Courtny Davis Olds, Ph.D. is a 2020 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Courtny Davis Olds at her Dissertation Defense.

From L-R: Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Chair, Dr.Donna Ladkin, Committee Member, Dr. Matthew Lyons, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Donna Ladkin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Matthew Lyons, Ph.D., Committee Member


congregational change, churches, church leadership, interpretive phenomenological analysis, IPA, adult development theory, faith development theory, experience

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Christian churches in the United States are notoriously resistant to change, whether in regard to leadership, worship style, church governance, positions on social issues, or myriad other aspects of congregational life. Yet the ability to navigate change successfully is vitally important to churches’ continued survival and renewed relevance. A particular body of literature, consisting of both scholarly and practitioner-oriented works, has attempted to address the necessity and the challenges of change in a church context. However, the literature is largely silent when it comes to the perspectives of those who are most impacted by congregational change: namely, the congregants themselves. Therefore, this study sought to address both a problem in practice and a gap in the literature by exploring congregants’ experiences of change in their churches. The study utilized interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), a qualitative methodology dedicated to exploring, in detail, significant lived experiences. Data were collected using semistructured, in-person, one-on-one interviews with eleven participants who had recently experienced change in their churches. These congregants represented six Protestant denominations, three geographic regions of the United States, and churches that had faced a wide variety of changes. Data were analyzed, first individually and then collectively, to identify the themes that emerged from the participants’ experiences. The five major themes characterizing the majority of the participants’ experiences were the centrality of faith, the presence of conflict or discord, a predominance of negative emotions, an aspect of learning, and a sense of resolution. These findings were then interpreted through the lenses of Christian theology and adult development theory—specifically, the constructive developmental theory of Robert Kegan and the faith development theory of James Fowler. By providing a much needed “perspective from the pew,” this study contributes to a fuller understanding of congregational change and provides insights that can inform both congregational change endeavors and church leadership practices, as well as future research. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, and OhioLINK ETD Center,



Courtny Davis Olds, Ph.D.

ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0003-2004-816x

Courtny Davis Olds has 15 years of experience in healthcare and 11 years of experience in ministry, often working simultaneously in the different fields. As a physical therapist, she has focused her practice on treating underserved and medically complex populations in rural, urban, and international settings. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, she has held leadership positions in local congregations and the denomination’s mission agency, and has taught seminary courses on an adjunct basis. Most recently, she has assisted churches, faith organizations, and nonprofits with discernment, strategic planning, change management, staff development, and leadership transitions. The Rev. Dr. Davis Olds holds both a PhD and a Master of Arts in leadership and change from Antioch University, a Master of Theological Studies from Palmer Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from West Virginia University. She resides in Philadelphia and enjoys travel, hiking, rock climbing, ice cream, and good books.


“The Growing Church: A Case Study in Leadership for Change.” Journal of Religious Leadership 16, no. 2 (Fall 2017): 26–44.