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At Whitworth University
Office for Church Engagement partners with churches

To help churches and ministries envision, plan and develop new ways to engage today’s culture, Whitworth University’s Office for Church Engagement will partner with churches and Christian ministries to help them discern how to be church, particularly in this region, which is known as the least religious area in the country.

Other goals include 1) engaging students in the life of churches and ministries, so they will make church central to their lives, and 2) helping faculty, staff and students gain clarity on their vocations and sense of calling.

Terry McGonigal
Terry McGonigal begins programs on church engagement.

In his 20 years as dean of spiritual life at Whitworth University, Terry McGonigal has seen that an erosion of community in all institutions is having a detrimental effect on younger generations.

He began July 1 as director of the Office for Church Engagement (OCE), a project he helped develop out of conversations that began two years ago with Whitworth President Beck Taylor and theology professor Jerry Sittser.

The Lilly Endowment also entered into the conversations.  Whitworth will stretch its eight-year grant to 12 years as it works to make the office self-supporting.

Lilly is also offering funds out of its desire to know why church-related institutions graduate people who are not interested in participating in churches and do not feel called to ministry.  It also funds other regional centers to support and strengthen ministry in churches. 

How can the church engage the culture? Engagement is key,” said Terry.  “The program offers challenges and opportunity.”

It includes the Certificate in Ministry Engagement, the Ekklesia Project, Summer Ministry Internships and the Whitworth Institute of Ministry.

The Weyerhaeuser Center for Christian Faith and Learning, which is also at Whitworth, now will have an internal focus to help faculty integrate faith and learning.  The Office for Church Engagement will focus on external connections.

Dale Soden has been part-time head of the Weyerhaeuser Center along with full-time teaching.  Terry works full time with OCE.

We seek to strengthen churches to be places of Christian witness in the neighborhood with all the cultural changes,” he said.

Churches of many denominations will turn to the OCE for help. 

“I am constantly in conversation with churches and leaders about how vocation and calling guide a church’s role in a neighborhood,” he said.

He has been traveling in the Pacific Northwest to converse with churches about entering into partnership with the OCE to receive resources. 

One church, for example, will serve as the hub of interfaith collaborative work as 15 churches in a downtown area discovered they were doing similar things:  food banks, homeless shelters and social services.

“There are gaps in what churches can do, so the OCE program will provide students, trained and guided by a sociology professor, to do sociological surveys of the city, assets and resources of congregations to serve the community, and needs churches might pay attention to,” Terry said.

In another Northwest community, there was a shift in demographics and related to that a shift in economic resources.  A business student will analyze what business redevelopment is happening in one church’s neighborhood. 

From understanding what’s happening in the community, churches can better engage the community,” Terry said.

In some urban neighborhoods, churches need to consider how to minister and provide outreach that will engage the community, he said.

“Students will honor the history of churches and be trained to develop churches’ oral histories,” he said.  “If we say churches need to change, we also need to honor the history and mission from their founders to the present.”

Another piece of the program is funded by a major grant of the Murdock Charitable Trust to fund 15 interns to serve in specific Pacific Northwest congregations, earning $3,500 for 10 weeks from the first of June to mid August.  They will stay in homes to experience the context of the congregation with faithful families and enter the lives of people around the community of faith.

The Murdock grant will provide funding for the first years with partners of OCE, which will also fund five international internships.

“After students have a healthy, positive experience of vital church life, we hope they will make it the core of their own lives as they go forward,” Terry said.

This part of the program will be piloted with presbyteries in Western Washington.

“We hope students will come to love the church with its problems and sins.  We are all sinners.  There is power in centering our lives around liturgy, learning, community, service and evangelism,” he said.

Terry grew up in a Catholic parish in urban Chicago.  His family moved to California where he was involved in Young Life in high school.  He earned a master of divinity degree in 1977 at Fuller Seminary and a doctoral degree in biblical studies in 1981.

He served 13 years at Fuller with Young Life and Intervarsity, bringing theological resources and applied theology to students.

Ordained a Presbyterian pastor, Terry helped plant a new church in Colorado Springs from 1984 to 1992 before coming to Whitworth.

He came to Whitworth when he was 42.  Now 62, he felt it would be better for Whitworth to have someone younger as campus minister.  He wanted to start something new to strengthen the church.

“I saw that students here had a deep personal commitment to Christ and a passion for faith, but lacked theology and understanding of the church and its importance.  That background is needed so after graduating they will want the church to continue to guide and nurture their lives and faith,” Terry said.  “In campus ministry at Whitworth, I sought to connect students with churches.

“Whitworth is a great place for students to experience an authentic, vibrant, honest, open Christian community, but students graduate.  Then what?” he said.  “Campus ministry takes students where they are when they come at 18 and creates an experience so if they participate, when they graduate at 22, they have a strong, mature sense of church.”

Terry believes that his role as director of the Office for Church Engagement is to be a bridge to help students connect after graduation to other communities of faith that will nurture them and be places where they can strengthen God’s mission.

Another piece of the program is the certificate of ministry in church engagement.

“The certificate program provides the opportunity to grow spiritually and to develop skills in applying the gospel in a variety of ministry contexts,” said Terry. 

The program is held on campus in 10 full-day modules, once a month on Saturdays, September through May.  It may also be taken in modular format online, covering one topic a month. 

Theological subjects include God’s story in the Old and New Testaments, foundations of Christian history and theology, and Christian spiritual practice.

Skills will be developed in Scriptural application for contemporary ministry, challenges of contemporary culture for evangelism and discipleship, supporting people in times of suffering and grief through prayer, and praying through life.

Enrollment into the certificate program may take place at any time on a monthly basis. Students will begin with the current topic and move through the 10 modules until all material is covered and all assignments are complete.  Then they will receive the certificate in ministry engagement, Terry said. Flexible payment plans are available, and some scholarship support may be provided.

In the past 15 years more than 600 people have completed Whitworth’s various certificate in ministry programs.

“Their spiritual lives have been strengthened and their ministry skills advanced through the certificate programs, said Terry.

For information, call 777-4547 or email

Copyright © January 2015 - The Fig Tree