LifeWay Research: Calvinism in the SBC slated as first study

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Church leaders and church members generally are left in the dark regarding the church and culture despite the glut of available information, and there is little chance that condition will improve without some help, says one researcher.

“I do believe today’s leaders are under-informed,” said Brad Waggoner, director of LifeWay Research, a department of LifeWay Christian Resources. “Oftentimes it is not necessarily their fault. There is an abundance of available raw information and it may simply be a case of not having the time to wade through and process it all.

“I believe that is where LifeWay Research will be able to help by putting out studies of the relevant and more important issues, clarifying them in a succinct manner.”

Thom Rainer announced the formation of LifeWay Research soon after becoming LifeWay’s president in February. He explained the new entity would assist and equip church leaders with knowledge that leads to greater levels of church health and effectiveness. Many of Rainer’s 17 published books stem from research done in the area of church health.

Waggoner, formerly dean of the School of Leadership & Church Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was selected by Rainer to lead LifeWay Research.

“LifeWay Research will be an entity that listens to churches, that listens to Christians, and that listens to the spiritually lost,” Rainer said. “It will be an authority on what’s going on in the world of churches, beliefs, and the world of the unchurched.”

Calvinism the focus of initial research projects

LifeWay Research has four projects scheduled for the remainder of 2006, and will release one a month beginning in September. The four topics of study deal with Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention; the formerly churched -– why they left church and what would bring them back; churches that are effective in evangelism over a 10-year period and why; and from which sources Southern Baptist churches draw ministry help.

“A couple of these projects are focused on churches within the Southern Baptist Convention, but that won’t always be the case,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “We will eventually take a look at many areas of our culture and how the church and Christians relate. It’s not that we are just going to do good research, but we want to marry that research with a good biblical perspective of what is it that we are called to do as a church.”

Waggoner said LifeWay Research also will conduct research with transferable equipping information, such as a study recently conducted that examines the way churches execute Christian education.

“I truly believe because of the type of information we are going to be providing, we have an opportunity to impact the way people are thinking,” Waggoner said. “It might be strategic -- getting people to take a look at the way they are doing things in their churches -- or it may be a perspective change that comes from learning what people in the culture or people in the pew are thinking. Ideas often affect ministry approaches.

“At the same time, ministries that claim to be cutting edge often follow changes in trends uncritically and eventually that becomes detrimental to the church, he added. “We are going to be cutting edge, but we are going to examine information critically and theologically so that people and churches have solid information. We want them to avoid following something just because it 'works.' This leads to mere pragmatism. We must evaluate current trends through a biblical filter."

Waggoner hopes to complete at least eight projects in 2007. Much of the information LifeWay Research gathers will be available on its Web site (www.LifeWayResearch.com) beginning Oct. 2.