Abstract

This paper explores how the Protestant territorial churches in Germany deal with the so-called “visitation” – an instrument aimed at developing and inspecting the church and its local parish. We analyze (1) how and to what extent the visitation is used for program development and improving the church, (2) how church officials (ministry) and volunteers (lay ministry) are involved in the visitation process, and (3) how these people communicate with each other. After presenting an organization theory perspective on churches and church communities, we illustrate our arguments using case studies in four selected territorial churches – “Landeskirchen” – in Germany. The findings reveal that the visitation serves as a multifunctional instrument for both the church as an organization as well as the church community as an interaction system. The dual nature of the visitation as a tool for inspection and organizational development produces “useful insecurities”, which can create room for informal, trusting exchange among church members. Some unintended side effects also occur, including “window dressing” and a sense of “artificial naturalness” during the visitation. Our findings suggest that the different functions of the visitation are the result of shifting expectations as the visitation is imbued with new functions. While this increases organizational opportunities, it also leads to a further increase in expectations. The findings are potentially of interest to other organizations rooted in a community and personal beliefs.

Keywords: church development, decisions, empirical study, Luhmann, programming, Protestant Church, systems theory, visitation project.