Coalition releases comprehensive survey of U.S. churches

March 13, 2001
News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NEW YORK (UMNS) -- Results of the most extensive survey of congregational life ever conducted in the United States were released March 13.

"Faith Communities in the U.S. Today" has been produced over a five-year period by a coalition known as Faith Communities Today (FACT). The survey of local churches, mosques and synagogues has been funded in part by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis.

Co-directors of the project are David Roozen and Carl Dudley, faculty members at Hartford (Conn.) Seminary and leaders in the school's Institute for Religion Research.

During a press conference at the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, Dudley noted that congregations "are reporting their own vitality and their aliveness. They feel good about themselves in this survey.

"Overall, the survey provides a very upbeat window on faith communities today," he said.

The study showed that 52 percent of the responding congregations are in small towns and rural areas. Half of the respondents have fewer than 100 regularly participating adults.

Craig This, with the United Methodist General Council on Ministries, was among the 10 representatives from various denominations at the press conference. This has been working with the project on behalf of the United Methodist Church. He is director of the office of research and planning for GCOM, which is based in Dayton, Ohio.up

This pointed out that "70 percent of our sample showed we (United Methodists) are town and country churches."

Surveys tabulated in the study represent more than 14,000 congregations. Of those, 601 are United Methodist. The full report may be obtained by going to the FACT Web site, FACT.HARTSEM.EDU. United Methodist findings will be available in May on the GCOM Web site

The overall report on the Hartford Seminary Web site does not include findings for each denomination but does note similarities or differences among denominational/faith families. Protestant participants are divided into four families commonly used to categorize American religion: Liberal Protestant - Episcopal, Presbyterian, Unitarian-Universalist and United Church of Christ; Moderate Protestant - American Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, Reformed Church in America and United Methodist; Evangelical Protestant -Assemblies of God, Christian Reformed, Nazarene, Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, "mega churches", nondenominational Protestant, Seventh-day Adventist and Southern Baptist; and the Historic Black Protestant denominations.

The research is considered the most inclusive, denominationally sanctioned program of interfaith cooperation, according to the directors. The project was initiated at Hartford to enhance the capacity of participating denominations and faith groups to conduct and use congregational studies. It also was undertaken to provide a public profile of the organizational backbone of religion in America - congregations - at the beginning of a new millennium.

Growing faith communities are those that use or blend contemporary forms of worship, and those that are located in newer suburbs, according to the report. Faith groups in the United States continue to make major moral and charitable contributions to the community welfare through a vast array of faith-bound ministries, the researchers concluded.

However, directors also identified "disturbing" findings: Congregational leadership is aging and unprepared for change, and seminary-educated leaders, in particular, are unready to address issues of change.

Each denomination or faith group included its own questions for its congregations, but the core questionnaire going to all 42 denominations covered worship and identity; location and facilities; internal and mission-oriented programs; leadership and organizational dynamics; participants; and finances.up