CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Most congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) report that scripture is "absolutely foundational" as a source of authority for congregational worship and teaching, while God's love and care is likely to be part of a sermon. Both are among findings reported from a survey of ELCA congregations, in which 832 responded out of 1,000 which were
randomly selected.

The information was gathered from the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project (CCSP), now called Faith Communities Today (FACT). Researchers from 41 denominations or combinations of faith groups have been working together on a significant research and education project in the United States. Data regarding many facets of religious life were collected from more than 14,000 congregations in 2000. Details of the entire project's findings are to be released at a news conference March 13 in New York.

The work was funded by the Lilly Endowment. Project principals are Carl S. Dudley and David Roozen of the Hartford Seminary, Hartford, Conn. Dr. Kenneth W. Inskeep, director, ELCA Department for Research and Evaluation, was principal investigator for the ELCA portion of the project. The Rev. Robert N. Bacher, executive for administration, ELCA Office of the Bishop, was also extensively involved in the project.up

Most of the 832 "key informants" for the ELCA were pastors, Inskeep said. Results are intended to help the ELCA better understand what other congregations are doing with regard to worship, spiritual growth, history, leadership, being inviting and inclusive, community outreach and managing and leading, he said. "We have already been able to learn a lot about the factors
that lead to membership growth in ELCA congregations," Inskeep said. "We believe that this project will significantly enhance our knowledge, because it gives us the ability to do denominational comparisons."

Some of the key findings reported by ELCA respondents were:
+ 80 percent agreed their congregation clearly expresses its Lutheran heritage very well or quite well;
+ 82 percent used newspaper advertisements and stories in the past year to reach out to new or inactive participants and 23 percent said they used direct mail promotions;
+ 82 percent said their congregation's worship services are spiritually uplifting or inspiring;
+ 99 percent said the sermon in worship always or often focused on God's love and care;
+ 89 percent reported that reading or reciting the creeds or statements of faith are always part of their best attended weekly worship service;
+ 86 percent said that scripture is "absolutely foundational" as a source of authority for congregational worship and teaching;
+ 18 percent said they were doing "very well" or "quite well" in trying to increase the racial diversity of their congregation.
Thirty-seven percent said they were doing "not well at all" in increasing theirup racial diversity;
+ 30 percent reported conducting a growth or evangelistic campaign in the past 12 months;
+ 49 percent said their congregation has a clear sense of mission and purpose; and
+ 59 percent said they have one service on Sunday; 34 percent have two.
Roozen said early findings for the overall FACT report for all faith group showed: + that half of all congregations in the United States have fewer than 100 participating adults;
+ more than half are located in town and rural settings; and
+ about half were founded before 1945. That year was the start of
the World War II housing boom when many new congregations were
started, Roozen said.

Researchers and educators from the participating denominations and faith groups have been working on the project for about five years. The FACT data will help each denomination or faith group develop strategies and programs that also can be based on U.S. Census statistics. Using an electronic resource, congregations and other religious organizations will be able to study the FACT data within zip-code geographic areas, and can compare information with other
faith groups.

The ELCA has hosted representatives of the FACT coalition at the Lutheran Center here during the course of their work. The most recent meeting was August 2000, which was attended by nearly 100 people.

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Complete ELCA findings from the project can be found at http://www.elca.org/re/ on the Web. The Hartford Seminary site, withup
details of the all project findings, is at http://fact.hartsem.edu on the Web.