A new report co-authored by Dr. Jonathan Wiggins and Maria Andronicou, M.A. of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), along with Dr. Patricia Tevington of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, explores both the top challenges and perceived best attributes of U.S. congregations based on open-ended responses from our Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2020 study.
With more than 15,000 respondents, the FACT 2020 survey of congregations offers a sweeping portrait of the religious life of the United States. While traditional quantitative analysis of survey data is extremely helpful in providing an overall portrait of the ins and outs of the sample, there are limitations in terms of what can be conveyed surrounding the character and ministry of congregational life through tallies around forced choice questions. As such, we also included a few open-ended survey questions, giving the respondents room to tell us about their own faith communities—in their own words. Specifically, we asked participating congregations to offer their top two concerns about the future of their congregation and the top two things they were most proud of about their faith community. Nearly two-thirds of the entire sample responded to these prompts, sharing their thoughts.
Among the most commonly expressed concerns were:
- Challenges associated with membership and growth (25%)
- Financial difficulty and monetary concerns (12%)
- Demographic change and decline (9%)
- Congregational facilities and properties (6%)
- Leadership issues (5%)
On the flip side, the key attributes that congregations were most proud of included:
- Service to the local community and those in need (12%)
- Inclusivity of the congregation (11%)
- Caring for and loving one another (9%)
- Growth experienced by the congregation (7%)
- Level of dedication to members (7%)
Explore the full range of common themes that emerged in the report:
Note: The Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2020 national survey of congregations took place as the pandemic arrived in the United States. As such, some congregations responded to the survey before restrictions on public worship and other pandemic-related measures were put into effect; others responded in full lockdown mode. The data in this report reflects both the sources of concern and pride that were significant before the pandemic as well as those that emerged during it.