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U.S. Congregational Life Survey Project

Cynthia A. Woolever (Principal Investigator):

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey is the largest and most representative profile of worshipers and their congregations ever developed in the United States. More than half a million church goers and 7,000 congregations will participate in the project in April 2001. Parallel studies in three other countries--Australia, England, and New Zealand--will capture the hopes and dreams of more than 2 million worshipers in 15,000 congregations. The focus of the effort is to address the questions: What makes American congregations work? What is the role of our culture and society in shaping the nature and future of congregations?

The survey project explores three dimensions of religious life in depth--faith development, community involvement, and attracting new members. Thus, congregational health or vitality is envisioned as more than numerical growth. In addition, the results will describe "what is" and "who we are" in American congregations.

The project involves a large national random sample of congregations. Every two years, the National Opinion Research Center (at the University of Chicago) conducts a in-person survey of a random sample of U.S. residents: the General Social Survey (GSS). Participants in the GSS answered a wide range of questions in 2000, including "Do you attend religious services?" Those who answered "yes" were asked several follow-up questions about the name and location of the congregation where they worship. Since the GSS included a national random sample of individuals, congregations nominated by these survey participants comprise a national random sample of congregations. More than 1,500 congregations have been identified using this methodology. During the Fall of 2000, these nominated congregations were invited to participate in the April 2001 survey.

This methodology will not generate sufficient numbers of congregations from any one denomination or faith group to allow a description of worshipers in a single denomination. Denominational leaders and others will be aided by having a national profile of their denomination to compare with a national random sample of all congregations in every faith tradition. Therefore, most U.S. denominations have been invited to draw a national random sample of their congregations for participation. Participating denominations will allow the project to administer identical surveys in their congregation in April 2001.

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey project extends the research in congregational studies in several ways. First, most previous studies of congregational life have been based on small samples or in-depth case studies. Because congregations involved in those studies may not be typical, the results would not be representative of all congregations. Second, most prior research has relied on the views and opinions of clergy or a single lay leader in participating congregations. By collecting information from all worshipers it is possible to provide a definitive profile of participants in congregational life and their unique perspective about the strengths and struggles of congregations.

You may also read in-depth information about this project at their web site.  In addition, individual sites have been created for the Australian project and the project in Great Britain.

Data from this research:

Responsive Congregational Identity:  Identity Strength and Diversity as Correlates of Vitality by Cynthia Woolever

Comparing Personal Religious Practices Across the Generations by Deborah A. Bruce

Do you Know Who Attends United Methodist Churches: A Study of Attendance at United Methodist Churches A report of attenders at United Methodist churches, in cooperation with the US Congregational Life Survey Project

Do You Know What's Inside the Mind of Methodist Hank & Peggy? A powerpoint slide show highlighting some of the findings from the United Methodist sample from the US Congregational Life Study in 2001.  These findings focus on the different responses from females and males who completed the survey.




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