FACT square logoFaith Communities Today Newsletter 
Issue 13Special Issue 2011 

The latest research reports at Faith Communities Today


 A Decade of Change in American Congregations--Trends 2000-2010


American Congregations Reach Out to Other Faith Traditions 


Holy Toll: The Impact of the 2008 Recession on American Congregations


Plus five reports from individual faith groups/ denominations releasing their internal FACT

2010 surveys.



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Major Trends in American Congregations in the Past Decade


Surveys in 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2010 give a clear picture of what is happening across all faiths: Innovation, demographic change, declining participation, and diminished spiritual vitality

During the first decade of the 21st century

The innovation in worship continues. In 2000, about 29 percent of congregations were regularly using electric guitars and/or drums. By 2010 this had grown to 43 percent. At the current rate of change, by some time in 2015 the majority of religious congregations in America will be using contemporary music in worship. This trend is driven, in part, by the link with spiritual vitality that comes with innovation and a contemporary style. Just 17 percent of the congregations who say they are neither innovative nor contemporary report high spiritual vitality, while nearly half (48 percent) of those who say they are both innovative and contemporary report high spiritual vitality.

The growing edge of American religion is among ethnic minorities. Less than a quarter of congregations with a White majority report growth over the last five years, while 38 percent of African American congregations and 48 percent of other ethnic congregations report growth. The number of congregations where half or more of the members are from ethnic minorities has increased from 23 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2010.

American congregations are aging. Three in five Oldline Protestant churches report that only ten percent or less of their members are young adults. Evangelical churches attract more young adults, but more than one in four have only ten percent or less. Congregations where the majority are from ethnic minorities are most likely to attract and retain young adults.

There is an overall decline in the numbers of faithful in the pews. Median weekly attendance in American congregations was 130 in 2000 and had dropped to 108 by 2010. Despite the attention given to megachurches, one in four congregations has fewer than 50 in worship on a typical weekend. One way that congregations are countering this trend is to increase their investment in outreach and community service activities. The least shrinkage is found in those congregations with three or more such ministries.

More disconcerting is the erosion in spiritual vitality. In 2005 about 43 percent of congregations reported high spiritual vitality and give years later this had dropped to 28 percent. This is paralleled by a decline in financial health in congregations, as previously reported in the Holy Toll report.

Other topics included in this report include the rapid adoption of electronic technologies by religious congregations, the general growth in the number of internal and community programs conducted by congregations, and continued high levels of conflict in congregations. The Faith Communities Today (FACT) series of studies includes all major faiths and denominations in America and is implemented by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership. Links to data from many of the individual denominations are available at the Web site. FACT is the largest ongoing study of local congregations in America.

A copy of theĀ report entitled A Decade of ChangeĀ is available for download at the FACT website.

Media Coverage
The series of reports from the Faith Communities Today 2010 surveys have had excellent coverage in the news media, including CNN, the Religion News Service and Christian Post. An example of this coverage is this excellent piece published by Creedible.

Resources for Charting and Understanding Trends 


If you want to measure trends within your own congregation so you can compare them with the national developments over the past decade, both the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and the U.S. Congregational Life Survey the have instruments that you can use and can help you conduct a survey.


A recent book reporting on trends found in the General Social Survey conducted every two years for several decades by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago is entitled American Religion: Contemporary Trends by Mark Chaves. (Princeton University Press) These are questions answered by random samples of individuals, not congregations, and therefore not directly comparable with the FACT surveys.


Another recent book includes both kinds of data and addresses directly the need to increase attendance, volunteering and spiritual vitality: The Other 80 Percent by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird. (Jossey-Bass) The title refers to the long-standing concept that about one in five members are very involved in congregational activities and four out of five are less involved. The authors test this assumption and provide a wealth of information about how to change the situation.


The most comprehensive study of Jewish synagogues is available at Synagogue 3000 as well as many resources that you can use to assess the trends in your congregation.


Ongoing data about religious trends among young people in America is available from the National Study of Youth and Religion. Christian Smith has published several books based on this series of studies the most recent of which is Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.


The U.S. Congregational Life Study has conducted two waves, the first in 2001 and the most recent in 2008. A number of publications report on the findings. The two most important are Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations (2004) and A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations now available in an updated version based on the second wave of the study (2010). Both were written by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce.


For further information about FACT, or to learn how to join the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership (CCSP), contact David Roozen at roozen@hartsem.edu.