Original Research

Gemeentestudies: ’n Snel ontwikkelende veld van studie

Ian A. Nell
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 41, No 1 | a2106 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v41i1.2106 | © 2020 Ian A. Nell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 April 2020 | Published: 17 September 2020

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Ian A. Nell, Department of Practical Theology and Missiology, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa

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Congregational studies: A rapidly developing field of study. Congregational studies are not so simple to define. This may be related to the relative novelty of the discipline, but also to the variety of people who practise it and the equally wide range of angles to the field. The purpose of this article is to look at various stages in the development of the field of congregational studies in the South African context, and more specifically within the Dutch Reformed Church over the past 50 years. The phases can be described as follows: the initial church-building phase, followed by the phase where the dynamics and identity of faith communities came into focus, and then by a phase in which the focus shifted to congregational studies specifically within the African context and greater focus on the empirical investigation of congregations in the form of various modes of congregational analysis, as well as the advent of a missional approach to congregations. A further and ever-evolving phase is the move towards a more aesthetic perspective of the field, known as a theo-dramatic approach. Together with the last phase, we just entered what I would call the post- COVID-19 phase. One can see massive changes in congregational ministry since the COVID-19 virus started to spread in South Africa. Overnight, ministers and church boards had to adapt to online modes of being and doing church and I am very sure this will be an enormous shift. In future we will certainly speak about church before and after COVID-19.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article looks at congregational studies from a historical perspective and reaches the conclusion that it is still a relatively young and developing discipline that can benefit from an aesthetical approach to the field. This challenges the traditional perspective that congregational studies are only interested in the analysis of congregations. This scientific approach strengthens newer hermeneutical interpretations of congregations. The fields involved are congregational studies, sociology and ethnography through the lens of critical qualitative research.


Congregational studies; Dutch Reformed Church; identity of faith communities; missional congregations; Theo-drama; congregational analysis; church-building; ministry


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