Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Congregations Can Connect to Place

A missiologist interested in the relationship between congregations and the communities in which they exist, Dr. Scott Hagley has joined a group of similarly focused scholars from Africa, Europe, and North America who form the International Research Consortium. In fact, the IRC meets this month at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to share research on the missional church.

“The group of 25 scholars has been meeting—on different continents—since 2004,” says Scott, who serves at PTS as assistant professor of missiology and who is new to the IRC this year. “One of our primary aims, individually and as a group, consists in helping church plants and existing congregations develop practices of missional engagement with their communities and neighborhoods.”

This year Scott has organized the component of the Consortium’s program that is open to the public. For three days (June 21-23), “God in the Neighborhood” will help participants envision how congregations can “connect to place” in thinking about congregational mission. Each of these days will feature stories from the Seminary’s neighborhood by leaders from local faith communities, along with presentations by Consortium scholars on similar topics. The afternoons will be devoted to salon-style conversation for shared wisdom around each topic.

“I am excited for the opportunity to put local pastors, leaders, and parishioners into conversation with the IRC scholars,” Scott notes. “Especially the afternoons will give space for people to bring their own experiences and questions to facilitated conversations with each other. Since the tendency is to move too quickly toward the abstract when discussing the missional church, contextualizing the topic with stories of congregational experiences in Pittsburgh will facilitate the intersection of thinking and practice in a way that is concrete and mutually helpful.”

The first open day of “God in the Neighborhood” focuses on how to make the neighborhood flourish. For example, how do Christian vocation and ministry connect to the health and well-being of the place in which a congregation is situated? On the second day the group will think about issues of neighborhood inequality. “Since a congregation inherits the dynamics of the place in which it is located, effective ministry there demands awareness of the racial, economic, and socio-cultural inequalities of that place,” notes Scott. So on the third day participants will explore how congregations can build deeper connections with the places in which they find themselves. “For some congregations, especially those made up of many commuters, ‘place’ isn’t a focus of their ministry and mission, so we want to talk about how churches can intentionally join the places in which they’re located as participants in God’s mission,” Scott explains.

With morning “God in the Neighborhood” conversations oriented in this cross-disciplinary manner, complemented by afternoon guided reflection, Scott’s long-term hope is that ongoing dialogue with local people will be facilitated through church planting and community engagement centers for sustained growth in missional church formation in Pittsburgh—and in all the countries to which the IRC scholars will take their June experience at PTS.

To register for “God in the Neighborhood,” go to www.pts.edu/God-in-the-Neighborhood.