A university and its denomination: The ties that bind in the 21st century

Paul L. H Olson, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a qualitative research study of the ties that bind Bethel University, a church-related institution, to its founding denomination, the Baptist General Conference, in the 21st century. These ties are catalysts or inhibitors that strengthen or weaken the connection between the denomination and its institution. The primary question is: What is the future value of Bethel University's ties to its founding denomination? The research examines eight institutions in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities consortium: Bethel University, Bluffton College, Calvin College, Huntington College, Point Loma Nazarene University, Trinity International University, Union University, and Wheaton College. The study includes a review of literature on organizational culture, evolution of ties between founding denominations and institutions, theories on the evolution of the ties, and models to explain the change. The author uses a framework that considers historical roots, traditions, and leadership's role in shaping the relationship between an institution and its denomination. Specific research included presidential reports, archival history, governance documents, financial data, and survey data. The research included 64 extensive interviews of presidents, trustees, board members, provosts, faculty and alumni at the institutions, related denominations, and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. In addition, two Internet surveys, once for Council for Christian Colleges & Universities institutional leaders, trustees, and faculty leaders and a second for Council for Christian Colleges & Universities related denominational/fellowship leaders, resulted in 128 institution and 16 denomination/fellowship responses to a questionnaire patterned after the interview protocol. From the literature review, document analysis, and personal interviews emerge answers to three questions: (a) what forces cause the ties of church-related institutions to their founding denomination to transform over time, (b) what is the impact of that transformation on a church-related institution's relationship to its denomination, and (c) what do the experiences of the selected, referent study institutions reveal about the future value of denominational ties? Leadership, trustees, and faculty at Bethel University and leaders and board members of the Baptist General Conference are the primary beneficiaries of this study. The conclusions and a heuristic decision support framework for determining the future value of denominational ties are informative to leaders of Council for Christian Colleges & Universities member institutions, their related denominations/fellowships, and other church-related institutions.

Subject Area

Higher education|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Olson, Paul L. H, "A university and its denomination: The ties that bind in the 21st century" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168039.