Disciples congregations take part in massive study of congregations

Date: March 12, 2001
Disciples News Service
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Contact: Clifford L. Willis
E-mail: [email protected]
on the Web: http://www.disciples.org

INDIANAPOLIS (DNS) -- The results of the largest survey of religious congregations ever conducted in the United States were released March 13 in New York. 283 congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are represented in Faith Communities Today (FACT), a Report on Religion in the United States Today. In all, 14,301 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Baha'i local communities of worship representing 41 faith traditions participated in the project, which progressed over the last four years from discussion through surveying to the publication of findings.

In addition to providing a wealth of research data, Faith Communities Today provides congregations with a valuable new tool for self-reflection and evaluation. The project's Interactive Workbook is a guide for pastors and lay leaders to
discuss the health of the congregation in five areas: public worship, spiritual growth, inviting and including, community outreach and managing and leading. "I think the workbook has the power to stimulate honest discussion about a congregation's mission and vitality," said the Rev. Bruce Fowlkes, key FACT
educator for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). up

The workbook proposes such questions as:

* What are we saying about God in our worship?
* How does our worship reach out to others?
* Do we reach out across racial/ethnic diversity?
* Are we gaining or losing membership?
* What is our capacity for vision, innovation and change?"

Having discussed those and other questions, a congregation can compare its profile to other Disciples congregations, congregations of other Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox traditions, to local communities of other religious faiths or to
all of the congregations involved in the research. The Interactive Workbook is available to the public on the World Wide Web at http://fact.hartsem.edu.

The FACT report is full of data, and detailed graphs and charts, but also offers summaries, which include findings that:

  • 50 percent of congregations report they are growing;
  • most congregations report that they welcome change;
  • changes in worship often prompt serious congregational conflict;
  • faith communities gain identity from a common heritage and culture;
  • growth, change and conflict are interrelated;
  • worship is the foundational activity among congregations;
  • outreach programs by which congregations express their faith in action are high priorities;
  • overall, the physical condition of congregational buildings is more solid than troubled;
  • and most clergy (89 percent) are paid.up

"While many of these findings are not surprising, they do provide hard data on many of our suspicions, both positive and negative, about the state of mainline Protestant churches," said Fowlkes. "What we do with these findings, namely recognizing the strong correlation between change, growth and vitality, is a key to strengthening Disciples congregations for mission," he said. Fowlkes will lead an interest group on FACT and using the Interactive Workbook and FACT data at the General Synod/Assembly in Kansas City in July.

Research data on Disciples congregations are in usable form now via the Interactive Workbook on the FACT website. Researchers interested in the complete results of the surveys of Disciples congregations can obtain that information from the Office of Research in the Office of General Minister and President.

Office of Research director, the Rev. Mike Naylor, hopes to organize the complete Disciples FACT data set to make it more accessible "so a congregation, region or anyone else who needs the information can slice and dice just the data they need to utilize them in their planning and visioning." Naylor also is the key FACT researcher for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Faith Communities Today is the research and educational program of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project coordinated by The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford (Conn.) Seminary. The institute's Carl S. Dudley and David A. Roozen are the primary architects of the study and the authors of the report.