Project Staff

We’re a team of congregational researchers, sociologists of religion, and collaborative project leaders at an Institute with over 40 years of experience conducting research designed to help congregations flourish by providing data to support informed decision making. Our project staff, based out of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University, work in tandem with a diverse group of scholars of religion who serve as advisors and consultants, leading organizations engaged in similar research, and a wide range of denominational research offices nationally. As a strategic and collaborative venture, we are committed to understanding how congregations have creatively responded to and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how these changes may impact the religious landscape of the U.S. for years to come.

Dr. Scott Thumma

Principal Investigator

Scott Thumma serves as the Principal Investigator of this project. He is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and the Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. He is the co-chair of the Faith Communities Today project and on the steering committee of the US Religious Census, as well as research advisor for several other projects and organizations. Throughout his 30-year career he has participated in many congregational study projects and national religion research efforts. He has written widely on the subject of megachurches, gay religious life, congregational dynamics, and nondenominational churches and has published three books [Gay Religion, Beyond Megachurch Myths, and The Other Eighty Percent: Turning Your Church’s Spectators into Active Disciples], many research reports, and managed over a half-dozen websites.

Dr. Allison Norton

Co-Investigator

Allison Norton serves as Co-Investigator. Norton is a Faculty Associate in Migration Studies and Congregational Life at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and Project Director of the Pastoral Innovation Network of New England (PINNE). Norton specializes in African Pentecostalism and the dynamics of migrant congregations in the United States. Her work with PINNE and teaching at Hartford International University gives her a first-hand glimpse into how clergy across denominations have responded to the pandemic and the changing nature of congregational life.

Sarah Brown

Project Director

Sarah Brown serves as Project Director. She manages the daily activities of the grant and research team, and coordinates the communication and evaluation of the overall project. Brown also currently serves as the Executive Director of Faith Communities Today and has extensive experience working with congregations and faith communities in an interfaith context. Over the past several decades, she has managed logistics, budgets and communications on behalf of a wide range of organizations and initiatives across the nonprofit sector, including the Center for Congregations, the Congregational Resource Guide (CRG), National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders, Economic Challenges Facing Indiana Pastors, Fair Labor Association, Vermont Ethics Network, and VNAs of Vermont.

Hannah Evans

Doctoral Research Fellow

Hannah Evans is a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. She serves as a quantitative data analyst on panel data for this project, and ongoing analyses of Faith Communities Today surveys. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in sociology from Baylor University, and her dissertation explores the role of race in religious secularization among American young adults. She also studies racism and antiracism within organizations, particularly congregations and universities.

Charissa Mikoski

Doctoral Research Fellow

Charissa Mikoski is a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. She provides quantitative data analysis for the project, as well as survey management. She is currently completing her Ph.D. from Purdue University, focusing on the sociology of religion. Charissa holds a B.A. in Sociology from Westminster College and an M.S. in Sociology from Purdue University. Her past research experiences includes roles with the Pew Research Center, Presbyterian Church (USA), and The Confirmation Project.

Tracy Simmons

Writing and Social Media Consultant

Tracy Simmons serves as a writer and social media consultant to the project. Tracy is the Executive Director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and writes for the Religion News Service, as well as The Spokesman-Review.

Regional Advisors

One major component of this project is a strategically targeted exploration of qualitative changes happening within congregations in eight select areas of the country. These cities represent both higher COVID incident regions and lower infection areas, are regionally diverse, and include both urban metro areas and smaller cities. The research directors of these regional sites include: 

Dr. Ryon J. Cobb

Regional Advisor — Atlanta, GA

Ryon J. Cobb, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Georgia and a KL2 Scholar at the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Association. He is an award-winning scholar of ethnoracial identification, religion, and the health implications of socially oppressive systems among adults in the United States. His peer-reviewed articles on religion focus on how religious contexts relate to inequality attitudes among adults, and assess whether this relationship varies by ethno-racial self-classification.

Dr. Penny Edgell

Regional Advisor — Minneapolis, MN

Dr. Penny Edgell (Ph.D. University of Chicago 1995) is a cultural sociologist who studies contemporary American religion and non-religion. At the University of Minnesota she has led research projects on religion, non-religion, and symbolic boundaries, and on how people use religious, spiritual and non-religious repertoires to make sense of contemporary social controversies. Her research has appeared in Congregations in Conflict (1999, Cambridge University Press), Religion and Family in a Changing Society (2005, Princeton University Press) and Religion is Raced (NYU Press 2020), and in journals including the American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Religion and American Culture, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Social Problems, Social Forces, and Sociology of Religion. Current projects include studies on non-religion and well-being and public religious repertoires.

Dr. Arthur E Farnsley II

Regional Advisor — Indianapolis, IN

Dr. Art Farnsley is research director of the Religion and Urban Culture 2.0 project at IUPUI and a data evangelist for www.thearda.com. His books include Sacred Circles, Public Squares, The Bible in American Life, and Flea Market Jesus. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, the Christian Century, and in newspapers across the country. Art is also a 30 time knife and tomahawk throwing champion of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.

Dr. Todd W. Ferguson

Regional Advisor — Waco, TX

Todd W. Ferguson is a sociologist at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX. His research focuses on congregations and their clergy. He earned his Ph.D. from Baylor University and a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School. Before becoming a sociologist, he was a pastor in a Baptist church in Houston, TX.

Dr. Richard Flory

Regional Advisor — Long Beach, CA

Richard Flory (Ph.D., University of Chicago) 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. He has published several books, including most recently, Religion in Los Angeles: Religious Activism, Innovation, and Diversity in the Global City (Routledge, 2021) and Back Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi

Regional Advisor — Denver, CO

Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi is Term Assistant Professor of Leadership and Formation and Director of the Office of Professional Formation at Iliff School of Theology. Lizardy-Hajbi is an interdisciplinary scholar who teaches in the fields of leadership theory and praxis, congregational and community formation and change, practical theology, and applied research methods. She is the author of the report “American Congregations 2015 Engaging Young Adults” outlining the state of young adult presence and ministry in U.S. congregational life based on the results of the Faith Communities Today (FACT) Survey and was also the first co-chair of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, the multi-faith association of researchers responsible for the FACT National Survey of Congregations. As a scholar-practitioner, Lizardy-Hajbi is a member of the Religious Research Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Academy of Religious Leadership, and the Association of Theological Field Educators. In addition, as an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ, Dr. Lizardy-Hajbi’s ministry has included experience in Christian education and faith formation, multicultural student affairs in higher education, chaplaincy, and denominational leadership. She received her Ph.D. and B.A. from the University of Colorado and M.Div. from Iliff School of Theology.

Dr. Arlie Tagayuna

Regional Advisor — Southeast Tennessee

Dr. Arlie Tagayuna is Associate Professor of Sociology at Lee University, where he has worked in the Department of Behavorial and Social Sciences since 2011. His research and teaching stands at the intersection of inequalities, crime, delinquency and punishment, race and ethnic relations, culture, disability, social stratification and community development. Prior to his tenure at Lee University, Dr. Tagayuna started and coordinated the criminal justice program at New Mexico Highlands University. He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, California State University–Monterey Bay and the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa.

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan

Regional Advisor — Washington, DC

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at The Catholic University of America. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. His research on the cultural dimensions of religious, commercial, medical, and scientific institutions has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals. He is author of Mercenaries and Missionaries: Capitalism and Catholicism in the Global South (Cornell University Press, 2019) and co-author of Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Think About Religion (Oxford University Press, 2019). His ongoing work examines aesthetics and well-being among scientists and mental health issues in religious communities.

Dr. Ruth Wienk

Regional Advisor — Southeast Tennessee

Dr. Ruth Wienk is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lee University. Prior to her tenure at Lee, she served as an instructor and graduate teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, where she taught introduction to sociology, introduction to sociology honors, courtship and marriage, and teaching sociology. Dr. Wienk was also an adjunct at Black Hills State University College of Education teaching linguistics and language assessments as hybrid courses. She received her PhD from South Dakota State University, her MS from Shenandoah University, and her BS from Southeastern University.