[1] The ELCA claims that it is not a top-down bureaucracy, but is, rather, an interdependent partnership of three expressions of the church—the churchwide organization, the synod, and the local congregation. The reality is that, in the American culture which is dominated by neo-Weberian bureaucratic structures, it is difficult to function in any way other than a top-down command and control system.

The Suburbs

I have taken the time to frame the specific location of each congregation because, the particularity of this team is important for the knowledge we constructed as a result of our shared research. Now, however, it may serve us well to take the specific locations of these three congregations and bring them into conversation with some meta-theory regarding the suburban ELCA context.

We must, at this point, restate an important reality regarding the suburban context. There is no such thing as The Suburbs. The brief description of these three suburbs should be ample evidence to note their unique qualities. However, there are some unifying factors that are characteristic of these three suburbs that resonate with the literature regarding suburban studies.

All three suburbs fall predominantly within the bedroom-developing (B/D) classification. The typical B/D suburbanite (again, if that is fair to say) is a member of a middle-class family where both parents (many of whom are divorced and now living in two-house, shared family scenarios) work and the children are involved in multiple school and civic activities. They strive to gain a sense of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and the bourgeois ideal.[1] They spend a great deal of time driving between work, school, and social activities.[2] They have access to cable television and streaming Internet. Most members of the household have a personal digital device of some sort and often resort to texting as the preferred mode of communication.[3]

The dominant vision of the B/D suburb is: ownership of a detached single-family house; automobile ownership; low-rise workplaces; small communities with strong local governments; environment free from signs of poverty.[4] The modern dogma of fact/value, public/private dichotomy is the dominant vision. The local church is, if thought of at all, one component of the fragmented private world. Living a good life and keeping the family safe is the highest priority. The sociological factors that drive the B/D vision are radical individualism, self-sufficiency, autonomy, personal liberty and freedom, consumerism, and the commodification of goods, services, and people.[5] The research will reveal how the research team members: (a) recognized these factors within themselves, and (b) allowed the social Trinity to invite them into a new imagination.


[1] Fishman argues that the country estate in near proximity to the city has been a symbol of status  that was once only available to the nobility. The rising bourgeois class aspired to acquire such garden spots just outside the city since the late middle ages. Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

[2] This is a significant result of the automobile and zoning issues. Families live so far away from school, places of worship, and entertainment, that it is unrealistic for children to walk to most places. This forces the children to either rely on an adult to drive them to every place they need to go, or sit at home and seek self-entertainment. The fact that children travel great distances from many directions to attend school and/or church diminishes the likelihood that school and/or church friends will live within walking distance. These physical limitations have fostered the radical individualism and isolation experienced by many suburban youth.

[3] The ubiquitous nature of digital technology will become a matter of discussion for the RT. One of the pertinent issues is whether digital technology helps to bridge the isolation gap or enhance the sense of disconnection among suburbanites.

[4] Allan D. Wallis, “Filling the Governance Gap,” National Civic Review 87, no. 1 (1998): 103.

[5] The suburban lifestyle is a picture of the buffered self that Taylor describes. The drive for radical individual freedom and space is what drives most suburban communities. Garreau discusses how these values have formed Edge Cities that have redefined the meaning of community based upon these individualistic and utilitarian values. Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

The Story of Three Congregations

Calvary Lutheran Church

Calvary Lutheran Church was once the flagship congregation for this particular region of the metropolitan era. It was established in the county seat in the early 1900s as the first Lutheran church in the area. This was significant because the majority of European settlers in this area were Scandinavian and Lutheran. Calvary comes from a Norwegian Lutheran tradition and provided all the religious services that the first settlers expected in that small town, county seat context.

The city of which Calvary is a part has experienced the most dramatic changes of all three cities involved in the DITB project. The town sits at the conjunction of two major rivers. This conjunction has served significant purposes for various civilizations over the centuries. It was the spot at which two warring native nations found peace. The tribes used the rivers to mark their territories and ceased their fighting. Later, it served as a logical site for trading between French trappers and the native people. Once the Europeans began to settle in the area, the confluence of rivers made it a logical spot to construct a logging and mill industry. The logs were floated from two regions up state and brought together and milled in this town. People settled in this town and constructed brick buildings along a main street in the late 1800s. The main street was surrounded by a grid-system of streets and avenues full of turn-of-the-century homes. This town, built around a centralized grid system, is similar to the plan found in both the inner city of most urban centers and in small towns in the rural context. The town, and Calvary Lutheran within it, maintained an autonomous, centralized, thriving socio-economic eco-system until the late 1950s.

The large urban center, thirty miles to the southeast, expanded during the 1940s and 50s, and the expansion engulfed the county seat, and Calvary Lutheran, by the mid 1960s. Large housing developments sprung up around the downtown area and the population increased exponentially each year. Two significant things happened to Calvary Lutheran during the late 1960s. First, it became part of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), thus setting it on a trajectory to become part of the ELCA in the 1980s. Second, the bishop asked the church to plant a new church in the next township to the north. That congregation was Ascension Lutheran, the third congregation involved in the RT.

Calvary Lutheran, and its host town, have experienced great cultural shifts over the past forty years. The urban sprawl brought prosperity to the town in the 1970s and 1980s, but the sprawl continued to expand in the 1990s and the race for larger lots and larger homes moved the upwardly-mobile population further away from the town and the church. This most recent outward expansion brought a significant demographic shift to the population. The city has both aged and become more ethnically diverse in the last fifteen years. The high school is now populated mostly by students from the next suburb over that has younger families, larger homes, and more money. Currently, the town is finding a resurgence in its vitality by capitalizing on its historic downtown and small town nostalgia.

Calvary has also experienced a recent history of dysfunction and scandal within its leadership. This has created uneasiness among its congregation and a decline in attendance among the younger families. Even with the decline, it is a large congregation with thousands of members and very traditional worship services.

I connected with Calvary through the associate pastor who was leading adult spiritual formation. She allowed me to visit various adult forums in order to present the research project. Many people seemed interested, but only four women committed to the project. Each of these women were long-time members of Calvary and had experienced the dramatic cultural shifts in the congregation and the town that I have described.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Bethlehem Lutheran Church was established by the American Lutheran Church (ALC) in the township directly east of Calvary Lutheran in the 1940s. The original township formed around the construction of a dam that was contracted by the federal government in the late 1800s. A small, temporary village was constructed to house the construction workers. A clay brick factory was also established on this location at the same time. Neither industry was large enough to establish a permanent downtown like the county seat, yet enough people remained in the area following the completion of the dam to establish a township. There is also a lake in this town that became a popular cabin community to which the central city dwellers would travel during the 1940s and 1950s. The post-World War II urban sprawl engulfed this township in the early 1960s and continued to expand in various waves up through the 1990s.

This city provides an interesting historical timeline of architecture that runs south to north. The southern neighborhoods contain homes built in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s and would now be considered high-density, at-risk neighborhoods.[1] At the northern end of the city the neighborhoods were built during the housing boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s and are considered middle-class, bedroom-developing neighborhoods. The neighborhoods between these extremes span the decades and the socio-economic strata between them. There is also a strip of large homes and the upper middle-class and wealthy population along the river that runs along the city’s western border. This city also exemplifies the decentralized urban sprawl in which the zoning laws have separated housing, shopping, education, and industry into disparate areas, thus requiring automobile transportation for its citizens to utilize these services.[2]

Bethlehem Lutheran is situated one-quarter mile from the city high school and middle school and directly across the street from the dominant Roman Catholic Church in the area. During the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, a majority of people in this city identified with either Bethlehem Lutheran or the Catholic Church as their place of worship. These churches provided the religious services and were the center of the religious institution for thousands of families in this town. Many families in this city migrated to the emerging suburb directly north of Bethlehem, but maintained their membership and participation at Bethlehem. While the host city has experienced a significant demographic shift over the past fifteen years, the Bethlehem congregation has not.

I connected with Bethlehem through the associate pastor that led the Children, Youth, and Family ministry, as well as the pastoral care ministries. He advertised the DITB project in various church communications, allowed me to make a presentation to a men’s group, and personally invited specific people to join the RT. Four men joined the team from Bethlehem. Each of them were over the age of 50, had children and/or grandchildren, and had been long-time members of Bethlehem. They had seen much change in the area and in the congregation.

Ascension Lutheran Church

Ascension Lutheran Church has an interesting location and relationship to its host city, the other congregations, and the DITB project. I mentioned earlier that Calvary Lutheran planted Ascension in the late 1960s. The town in which it was planted had, at that time, a different name, a population of eight hundred people, and consisted mostly of farms, sandpits, and trash dumps. The city has since changed its name and has vastly expanded in the last twenty years. Its growth has spread north and east of Ascension’s location. The city is now comprised of mostly single-family residences and has a population of over 40,000 predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class people. Unlike Calvary and Bethlehem Lutheran, Ascension is not located in the center of its host city’s political and social activity. Instead, Ascension sits on the extreme southwestern corner of its host city at a major intersection on the corner of four cities. The intersection has a traffic flow of 40,000 cars per day. This location allows the congregation to be accessible to a population that needs its food pantry services, day care, and the various civic groups that use its physical space. However, the congregation also owns land closer to the heart of the city and has wrestled over whether it should relocate to this land, plant a new multi-site location there, or stay where it is. Ascension continually asks how it can be truly missional in its space when the relatively short physical distance of the new location would be a quantum leap in social location. Is the congregation called to minister to the homogenous population of the host city, or is it called to stay on the more diverse crossroads?

Ascension is not only uniquely related to the host city and the other congregations, it also has a unique relationship to the DITB research project. It is the congregation in which I serve as pastor of spiritual formation. Therefore, it makes sense that ten members of the RT are from Ascension. These members had a history with me as a pastor and teacher for the four years preceding the research project. My journey from the conservative evangelical world, through the emerging church movement, and into the ELCA is one that has colored my teaching at Ascension. The RT members have journeyed with me as I transitioned into the ELCA. We have been asking the missional questions as a congregation for a while. Much of the conversation in the research project is a continuation of our shared journey. This familiarity created both awkwardness and a unique opportunity for the RT to welcome the stranger as we connected with the four members from Calvary and the four members from Bethlehem.

All of these stories—both those of the individual team members and of the three congregations—came together to form the Deep in the Burbs Research Team. Our combined stories and the interactions between team members constructed a new framework in which each team member was able to address the research question from a new perspective. This experience of our shared stories has changed each of us and, thus will change the DNA of Calvary, Bethlehem, and Ascension Lutheran.


[1] Myron Orfield identifies six distinct types of suburban communities: at-risk segregated, at-risk older, at-risk low density, bedroom-developing, affluent job centers, and very affluent job centers.  These six types represent one of the greatest challenges of suburbia: the socio-economic stratification of the suburban population. Myron Orfield, Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability (Cambridge, MA: Brookings Institution Press; Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1997), 31-48.

[2] See Craig Van Gelder, “Effects of Auto-Mobility on Church Life and Culture,” Word & World 28, no. 3 (2008).