Twenty Years of Congregational Change: The 2020 Faith Communities Today Overview summarizes the findings of the largest national survey of congregations ever conducted in the U.S. It captures a pre- and early pandemic picture of America’s faith communities and affirms many of the trends evident over the past few decades, while also highlighting some distinct areas of change. This report is published by Faith Communities Today, a multireligious and collaborative research initiative that has been tracking trends in the U.S. religious landscape since 2000.
The 2020 Faith Communities Today national data set is the result of a collaborative venture of 21 denominations and religious groups in this cooperative partnership. These partners developed a common core questionnaire of 180 questions consisting of items from the previous surveys plus original (first-time) items. Copies of this and all FACT questionnaires and reports are available and should be consulted for the exact wording of items used in this report.
Using the common questionnaire, partner groups conducted an online survey of a representative, random national sample of their own congregations independently or in conjunction with a common contractor hired to support this collaborative effort. Usually this key informant questionnaire was completed by a congregation’s primary leader. A national survey of nondenominational congregations based on a random sample drawn from several mailing and marketing lists was also conducted. Finally, the partnership, assisted by the common contractor, surveyed a sample of congregations from non-partner-denominations, also based on a random sample drawn from several mailing and marketing lists. The survey was customized for individual faith groups and was also translated into 5 languages in addition to English – Cantonese, French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Together, these efforts resulted in responses from 80 religious denominations and traditions. For purposes of the overall national analysis, the 21 sub-surveys were individually weighted by region and size (attendance) for their faith group. Then responses from each partner denomination, faith group, and the random sample were combined into an aggregated dataset. Through the use of statistical weights, 2020 data are proportionate to their representation in the total population of congregations in the United States as well as adjusted for size and regional distribution using a combination of 2010 US Religion Census and 2018/19 National Congregations Study information.
The aggregated dataset includes responses from 15,278 congregations from 80 denominations/religious groups. This makes it the largest national survey of congregations ever conducted in the U.S. The estimated response rate for the overall survey was 35%. Sub-survey response rates ranged from 10% to 80%. Sampling error for a survey such as the 2020 FACT effort can be only roughly estimated. We believe a conservative estimate is +/- 4% at the 95% confidence level.
Across the years of FACT surveys, occasionally a partner faith group made the difficult choice to omit a set of questions in order to maximize return rate. This is a challenge for cross survey comparisons. Additionally, some years not all questions were asked, changes were made in key questions, or certain responses from some denominations and faith groups had missing data therefore caution should be taken in interpreting some of the longitudinal results.
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