CHICAGO, IL. August 9, 2000
As responses poured in for the most extensive study of American religious life ever conducted, representatives of a broad-based coalition outlined plans for strengthening Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Baha'i congregations across the nation.
The survey of local churches, mosques and synagogues is being
conducted by more than 40 participating groups working together in the
coalition known as Faith Communities Today (FACT). David Roozen, the project's co-director, announced here this week that 95 percent of all worshippers in the U.S. will be represented in the study. Roozen is professor at the Hartford (CT) Seminary and director of its Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
The Chicago meeting marked a transition from data gathering to utilization, he said. With a researcher's wry smile, he announced: "The hard work is over, now our fun begins. Analysis of the extensive data will occupy scholars for months, even years."
Co-director Carl Dudley led conversations among researchers, educators
and communication specialists about ways that the local groups will study themselves in the light of the FACT findings. "We want to help the congregations build on their strengths and overcome any weaknesses," Dudley said. "This will be the most powerful use of the data." Dudley also teaches at the Hartford Seminary and is involved in the Institute.
Preliminary analysis of the responses shows that most of the congregations consider themselves "spiritually vital and alive" and that nearly half (48%) of the congregations report that the number of regularly participating adults has grown since 1995.
The still incomplete returns indicate that youth participation is also surprisingly high. Fifty-five percent of the congregations reported that "most" or "almost all" the high school aged children of adult members are involved in the religious life and activities of the congregation. Another 27 percent of the congregations said "some" of the members' children were involved.
The coalition that developed and conducted the survey includes mainline,
Pentecostal, Evangelical, independent and Mega-church Protestants as well as Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Baha'i and others.
During the plenary session that ended at the Lutheran Center here today, speaker after speaker remarked on the warm and inclusive nature of the gathering.
Researchers and educators from more than 40 faith groups have been working on the project for nearly five years. The FACT data will help the faith groups develop strategies and programs that also can be based on the U.S. Census statistics. Congregations and other religious organizations will be able to study the FACT data within zip-code geographic areas.
The research was funded in part by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Each faith group was responsible for gathering its own data through statistically valid samples and will develop its own follow-up programs. The faith groups used nearly 190 questions from a common "core questionnaire." Some groups added additional questions of a specialized nature.
Roozen and Dudley said that the final aggregate results will be announced publicly early in 2001. Among the materials that will be developed to help local congregations will be self-guiding workbooks, study documents, analytical reports, websites, and newsletters. Workbooks will be offered to theological seminaries, interfaith organizations, and denominational offices as well as to local churches, synagogues and mosques.