The common core questionnaire used to collect the Faith Communities Today 2000 information is available in .pdf format.
We started in early 1996 with a very general systems model of a congregation. Task forces working on different aspects of the model–worship, mission, organizational dynamics, stewardship, leadership, demographics–produced a foot and a half high stack of questionnaires for us to review.
We then decided upon a 20 minute maximum length for the core questionnaire and produced our first serious draft in the summer of 1997. We decided on eight “focusing themes:”
1. The spiritual, organizational and statistical vitality of congregations;
2. The variety and style of worship–the foundational act of religious gathering;
3. The variety of congregational activities and programs that nurture faith and provide opportunities for the expression of faith;
4. Characteristics of participants;
5. Strategies congregations use to reach new members and raise financial resources;
6. Characteristics of clergy and lay leadership;
7. How congregations relate to other congregations, to denominational structures and to other institutions in their communities; and
8.The widely different ways through which congregations support and strengthen the social and material well being of their communities.
Little did we realize then that we still had two challenging years ahead of us, articulating, appreciating and negotiating our differences, before we would come to the “final” version of the core questionnaire. Eventually, four principles emerged that proved critical:
– the core would focus on items that were applicable to the vast majority of participating groups to maximize the comparative perspective of the project;
– all participating groups would use all the core items, except those items for which a group could articulate a compelling reason to omit;
– each group needed to adapt the wording of core items to their respective traditions (e.g., imam, minister, president, priest, rabbi); and
– each group was free to supplement the core with questions of unique interest for the group.
The result, a core questionnaire that contains 190 questions, contains something on just about every aspect of congregational life and a heavier emphasis on several key dimensions–e.g., worship, mission and fellowship. The survey form speaks both to the interfaith reality of the U.S. religious mosaic and to the specific interests of each participating group. This questionnaire mixes standard items from past research with ground-breaking, new items that reach across the diversity of religious belief and practice.
Read the full project proposal from the Faith Communities Today 2000 project.
The Vision Statement
[This is a historical document of the project, written midway through the research project.]
The convergence of the U.S. national census and a new millennium provide an unusual opportunity for religious groups to gain public recognition for the ways their congregations strengthen the lives of participants and contribute to the communities where they are located.
Therefore, we are organizing a cooperative research effort among a broad spectrum of religious groups to generate an integrated, inclusive, coherent picture of congregations in America. In an unprecedented voluntary group, we represent an interfaith organization of researchers who are committed to develop common procedures, focused data gathering and analysis, and cooperative dissemination of information.
The mission of Faith Communities Today and the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project is, first, to produce a comprehensive picture of congregational life in the USA at the beginning of the 21st century, to describe the activities of congregations for their members and their broader communities, to document their use of resources to promote spiritual life for members and support for community people and institutions, and to depict the leadership within the congregation and beyond that helps to sustain the uniquely American experience.
The second aspect of our mission is to enlist a coalition of religious groups that will work together to produce the tools to gather and share information about congregations of practical significance to their religious groups and the public, and that will encourage each other in additional cooperative research.
In order to accomplish this mission, we are building the broadest possible coalition of leaders and researchers from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and other religious bodies. The strength of this coalition will accomplish that which no single denomination or research institution can accomplish.
Today’s congregations are under pressure from changing demographics, changing institutional configurations, and changing values in the American culture. Some congregations are finding the pressure of change overwhelming. But many more are finding faithful and effective ways of ministry in new situations. These congregations are continuing to minister to their members, invite new people into their membership, and provide service to their communities.
American congregations also are providing motivation and organization of vast volunteer efforts aimed at improving our society and the lives of individuals. Present promotions of volunteerism by government and business leaders tend to be either naive or lacking in regard to the pervasive role of religion in American volunteerism; and the story of congregational life should be of benefit to them as well as to congregation and denominational leaders.
Faith Communities Today and the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project will provide answers to specific, practical questions about congregations. As the project develops, some member groups will develop specialized questions for their unique informational needs.
These will compliment the common core of the project, which is committed to gathering information about:
- The spiritual, organizational and statistical vitality of congregations;
- The variety and style of worship — the foundational act of religious gathering;
- The variety of congregational activities and programs which nurture faith and provide opportunities for the expression of faith;
- Levels of participation and the characteristics of participants;
- Strategies congregations use to reach new members and raise financial resources; Characteristics of clergy and lay leadership;
- How congregations relate to other congregations, to denominational structures and to other institutions in their communities such as schools, homes and hospitals;
The widely different ways that congregations support and strengthen the social and material well being of their communities.
Collectively, the goals of Faith Communities Today and the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project include:
- Establishing an on-going network of researchers related to religious groups that will enhance the groups’ individual and cooperative capacity to conduct and use congregational studies.
- Producing, together, research tools and mechanisms of interpretation and dissemination that both enable common, comparative congregation studies and more specialized approaches that honor the unique traditions and experiences of congregations within specific groups.
- Creating research opportunities that through their cooperative approach maximize the effective use of refunds.
- Conducting a coalition-establishing, practical research project–the national survey of congregations in the year 2000–that will provide relevant information for the use of congregational and denominational leaders, researchers, funders, and public policy makers.
Faith Communities Today and the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project conceives its mission to be of vital importance because of the importance of congregations to the American culture. The hundreds of thousands of congregations represent a unique set of voluntary organizations that have had and continue to have a pervasive influence on their members and the life of the communities of which they are a part. The enrichment of the spiritual and physical lives of members, and the influence for social good is a story that needs to be told.