USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

What Opportunities Does Crisis Present to Thriving Congregations?

What Opportunities Does Crisis Present to Thriving Congregations?

What Opportunities Does Crisis Present to Thriving Congregations?

Conversations on Thriving Congregations is part of Reimagining Church Initiative at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. This initiative seeks to bring church leaders together to reimagine the possibilities for creating thriving congregations both in how they provide deep meaning and community for their members, and in developing programming and presence in their host communities.

The conversations are intended to lay groundwork for developing a community of church leaders who are seeking a space in which to share their experience and insights and to learn from other church, academic and community leaders.

Participation in conversations is by invitation. If you are interested, please contact

Conversation 1: What Opportunities Does Crisis Present to Thriving Congregations?

August 5, 2020

Our initial conversation was organized around the question, How can congregations proactively and positively face the challenges and opportunities represented by the Covid-19 pandemic?

This broad theme will be focused in three areas:

First, given the current Covid health crisis and the social justice consciousness that is emerging in communities around the country, churches are dealing with issues they have not had to deal with before, and pastors are, many times, under increased pressure to develop solutions to how these kinds of developments affect their congregations. But, can—or should—pastors and other leaders to seek to solve the problems that arise in times of crises? How might we adjust leadership and congregational culture to meet the challenges and opportunities we face in a crisis situation? Professor Quentin P. Kinnison will lead us in a discussion about how to rethink and reimagine pastoral leadership.

Click here to watch Kinnison’s presentation

Second, many church leaders and members are now experiencing trauma in ways that they have never felt before. Leaders and members alike feel the pain of not meeting in person, and that the very existence of their congregational community is increasingly dependent on external factors. Thus, how can we heal from trauma and in the process become more resilient, both personally and corporately? Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis will help us to think about trauma and how to respond, heal and grow in response to traumatic life events.

Click here to watch Bryant-Davis’ presentation

Finally, recent events have forced a new reality on all segments of society, the church included. While some churches are beginning to meet in person again (hopefully with appropriate Covid related precautions), much of their work has been curtailed because of the limitations imposed by our current health situation. In response, some churches are trying to figure out ways to collaborate or at least develop relationships with other churches to share knowledge and resources, while also trying to figure out new ways of being a community online.

Thus, how can we develop new, and nurture established relationships, despite current limitations? Further, how can we build these relationships in to deeper collaborative efforts that will benefit all participants? Amanda Quraishi will provide ideas and principles for developing online communities, which seems increasingly important in a time of separation. And, Eric Marsh, who has been successful in developing multiple collaborative initiatives among churches, other religious organizations, and the public sector in Long Beach, will help us think about moving from competition and distance to collaboration.

Click here to watch Quraishi’s presentation

Click here to watch Marsh’s presentation


Participation in conversations is by invitation. If you are interested, please contact


Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis is a licensed psychologist, ordained minister, and sacred artist who has worked nationally and globally to provide relief and empowerment to marginalized persons. Dr. Thema, a professor at Pepperdine University, is a past president of the Society for the Psychology of Women. Her contributions to psychological research, policy, and practice have been honored by national and regional psychological associations.

Quentin P. Kinnison is chair of the Biblical & Religious Studies Division and associate professor of Christian Ministry at Fresno Pacific University, and author of Transforming Pastoral LeadershipI (Wipf and Stock 2016). His 30-plus years of experience in various ministry contexts inform his writing.

Eric Marsh is pastor of ministry development at Parkcrest Christian Church in Long Beach, California, and Director of Long Beach Church Collective. Eric has been a local pastor for over 20 years, serving at both Long Beach Grace Brethren and Parkcrest Church. While at Grace Brethren, he started Hope for Long Beach (HfLB), an effort to help churches be more externally focused. Eric also worked with several pastors to create PlantLB (, a city-wide church planting collaborative started to encourage the multiplication of Christ-following com- munities for the good of the city.

Amanda Quraishi (Q) is a digital media strategist, writer, public speaker and activist living in Austin, Texas. She works full time as the Digital & Social Media Director at the Texas Association of School Boards; and is the founder/director of the Institute for Digital Civic Culture, a training program designed to elevate online culture and empower leadership in digital spaces.


Your Hosts:

Richard Flory is senior director of research and evaluation at the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He is a sociologist whose research focuses on religious and cultural change, religion and urban life, and the religious and spiritual lives of youth and young adults. Professor Flory has published several books, most recently, Back Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2020). Flory frequently speaks at conferences and with faith groups.

Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard is program manager for the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement where she combines her experience as a pastor and expertise as a community leader to run programs that train pastors to take on civic engagement work. Smith-Pollard also is a pastor, motivational speaker, author, life coach, radio personality and community activist. She has served as Assistant Pastor and Pastor of Family Ministries at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, California; Pastor of A.K. Quinn AME Church in Moreno Valley, California; and Pastor of St. James AME Church in Los Angeles, California. In 2014, Smith-Pollard launched Word of Encouragement Community Church (WOECC.ORG) in Los Angeles. She is a frequent speaker at churches and church conferences.

The Reimagining Church Initiative is supported by a grant from The Lilly Endowment.