The IFD research team is a multi-disciplinary team of committed Christians, with years of practical experience assisting youth and young adults in connecting to God and becoming lifelong disciples.

Research Focus

  • Observational and intervention research designed to understand the processes and influences experienced by persons utilizing their faith in vocational discernment. Vocational discernment is defined as coming to gain clarity regarding God’s desires for one’s life being as well as doing. It encompasses ‘who you are’ as well as ‘what you do’.
  • Young adults (14 – 24 years of age): This age range designates an intense “Decade of Discernment.”
  • Christian programs serving young adults in faith formation and call discernment. These programs are primarily found in not-for-profit Christian organizations connected to local churches, camps, campus ministries and community service organizations.

Research Strategies

Level One: Outcomes-based research for specific programming. This research is offered to Christian programs serving youth and young adults in faith formation, which are interested in assessing their effectiveness for the purpose of improving their programming and communicating their impact to donors and supporters. The Institute aids in research design, data collection and analysis and publication of results.

Level Two: Multi-program research assessing best practices across faith formation and call discernment programs. This research gathers and distributes information regarding the role of specific program design elements. The focus of this research is a broader scope, examining general trends and efforts contributing to faith formation in youth and young adults. The aim is to discover what is working in the field as a whole and to lift up how it is impacting youth and young adults today.


Wendy Mohler-Seib, MA in Youth Ministry, M.Div.
IFD Director of Faith Formation, ordained United Methodist clergy
Rev. Mohler-Seib directs The Summit Youth Academy, a summer retreat on Wesleyan theology for high school students, funded in part by the Lilly Foundation. Mohler-Seib is building off of her graduate work from Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing her doctoral work in practical theology through Nazarene Theological College at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. Her dissertation, titled “Hearing and Obeying God: Mentoring Teenagers in Practicing the Presence of God,” explores spiritual disciplines and the faith formation of adolescents.

Krista Ranby, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychology, Director of the Healthy Couples Research Lab at the University of Colorado Denver
Dr. Ranby is a social psychologist whose research centers around ways in which couples influence each other’s health. She maintains expertise in quantitative methods that have provided her with opportunities to collaborate on a range of different topics and has afforded her the opportunity to author a chapter on research methods for the Handbook of Health Psychology, 3rd ed. and to serve as Statistical Associate Editor for Annals of Behavioral Medicine since 2014. She has co-authored over 25 research articles and has over 10 years of experience teaching statistics and research methods at the undergraduate and graduate level. Dr. Ranby’s brings extensive experience with research design, data collection, statistical analysis, scientific writing, and team science collaboration. Her lifelong commitment to the Church, her interest in young adult discernment, and her passion for bridging academic rigor with an infrastructure to make a difference in people’s lives make her excited to be a part of the team.

Cheryl Rude, M. Ed, PhD,
Professor of Leadership at Southwestern College
Dr. Rude is a renowned leadership scholar with specific emphasis in the field of servant leadership. She currently serves as Professor of Leadership Studies at Southwestern College and is the Academic Chair of Leadership Southwestern, a nationally recognized service learning program. Development of a top-tier collegiate leadership program stemmed from her time as Director of Youth and Young Adult Programs at United Methodist churches (FUMC, Wichita, KS and Highland Park UMC, Dallas, TX), where she saw potential leaders struggling to develop leadership capabilities. Dr. Rude views service-learning as a pedagogy that connects the head with the heart, fact with feeling and theory with practice. Dr. Rude has co-edited the popular Disciple Bible Study for Youth. Her primary research and practical application interests include: leadership development in young adults, transferability of leadership skills in differing areas of content expertise, and exemplary leadership across vocational sectors

Stephen K. Wilke, PhD
IFD Executive Director
Dr. Wilke is a clinical psychologist whose research interests began with his dissertation published in 1981 entitled Church and Clergy as Prevention agents in Rural Community Mental Health. The finding of this research provided insight into how rural clergy and their church leadership, who serve communities under-served by the mental health profession, experience effective interventions with persons experiencing significant life stressors. Dr. Wilke has continued to work towards more training for clergy and lay leaders to help empower their ministries and their faith communities to be effective in both healthy spiritual formation and emotional well-being. Now in his 3rd decade on a college campus, his primary interests have focused on assisting persons ages 14 to 24 (a life stage termed the decade of discernment) with the understandings, habits and community to live a life of Christian discipleship.