General Information

The following departmental requirements are in addition to the Graduate School’s requirements for thesis preparation. Copies of the M.A. Thesis Guidelines are available from Graduate Student Services or can be found in the CFM hallway file near the department office, BGC 235. Once the CFM faculty have approved your thesis proposal and the Registrar has been notified by the CFM office coordinator, please follow the guidelines provided by your project advisor and by the M.A. Thesis Guidelines document.

Register for CFM 698 Thesis (2 hrs).

Types of Theses

This section offers a brief description of our departmental expectations regarding four types of research: historical, biographical, ethnographic and quantitative.

1. Historical Research

A historical thesis traces the history of an institution, movement, ministry philosophy, or ministry method over a defined period of time, not simply to detail a chronology but to interpret and explain the reasons for changes over time by placing events in historical context. This will involve an analysis of primary (evidence left behind by participants or observers) and secondary (works interpreting historical events) sources related to your specific topic. Historical primary source research will involve analysis of published and/or unpublished (archival) resources such as diaries, journals, sermons, letters, memoirs, audio recordings, and organization records. Secondary sources, such as journal articles, books, and other theses and dissertations, will give a sense of how other scholars have interpreted the events, individuals, and time period covered in your study. Weaving together these materials, develop an interpretation of historical changes that helps your readers better understand the forces and consequences of these shifts.

2. Ethnographic Research

Ethnographical research entails “a social scientific description of a people and the cultural basis of their peoplehood”1 - focusing on detailed and accurate description rather than explanation of the culture,2 where the focus is on learning from people rather than studying people. Ethnographic research is “the disciplined study of what the world is like to people who have learned to see, hear, speak, think, and act in ways that are different”3 from that of the researcher. The goal of ethnography is to grasp the emic perspective of a culture in order to realize their vision of their world.4 The researcher seeks to co-construct the reality of a particular culture with the people of the culture, utilizing participant observation, interviews, and literature review as tools for perceiving local construction of reality.

1 J. L. Peacock, The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Lights, Soft Focus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

2 Earl Babbie, The Practice of Social Research (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001).

3 James P. Spradley, Participant Observation (New York: Holt: Rinehart and Winston, 1980),

4 Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London: Routledge, 1922), 25.

3. Biographical Research

Biographical research is a specific aspect of historical research. By using historical research methods, examining published and unpublished primary source materials, and conducting oral history interviews if the biographical subject lived in recent times, analysis of these sources can be made allowing interpretation of events, relationships and the cultural context of the subject. A carefully crafted biography can make an original contribution to knowledge in several ways: first, by presenting a portrait of a person’s life; second, by shedding light on a particular movement, ministry, organization or denomination; third, by serving as a prism to examine an era of history.

4. Empirical Research

An empirical (quantitative) research thesis is an opportunity for a student to investigate basic or applied questions in the field of Christian Formation and Ministry. It begins with the formulation of specific research questions that the student wishes to examine. Original data must then be collected through the use of approved research methodologies (e.g., surveys, correlational studies, experimental or quasi-experimental studies, etc.). Hypotheses are tested against the results obtained through the research methodologies and results are discussed in light of past and current literature and implications for the field of Christian Formation and Ministry.


Thesis proposals are to be submitted during the regular academic year to your chosen faculty advisor. Once you have received approval of your proposal from your advisor, the faculty of the Christian Formation and Ministry Department must then approve it. Please allow time for this process.

The next step is to submit the proposal to the Graduate Academic Affairs Committee, following the guidelines in the thesis handbook.

Proposal Essentials

1. Statement of Purpose, Problem Statement, or Research Question
A problem statement is a sentence or paragraph that explains the purpose of a given investigation. Problem statements are presented in future tense in research proposals and in past tense in research reports. An example of a problem statement for a research proposal follows:

The purpose of this study will be to investigate the impact that a local influx of a multicultural population has on pre-existing evangelical congregations in three different locations.

An example of a problem statement for a research report follows:

The purpose of this study is to investigate …. .

Include a brief history or background of the problem.

2. Review of Literature
The review of literature section of your thesis proposal is to be built around the key factors in your problem statement. Develop your outline for the literature review from these key factors. Use the literature sources to build an argument that reflects the position of your thesis in relationship to the views of other scholars and researchers. Include positions that both support and refute your own. See examples of literature reviews in the theses in Room 237.

Research Involving People 

The Wheaton College Human Research Review Committee must review research involving any risk to participants. Therefore, this committee must approve all faculty and student research with human participants. No human research data may be collected before appropriate approval is received (this includes survey research). The Human Research Review Form contains details of required information for the review.

Additional information is available in the thesis handbook.

Carefully follow the directions.

Submit nine (9) signed copies and the original of the Proposal to the Registrar by 10:00 A.M. Thursday before the Monday Graduate Academic Affairs Committee meeting, held the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Follow the format found in Appendix I for the Thesis Proposal Title page.

Grading Policy: Students receive a grade of P upon completion and approval of their thesis. Students who do not complete the project within the five-year limit will receive a grade of F.

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