FACT square logoFaith Communities Today Newsletter 
Issue 24Summer 2014 



The latest research reports at Faith Communities Today 


FACTs on Worship: 2010 


Virtual Religion:

Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations


FACTs on Growth: 2010 


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 reports from participating 



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Final Plans for 2015 Survey of American Congregations: Focus on Trends, Young Adults 


Since January a network of research professionals and key leaders from most of the religions in America have been fine-tuning the questionnaire that will be used in the next major survey of congregations: Faith Communities Today 2015 (FACT 2015). A half dozen versions have already been circulated and changed as suggestions are passed back and forth. At a meeting August 12 and 13 in Chicago, the questions will be finalized and some of the participating organizations may start data collection before the end of the year.


Because this survey includes so many different religious traditions, the wording of questions requires special attention. Participating groups are permitted to substitute terminology that is understood among their adherents so long as the various terms are equivalent so that the data can be aggregated from all faiths. They are also welcome to skip items that are inappropriate in their tradition and add items that are of special interest in their group. A core of comparable data points is carefully retained and there is also a general random sample of congregations to make sure that all religions are included. This means one version of the questionnaire has to be understood by all.


The 2015 survey will have a set of questions breaking new ground on the topic of how congregations are engaging young adults, as well as items that have been asked in each FACT survey since 2000 in order to track trends. For the past two years the coalition has been collecting case studies of congregations where there is an exceptional level of young adult participation. These are available at the Faith Communities Today web site and will soon be published as a book.

The case studies and the resulting discussions among the researchers and religious leaders have helped to identify new questions that need to be explored. All of the participating faiths and others are looking forward to the findings that will become available at the end of next year.


Religious leaders of all traditions agree that this is a major issue. Many congregations are not attracting young adults in significant numbers. The median age is drifting up and in some cases congregations consist almost entirely of senior citizens. The ability of congregations to sustain themselves has become an issue in some places.


The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP) annual meeting will bring together representatives from about 40 organizations and religious groups. In most religions an internal entity will conduct the survey among a random sample of congregations. The data will be combined and the aggregate analysis done at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (HIRR) at Hartford Seminary, which provides central services for the coalition. A different research organization will be contracted with to conduct the general random sample of congregations and these data will also be added to the overall mix.


Two other topics will be covered in a few fresh questions. The growth and vitality of congregations and the use of new technology has been explored in previous surveys and some new items will be added to the ongoing trend information. The CCSP coalition has conducted FACT surveys in 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2010 which provide the background for the 2015 survey. The consistent focus is on congregations as local institutions where most other research about religion focuses on the experience and attitudes of individuals. 


If your organization would like to participate in the 2015 FACT Survey it is important that you be represented at this meeting. To make sure of your representation, contact Monte Sahlin, executive secretary of CCSP at montessahlin@gmail.com.

New Data on Congregational Leaders, Clergy

The median age for the clergy leaders of congregations of all faiths across the United States is 55. This may be one indicator of why all religions report that a major challenge is engaging young adults: the perspective of the professional leaders is likely to be middle-aged.

Overall one in eight congregations have a clergy leader who is a woman (12.1 percent of the total congregations of all faiths) although this varies significantly among religions. Some have no women who lead congregations, believing that only males should have this role, while others are seeking to greatly increase the percentage of women in this role.


The clergy leader is a solo role in nearly half of American congregations; 47.5 percent have no assistant or associate clergy person. About the same number (48.1 percent of congregations) have one or more assistants or associates, including 2.8 percent of congregations where there are two co-leaders of equal status. Another 3.5 percent of congregations report that they currently have no clergy leader and are in a time of transition between leaders.


These data are being published for the first time in this article. They are from the 2010 Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey of American congregations, a massive sample that represents almost all of the religious bodies in America. It was planned and coordinated by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership which includes more than 40 of the largest denominations and similar religious groups; Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Old Line and Evangelical Protestants, Baha'i, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and others.


The median tenure of clergy leaders was five years. Which means of course, that half have served only five years or less in the congregation where they are. A total of 71 percent are full-time, paid professionals. Nearly one in five (18.7 percent) are part-time employees. One in ten are not paid for their role as a clergy leader in a congregation, including 3.9 percent who put full time into the role without remuneration and 6.4 percent are part time.


Nearly two-thirds of clergy leaders have completed graduate degrees; 45.2 percent have a  master's degree and 17.6 percent have earned a doctoral degree. Another 21.5 percent have only a college degree, 12.1 percent have some college or technical school or an associate's degree, and 3.6 percent just a high school diploma.


Clearly the dominate pattern for clergy leaders of congregations in America is still a full-time, paid professional with advanced education. This was the primary pattern in 2010 despite the rise of informal religion (small groups meeting in homes and "third place" locations, etc.) and the financial pressures on religious organizations during the previous decade. 


New Books of Interest                   

Rise of the Nones by James E. White (2014, Baker)

   An excellent summary of the several studies on this topic is presented in Chapter 1 along with more data from qualitative and quantitative studies in the next four chapters. The second half of the book is a relatively sophisticated analysis of both relational and theological elements from an Evangelical Protestant perspective. Includes a number of graphics that could easily be re-created in PowerPoint for presentations; good summaries of research and analytical frameworks. This is probably most useful as a textbook or a book for a group of clergy to read and discuss together.


The Next America by Paul Taylor (2014, Public Affairs)

   This is a summary of recent Pew Research Center studies by the Center's executive vice president with the full involvement of the whole staff. There are lots of excellent graphics. If you have not carefully collected all of the Pew reports over the last several years, this is a high-quality reference work. It includes data about religion in more than 50 places throughout the volume. Chapter 9 is entirely devoted to "Nones on the Rise." It places the information in much broader context than many of the reports and articles on this topic.


Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom & Joani Schultz (2013, Group)

   The first chapter is a good summary of the quantitative data from the key research on the decline in attendance at religious congregations. The second chapter is a good summary of the qualitative research about why this is happening. The rest of the book is a practical analysis of how to turn things around one congregation at a time from a Protestant perspective. Scott Thumma and others who part of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership are quoted in a number of places. Excellent graphics and many analytical and problem-solving tools.


What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church by Gary McIntosh and Charles Arn (2013, Baker)

   There are literally 101 concise observations such as "A church needs the same number of guests each years as its average worship attendance in order to grow." (Number 10, pages 38-43) And, "Ninety percent of church attendees live within twenty minutes of their church." (Number 97, pages 253-255) There is a practical concise explanation of each of these and a number of them have research publications referenced as the source of the concept, but others are not explicitly grounded in any formal research. This volume cannot be taken as a catalog of scientifically proven principles, but it does provide a lot of helpful observations and some points that might be proven with analysis of some of the data available in various studies. Again, the perspective is Protestant, but many of the rules could be applied in other contexts because they are practical, not theological.


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