TWU researcher investigates flourishing congregations in Canada during times of social change

Dr. Wilkinson and his team study the mechanisms, pathways and processes that contribute to congregational flourishing in Canada in a project funded by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, part of a larger study on Flourishing Congregations in Canada.

Human and institutional flourishing is an area of interest among scholars and practitioners, especially in times of upheaval and social change. Human flourishing revolves around the idea of people’s positive psychological and social well-being and the contribution that human flourishing makes to society.

Congregations play an important role in serving communities and the people they interact with as sources of human, social, and spiritual capital. Research shows that when congregations flourish, its members and neighbourhoods also flourish.

This August, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, through its Networking Grants for Christian Scholars, has awarded Dr. Michael Wilkinson, Professor of Sociology at Trinity Western University, $30,000 in funding for his project, “Flourishing Congregations in Canada.”

Dr. Wilkinson is the project lead. On his team are five other researchers, including Dr. Kathleen Steeves, TWU Assistant Professor of Sociology.

Dr. Wilkinson and his team will study flourishing congregations, notably, Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and evangelical Protestant churches in Canada.

“We plan to conduct intensive case studies of those congregations that are flourishing across Canada to see what they are doing and the contribution they make in the communities where they are located,” says Dr. Wilkinson.

Two questions shape their study on flourishing congregations: 1) What are the mechanisms, pathways and processes that contribute to congregational flourishing? and, 2) How does congregational flourishing intersect with individuals, neighbourhoods, and organizations?

Case studies will be used to analyze and assess the role of congregations for understanding the personal, organizational, and social well-being of communities.

“Our methods are social scientific and will include observations, assessments of programs, and interviews,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “COVID-19 will have some impact on our approaches but we can still conduct interviews virtually.”

Flourishing congregations refer to the complex and nuanced interplay between the following: organizational ethos (self-identity, leadership, innovation, structure and process), internal attention (discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, diversity) and outward focus (neighbourhood involvement, partnerships, evangelism).

“We hope our findings will shed light on the role that congregations are making in their communities and provide models for other congregations on how to engage surrounding communities while contributing to their own overall wellbeing,” says Dr. Wilkinson.

This project is part of a larger study on Flourishing Congregations in Canada. There are several related research projects, most notably the Flourishing Congregations project at Ambrose University.

TWU would like to acknowledge funding for this project from the Networking Grants for Christian Scholars, a project run by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

Dr. Wilkinson is the author of numerous articles and the co-author of two books on congregations and culture: A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada (2015) and After the Revival: Pentecostalism and the Making of a Canadian Church (2020). Both books are published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to find and fulfill their purpose in life. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vibrant faith community devoted to supporting vibrant leaders seeking to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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