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    Center for Congregational Resources

    Helping Communities of Faith Thrive

    Samford University’s Center for Congregational Resources sole purpose to come alongside communities of faith and their leaders, helping them chart a course toward fulfilling their God-given vision. The Center is another tangible expression of the University’s mission as a Christian institution of higher education, serving the broader community of faith.

    The Center began in 2003, as part of the Lilly Endowment’s nationwide Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative. At that time, the Center’s mission was primarily focused on clergy. Our programs and initiatives were designed to help reconnect ministers to the spiritual source of their vocation while replenishing their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sources for church leadership. Samford University offers a rich variety of resources that continue to help the Center fulfill this mission.

    In 2014 the University was invited by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to expand the programming of the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence to include initiatives and services designed to help congregations. A grant was awarded to the University for this purpose. The Center’s current name was chosen to reflect the expanded scope of services provided.

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    Our Method+

    We recognize that clergy and congregations possess the creativity and ingenuity needed to address their challenges, opportunities, and possibilities. We believe such creativity and ingenuity are activated when someone other than a church member assists in unlocking that creativity. The Center provides trained Resource Strategists and Pastoral Consultants who come alongside clergy and/or congregational leaders to facilitate a process of discovery and learning. Center staff maintain a catalogue of proven resources well-suited for the needs or opportunities these strategists discover. This information is provided to the congregational leaders for their use while working to achieve solutions. 

    The Center’s goal is to maintain a working relationship with participating clergy and/or congregations over a period of time, offering further assistance when needed as they exercise their own initiative.

    We ask questions and listen.

    Our Resource Strategists, though well-trained and experienced ministers, do not function as experts, making pronouncements or offering a “fix” for the congregation. We don’t have all the answers. We listen to clergy and congregations and help them ask the right questions. Our goal is to assist as they articulate more clearly what they are thinking, which results in deeper understanding and clarity about actions they need to undertake.

    We reverse the initiative.

    We do not come into a conversation with pre-determined solutions. Rather we rely on the gifts within an existing congregation to be called forth as they work to discover paths they need to take. Our role is to walk alongside and encourage this journey of discovery. When potential answers are uncovered, we help clergy and congregational leaders act on the challenges and opportunities they identify as priority and assist as they exercise their own initiative for the work that needs to be done.

    We help slow things down.

    We recognize some challenges are acute and need an immediate response. However, in most situations, congregations benefit from a slow-down of the decision making process. This allows time for greater intentionality in decision making that comes as a result of reflection, assessment, and strategizing.

    We build relationships.

    We believe that engaging outside support can often result in frustration because of the short-term nature of the experience.  Therefore, our goal is to be an interested and engaged partner with clergy and congregations, providing encouragement, support, and resources over an extended period of time.

    We learn from one another.

    The Center offers a clearing house of knowledge and experience compiled through working relationships with numerous congregations and clergy persons. This valuable resource is regularly updated and made available to all clergy and congregations.

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    What We Do+

    The core mission of the Center for Congregational Resources (CCR) is to come alongside communities of faith and their leaders helping them chart a course toward fulfilling their God-given vision.

    We fulfill this mission by helping them identify and understand their challenges, opportunities, and possibilities. We then work in partnership with them to find, obtain, and use the best resources available as they respond to their self-identified needs.  We define a resource as anything that assists our clients discover a path to answering the questions they have. These resources may be printed materials, online and digital media, or a strategist who walks alongside a congregation during this discovery process.

    Some examples of the services we offer are:

    Strategic Thinking

    The Center works directly with clergy, staff, and congregational leaders as they clarify their unique challenges and opportunities. We help them find resources well-suited to address their needs.

    Educational Events

    The Center provides conferences on topics of interest among groups of clergy and/or congregations. When we observe several congregations experiencing similar challenges or opportunities, we provide ways for these churches to learn from each other. We also help create networks of clergy and congregations for the purpose of peer learning and support.

    Resource Clearing House

    The Center maintains current guides of vetted resources covering a variety of day-to-day congregational concerns and needs. These resource guides are available online and in print format.


    Small grants are available to help congregations purchase resources they need to address the challenges or opportunities the identify through the discovery process. Grants also support clergy who desire time away from the ministerial role for purposes Sabbath renewal or study.

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    Who We Are+

    Keri  Burns Photo

    Keri Burns 

    Program Assistant
    University Advancement
    Center for Congregational Resources
    BROOK 133
    Penny L. Marler Photo

    Penny L. Marler 

    Center for Congregational Studies Research Fellow
    Howard College of Arts and Sciences



    Dr. Marler received her B.S. from Auburn University, an M.S.S.W. from the University of Louisville, and her M.Div. and Ph.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Marler is a sociologist of religion with scholarly interest in contemporary American religion, and especially, the relationship between church and society. Her grant-funded research has focused on the shape and future of American Protestantism, cross-national trends in church involvement among Protestants and Catholics, and most recently, the impact of peer learning on pastoral leaders and their congregations. Her grant-related administrative work includes the development of the theological exploration of vocation and the sustaining pastoral excellence initiatives at Samford. She also is a Research Fellow for the Center for Congregational Resources. Dr. Marler has published numerous scholarly articles and essays. She was a co-author of Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools (Oxford University Press, 1997) which received the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1998. She also collaborated with an international panel of sociologists of religion in a study of young Roman Catholics, which resulted in the book, Young Catholics at the New Millennium: The Religion and Morality of Young Adults in Western Countries (University of Dublin Press, 2000). More recently, she worked with a group of project director peers in the Lilly Endowment, Inc.’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative to produce the coauthored book, So Much Better: How Thousands of Pastoral Help Each Other Thrive (Chalice Press, 2013). Her ongoing research interests include religion in America, theories of religious change, and congregational dynamics. Marler retired from full-time teaching at Samford in 2013, but continues to research, write, and serve as a Research Fellow for the Center for Congregational Resources.Contact Dr. Marler via Samford's Religion Department (726-2925) or the Center for Congregational Resources (726-4064)  Download a complete CV for Penny Marler  

    Degrees and Certifications

    B.S., Auburn University
    M.Div., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
    M.S.S.W., University of Louisville
    Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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    Michael Wilson 

    Director, Center for Congregational Resources
    University Advancement
    Center for Congregational Resources
    BROOK 133C



    Michael is an ordained Baptist minister with over 30 years' experience working with congregations and other non-profit religious organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions. He has served congregations in Alabama and Louisiana in the role associate pastor with responsibilities in the areas of faith formation, pastoral care, and administration. In 2005, the Diocese of Catholics in Birmingham engaged him to conduct a study and write a proposal to revitalize Holy Family Catholic High School in Ensley. The successful proposal led to Holy Family becoming the first deep-south Catholic High School to adopt the ‘Cristo Rey’ model of a college-prep, work-study curriculum that targets low income students, most of whom are African-American. Prior to coming to the Center in 2006, Wilson was a hospice chaplain.He is a 1979 graduate of Samford University where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Religion and Philosophy and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he received the Master of Religious Education degree in 1982. He earned a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education in 2005 and specialized training in financial development at The Fund Raising School of Indiana University/Perdue University in Indianapolis in 2008. He is also a certified facilitator of Peter Steinke’s Healthy Congregations curriculum for use in churches.Michael and his family are members of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church where he teaches a Sunday School class of middle-age adults.