Findings and insights from the FACT report on Faith Communities Today, a report on religion in the United States, 2000

For release on or after March 13, 2001

Thomas L. Winter at [email protected]
Douglas A. Foster at [email protected]

Churches of Christ are one of three groups that emerged from the American Restoration Movement led by Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone in the early and middle years of the 19th century. Membership in Churches of Christ in the United States today is estimated at 1.3 million by church statistician Mac Lynn (2000). The 1990 Glenmary Research Institute report estimated the number of adherents in the United States at 1.7 million, with congregations in nearly 2,400 counties across the nation.

The Atlas of American Religion (2000) identifies Churches of Christ as one of seven "national denominations", based on what the authors describe as "cultural normativeness, organizational size, spatial extent, and spatial dispersion" (p. 58).

Churches of Christ were first recognized as a body independent from the Disciples of Christ in the 1906 Religious Census conducted by the United States Department of Commerce. Among issues in the separation were the group's rejection of instrumental music in worship and the organization of missionary societies to administer evangelism. Churches of Christ continue to use only a cappella music in worship and are fiercely congregational, with no official governing bodies or societies.

In the mid-twentieth century another group of Christian Churches separated from the Disciples of Christ, forming the three bodies that exist today as heirs of the Stone-Campbell movement.

The Churches of Christ are one of 41 religious organizations nationwide who participated in the national study being released today by Faith Communities Today, or FACT. Researchers from the religious groups developed a common questionnaire to gather comparable data from local churches, synagogues and mosques. The findings represent 95 percent of all who worship regularly in the United States.

Findings about the Churches of Christ are based on replies from nearly 300 congregations who responded to the survey during 2000. Two professors led the portion of the project relating to Churches of Christ. Thomas L. Winter, associate provost at Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas, served on the FACT project's Steering Committee and Research Committee. Douglas A. Foster, director of the Center for Restoration Studies at ACU, was involved in developing materials for congregational use and planning ways to use the study's results in universities and seminaries.

Faith Communities Today is supported by the religious organizations participating and by the Lilly Endowment. It is directed by Professors Carl Dudley and David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, a part of the Hartford Seminary.

Each religious group participating in the FACT study provided matching funds for its part of the study. The College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University provided the matching funds for the survey of Churches of Christ.

Key areas of FACT findings and pertinent information about Churches of Christ:up

-Demographics of our Congregations:

Churches of Christ, like most American religious groups, have many congregations that are relatively small (with fewer than 100 regularly participating adults).

* Most of our congregations have fewer than 65 regularly participating adults, 30 regularly participating children and teens (95 total)

* Most of our members, however, are in churches with over 200 regularly participating adults

* A third of our members are in churches with 350 or more regularly participating adults.

Consistent with the observations of the authors of the Atlas of American Religion, our congregations are geographically distributed like other "national Christian groups.

* Like "liberal Protestant" and "evangelical Protestant" groups, particularly those that are also categorized as "national" Christian groups (Presbyterian Church/USA, Assemblies of God, and Southern Baptist Convention congregations), a majority of our congregations are located in small towns or rural settings.

* However, more of our congregations are located in cities and non-rural settings than many "moderate Protestant" groups (for example, the United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, and Disciples of Christ).

The FACT survey also suggests the following about our congregations:

* Most of our congregations have relatively recent origins (since World War II).

* The number of our congregations nearly doubled between 1945 and 1965.

* Growth of new congregations slowed between 1965 - 1990.

* We have started fewer congregations in the past decade than other religious groups as a whole.

* Still, as a movement, we are "younger" than U.S. congregations as a whole.

The FACT survey has also provided a picture of the religious backgrounds of our members. We have learned several important things, such as:up

* While about 1/3 of our congregations report "few" of their adult members have lifelong connections with Churches of Christ, about the same number report "most" are lifelong members.

* Churches of Christ have significantly more members who have lifelong connections with our fellowship than many other groups.

* The vast majority of our congregations report that they have few new members in the past five years; this is especially true of our smallest congregations (those with fewer than 100 regularly participating adults on an average Sunday).

As we have examined what the study reveals about growth in our congregations, we are both challenged and affirmed.

* Most of our congregations are growing or stable over the past five years.

* We have about the same proportion of growing churches as U.S. congregations as a whole, but have slightly more "stable" churches than the total population of congregations.

* Growth is stronger in older congregations than in newer congregations.

* Growth is strongest in small towns and mid-sized cities, and weakest in rural areas and major metropolitan areas.


-Worship and Change in Churches of Christ

The FACT study reinforces the conservative nature of our fellowship, particularly with regard to worship activities and change. Leaders of our congregations provide the following picture of worship in our churches:up

* A majority of our congregations say that their worship hasn't changed in the past five years.

* Among those that report change in worship during that period, most describe the change as slight; only about one in twenty of our churches describe the worship change as "significant."

* Worship change is greatest in larger congregations, least in smallest churches.

While this study revealed a tendency of larger, urban and suburban churches to engage in more diverse worship. experiences than small, rural churches, we have learned that there is little relationship between worship change and congregational growth. For example:

* Churches that use visual projection, drama, special music and/or praise teams are not growing faster than those that don't.

* Historically, music in Churches of Christ is a cappella, and use of instruments has been rejected by our congregations. Although the number of congregations that report having used instrumental accompaniment is very small, these churches are significantly less likely to have grown than those that have not.

-Congregational Identity

The ethos of congregations of Churches of Christ, based on the FACT survey, is one where congregations report a strong sense of:

* family feeling
* spiritual vitality
* worship that deepens spiritual relationships
* identity with our movement
* moral witness in their communities
* ability to incorporate new members
* uplifting worship
* programming that builds the congregationup

At the same time, the study revealed an absence of certain things among our congregations. These include such things as:

* A sense of responsibility for social justice in society.
* Desire to increase the ethnic diversity of the congregation.
* Openness to change.
* Openness in dealing with conflict.
* A sense of having well-organized programs and activities.

Predictably, the size of congregations was an important qualifier for many of these characteristics:

*Congregations with fewer than 350 regular adult participants report a stronger sense of family than do larger congregations.

*Congregations with more than 100 regular adult participants have a stronger sense of congregational vitality than small churches.

*Small churches (those with fewer than 100 adult participants) have a significantly more pessimistic view of their futures than do larger churches (those over 100 participants).

*Satisfaction with the effectiveness of program organization is a function of size, with larger congregations more satisfied than small ones.

There is a stronger sense of group loyalty among Churches of Christ than that found in the FACT survey as a whole; our congregations are more likely to clearly identify with other Churches of Christ than other groups do with their fellowships. However, we found that congregations with 100-349 adult members are less identified with our historical roots than either smaller (churches of less than 100) or larger churches (those over 350).

There is significantly more information in the study than that presented here, and it is anticipated that researchers in Churches of Christ will use the data extensively to increase our understanding of the life and vitality of our congregations.up

How Congregations of Churches of Christ will use FACT data:

The information gathered in the FACT study will be used to help congregations of Churches of Christ gain insight into themselves and their congregations and to aid in planning and development for the future.

Presentations to show congregational leaders how to use the FACT data were initiated at the February, 2001, Abilene Christian University Lectures, and will be made available over the next two years at other major events involving Churches of Christ, including lectureships and workshops.

Thomas L. Winter and Douglas A. Foster anticipate compiling the FACT findings about Churches of Christ into a book to be published for use by congregations and as a historical record of this landmark study.

Contact persons for Churches of Christ:

For additional information contact Thomas L. Winter at [email protected] or
Douglas A. Foster at [email protected].

Additional Information:

A listing of the congregations of Churches of Christ with membership figures

and other data is published in Churches of Christ in the United States, 2000 edition, edited by Mac Lynn. It is available from 21st Century Christian bookstore, (800) 251-2477

The Christian Chronicle, the international newspaper for members of Churches of Christ Online edition:

Comprehensive report on the FACT study:

Works Cited:

Lynn, M. (2000). Churches of Christ in the United States,

2000. Nashville, Tenn.: 21st Century Christian Publications.

Newman, W. M. & Halvorson, P. L. (2000). Atlas of American Religion: The denominational era, 1776-1990. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press.


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