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Summaries of Congregational Research 

The study of congregations has become a primary focus of sociologists of religion in the past decade.  The local church is now seen by researchers as an important component of an individual's faith and religious practice in the United States.  The increased role of congregations in American public life makes the study of these local religious organizations increasingly important.

This section offers summaries of major research projects which have the congregation as a focus of study.  They are listed in rough chronological order.    

Others research summaries coming soon.

View congregational survey question bank drawn from the survey instruments of several of the above projects

Faith Communities TodayCooperative Congregations Study Project (FACT/CCSP)
The FACT/CCSP project is unique in its design and implementation. Although planning began in 1996, the survey was conducted in 1999 and 2000. This entire project, as well as the questionnaire of 336 items, was a joint venture of researchers representing forty-two denominations and faith groups. Each religious group was responsible for surveying a representative sample of their congregations using this common core questionnaire. Once the findings from these surveys were combined into a single dataset it contained information on a total of 14,301 congregations. The response rates for these denominational surveys ranged from 5% to 97% with an average response rate of 60 percent. Hartford Institute's David Roozen and Carl Dudley are the co-directors of this cooperative study. Check out an extensive display of the findings, which were released March 13, 2001, at the Faith Communities Today website.

Organizing Religious Work (ORW) The Organizing Religious Work Project began in 1997 as a project of the Hartford Institute for Religious Research.  The full project entailed over 70 researchers and associates throughout the country looking at religious organization at the three levels of congregations, judicatory officials and denominational structures and their  executives.  For an overview of the entire project see the ORW project web pages

At the local congregational level, we "interviewed representatives of 549 randomly-selected congregations in 7 urban and rural regions around the country. These  congregations included groups from 91 different religious denominations and traditions, including independent churches. In addition to the primary interview, the project surveyed
individual members and gathered more in-depth information in 32 of the congregations. The study's aim was to discover the key mission and activities of these congregations and the organizations (both within their denominations and through other agencies) that help them do that work.  Read the summary report of the congregational findings.  You will also find papers and the methodological details of the study at the ORW website.


National Congregations Study (NCS) The National Congregations Study (NCS) conducted during 1998 was the first religious study to use a new sampling methodology technique to generate a high-quality, nationally representative sample of congregations. The NCS then gathered data from 1236 congregations using a one-hour interview with a key informant from each congregation. Ninety-two percent of these interviews were conducted over the telephone, and the remaining 8% were done in-person. The response rate was 80 percent (1236 out of 1480 asked). This study was directed by Dr. Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

A new NCS study is currently underway, with the results due out very soon.

Check out the page of additional information about the study which includes a brief list of findings and links to several articles written by Dr. Chaves.

Project on Religion and Urban Culture The Project on Religion and Urban Culture is a multi-year, multi disciplinary team-based effort to collect data on 400 congregations located in 18 neighborhoods in the city of Indianapolis. The extensive project has collected both quantitative and qualitative data using personal interviews and on-site observations of worship services and other congregational and community-level activities as well as information on several dozen religious-related organizations that focus on social welfare, race, and community development. In addition, the project did two city/county-wide surveys of residents, a general population survey (N=806) and a survey of clergy (N=261). This project is being done by the Polis Center. You can view additional information about the project on our web site or visit the Polis Center's web site.


Longitudinal Study of Conservative Church Growth
This project is an on-going in-depth study of 20 evangelical churches in the Calgary, Alberta Canada. It focuses on those persons who have joined these congregations between 1966-70, 1976-80, and 1986-90. The final phase of the study will be carried out in 2001, and will look at additions for 1996-00. The major finding of this research has been that most new people to these congregations are being drawn from within the evangelical community; the outreach that does take place is nearly always relational, via friendship and marriage. This project, well known for its "circulation of the saints" thesis, has generated findings with significant implications for evangelism and growth among religious groups as a whole. For more information about this study contact its principle investigator Reginald W. Bibby, University of Lethbridge at his email bibby@uleth.ca.


Protestant Church-owned Publishers Association Study of Congregational Resource Needs.
This survey of 31 established Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada was carried out over 1997-99 and explored the resource needs of congregations. A total of 5,684 ministers and lay leaders from 2,294 congregations participated in a mail survey, which was supplemented with in-depth interviews with leaders from 40 congregations. The groups involved in this study are members of a St. Louis-based umbrella publishing organization the Protestant Church-Owned Publishers Association. In the course of probing resource needs, the study generated data on a number of important aspects of congregational life, including the size distribution and social composition of churches, patterns of growth and decline, formal ministry goals, the characteristics of pastoral and lay leaders, the importance of denomination, and the impact of social and cultural change on congregations. For more information about this study contact its principle investigator Reginald W. Bibby, University of Lethbridge at his email bibby@uleth.ca.

Religion and Family Project
This study focuses on several communities in upstate New York. The project's main research agenda is to explore the family ministries of local congregations and how church programs have adapted to changing family structures and pressures. In an effort to explore this topic Dr. Penny Becker, as project director, and her research assistants surveyed and interviewed key informants in 125 congregations. In addition, they surveyed over 1000 individuals in the communities. There are extensive reports of the research findings from her project on our web site in the section on religion and the family.


Missouri Rural Church Project
This project is a longitudinal study of approximately 500 rural churches in 99 rural Missouri townships. These same congregations were surveyed four times, in 1952, 1967, 1982 and most recently during 1998-1999, by the Department of Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In addition, a second phase of the project included in-depth field studies of six rural townships. Principal investigators are Jere Gilles, Dept. of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri; and Rev. Dr. John H. Bennett, Director, Missouri School of Religion. Mary Jo Neitz, Dept. of J Sociology, University of Missouri, is supervising the ethnographic phase of the Project. Our web site contains more information about the project.


Philadelphia Religious Census Study
The census of the religious life of Philadelphia Pennsylvania is an interesting and comprehensive examination of all the congregations within one urban area. Led by Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, this study is attempting to locate and collect extensive information on every congregation in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Thus far, the study has gathered information on 887 of the estimated 2000 congregations in the city. Check out a more extensive description of the study and preliminary results on our web site. You can also visit the web site of the project director Ram Cnaan.

Multiracial Congregations Project
This project specifically targets multiracial congregations (congregations where no one racial group is more than 80% of the people) as its study focus. Using a random telephone survey of 2500 Americans, the study team generated a sample population of multiracial and uniracial congregations to whom surveys were administered. Two week in-depth site visits to 16 multiracial congregations and 8 uniracial congregations from four different metropolitan areas are currently being conducted. The coordinator for this project is Michael Emerson of Rice University, Houston, TX. You can read more about this project and preliminary findings on our web site.


National Parish Inventory (NPI)
The National Parish Inventory is one of the many major efforts by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University directed by Bryan Froehle. This Inventory, first conducted in 1998 with a follow-up in 2000, is designed to collect information from every Catholic parish (over 19,000) in the United States. To accomplish this monumental task, CARA counts on the help of the 193 U.S. dioceses and eparchies, as well as the individual pastors and staffs of each parish. This is a database on all Catholic parishes in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (the area of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). The main focus of the NPI is the social and ministerial context of congregational life in U.S. Catholic parishes. You can view more information about the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and its projects on our web site or visit CARA's site.


Project Canada 2000 National Survey of Congregations
This national mail survey of some 2,000 Canadians is the sixth in a series carried out every five years since 1975. The study asks a number of questions of people who attend religious services once a month or more. The items include the age of their congregation, approximate size, growth and decline patterns, the nature of worship services, length of involvement in the congregation and denomination, and congregational and denominational importance. Major findings of this research are that most congregations are small (25% have 50 or fewer people, 65% less than 150, 90% less than 350; with just 1% having more than 1000 persons) and that this congregational size is critical to the definition of ministry goals. For example, "trying to keep the church going" was a very high priority for 60% of all churches. However, it was rated the highest priority for churches with 50 members or less; fourth highest for those with having 150 to 350 members; and only sixth in priority for those having over 350 persons. For more information about this study contact its principle investigator Reginald W. Bibby, University of Lethbridge at his email bibby@uleth.ca.


Nondenominational Congregations Study
Using information gained from the Organizing Religious Work study and the Faith Communities Today project, this study looks specifically at those congregations without an explicit organizational tie to a formal denomination. This study is unique in that very little is known about these independent and unaffiliated churches. Thus far the study has generated a summary profile of nearly 200 nondenominational congregations. You can view this profile and more information about the study on our web site.


Mississippi church/state partnerships in social service delivery Study
In the wake of welfare reform legislation, this study analyzed poverty relief initiatives undertaken in thirty religious congregations in northeast Mississippi. Congregational relief programs were examined to understand the current functioning and future potential of faith–based approaches to poverty relief. The Charitable Choice provision in 1996 welfare reform law allows religious communities to secure government funds to underwrite their poverty relief efforts. Given this dramatic shift in America’s poverty policy, our study identifies the prospects and limitations of church–state partnerships in poverty relief and the welfare-to-work transition. The study was conducted by John Bartkowski of Mississippi State University with co-investigator Helen Regis of Louisiana State University. Read more about this study and its findings on our web site and view several papers summarizing the findings available on the web.


Pastoral Leadership Project -
now called Pulpit and Pew
The Ormond Center of Duke Divinity School is currently undertaking a large-scale, project focused on strengthening the quality of pastoral leadership. This project, directed by Jackson W. Carroll, is a collection of studies aimed at assessing the current state of pastoral leadership, both ordained and lay professional. One component of this research is a mailed questionnaire survey of a national sample of pastoral leaders of the same congregations being surveyed by Cynthia Woolever and her colleagues in their U.S. Congregational Life Survey (see below). A second major study will explore the question: what constitutes good ministry, both normatively and functionally? This study will identify and interview quality pastoral leaders from different traditions and sizes and types of congregations. In addition it will use focus groups to interview lay members in the congregations of these clergy. For more information about this project, visit the Pulpit and pew Project web site.


U.S. Congregational Life Survey Project
The U.S. Congregational Life Survey is the largest and most representative profile of worshipers and their congregations ever developed in the United States. More than half a million church goers and 7,000 congregations participated in the project in April 2001. Parallel studies in three other countries--Australia, England, and New Zealand--have surveyed a total of more than 2 million worshipers in 15,000 congregations. The principle investigator for the United States portion of this study is Cynthia A. Woolever. More information about this project can be found on our site. The Congregational Life Survey project also has its own web site which has begun to distribute research findings.

Congregations, Communities and Leadership Development Project
The Congregations, Communities and Leadership Development Project, sponsored by Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, conducted fifteen case studies of Protestant congregations in the greater Philadelphia area. The goal of this research, funded by the Lilly Endowment and the John Templeton Foundation, was to examine the relationship between social action and evangelism in church-based community outreach.  Read more on this project including various findings.

Religion and New Immigrants
The Religion and New Immigrants Initiative intends to examine the role of religion in the current immigrant experience in the United States, and how it can be used for the good of the community.  Researchers are studying how religion can help the new immigrant communities integrate with the rest of American society.  The project focuses on so-called "gateway cities," the largest immigrant points-of-entry cities in the United States.  For more information, visit the site dedicated to the project.

National Study of Youth and Religion
The National Study of Youth and Religion is a research project which began at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill under the direction of Dr. Christian Smith, Professor in the Department of Sociology and is now administered at Notre Dame. This 4-year project, funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., began in August 2001 and will continue until August 2005. This project is designed to enhance our understanding of the religious lives of American adolescents and will include a national telephone survey of youth and their parents, as well as in-depth interviews with a sub-sample of these youth.

The purpose of the proposed project is to research the shape and influence of religion and spirituality in the lives of American adolescents; to identify effective practices in the religious, moral, and social formation of the lives of youth; to describe the extent and perceived effectiveness of the programs and opportunities that religious communities are offering to their youth; and to foster an informed national discussion about the influence of religion in youth's lives, in order to encourage sustained reflection about and rethinking of our cultural and institutional practices with regard to youth and religion.

This study is currently on its third round of research on the religious lives of US youth.

Visit the Study's web site at www.youthandreligion.org/ 


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