Interfaith Findings

Interfaith Worship Doubles in a Decade

A new survey report (View the full PDF report) shows that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, more U.S. congregations are involved in interfaith efforts, but the numbers are still small.  U.S. congregations are twice as likely to engage in interfaith worship as they were 10 years ago and three times as likely to engage in interfaith service projects, a new survey shows. But among the majority Christian faith, that engagement is mostly limited to a small group of Protestants, both mainline and evangelical.

The new Faith Communities Today survey found that 14 percent of U.S. congregations were involved in interfaith worship efforts in 2010, compared with 7 percent in 2000. About 20 percent, or a fifth of U.S. congregations, were involved in interfaith community service, such as emergency disaster relief. Released on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the survey provides a snapshot of the country’s evolving recognition of its religious diversity, particularly its engagement with Islam.

“In the grand scheme of things there’s still a long way to go in terms of interfaith worship,” said David A. Roozen, director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, which undertook the survey, and a professor of religion and society at Hartford Seminary. “But certainly it’s a major step up.”

The 2010 survey, which included questionnaires returned by 11,077 randomly sampled congregations, did not distinguish among various types of interfaith worship, whether between Christians and Muslims or Christians and Jews, or Jews and Muslims. The 2000 survey included 14,301 congregations, for a total of 25,378 U.S. congregations of all faith traditions in both surveys.

The theology preached within a congregation mattered more than the denominational family when it came to interfaith worship, the survey found. Those congregations most engaged in interfaith worship tended to be theologically liberal, whether they belonged to mainline Protestant or evangelical denominations.  Among the most notable increases, some 12 percent of evangelical congregations engaged in interfaith worship in 2010, up from 4 percent in 2000.

Interfaith worship was highly correlated to a congregation’s involvement in community service ministries, such as food pantries or jobs counseling programs. The more a congregation cooperated with other ministries, the more it tended to participate in interfaith worship.

In addition, the survey found that clergy willing to represent their congregation in civic forums or commemorations were twice as likely to participate in interfaith worship. Congregations are pulled into interfaith activity at the behest of their leader, the survey suggests. “Sept. 11, 2001, made a significant piece of America aware that Islam was part of our civic fabric,” said Roozen. “Those congregations that had an investment in public presence could welcome Islam as a neighbor.”

Still, nearly two-thirds of U.S. congregations prefer to minister to the community independently of other religious groups. “American congregations are very private places,” Roozen said. “They’re focused on themselves and their own religion.”

Interfaith worship was highest on the East Coast and most common in urban areas, the survey found. “The irony is that given the potential payoff for one’s understanding of one’s own religion, there’s surprisingly little invested in multi-faith leadership,” said Roozen. “There are success stories out there. But it’s still not the dominant mode by any means.”

Roozen, director of the Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, wrote the survey report.  View the full PDF report