Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: The National Congregations Study (NCSIII) is, along with The American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving survey by David A. Roozen, one of the best snapshots of American Christianity and where it is going. You can download the free and complete report here.
Mark Chaves and Alison Eagle begin their report with what they designate some of their “most important observations” including:
- The number of congregations claiming no denominational affiliation increased from 18% in 1998 to 24% in 2012
- White mainline congregations, and the people in those congregations, are older than the congregations and people of other religious traditions
- Most congregations are small but most people are in large congregations
- People are increasingly concentrated in very large congregations
- The average congregation is getting smaller, but the average churchgoer attends a larger congregation
- People in smaller congregations give more money to their churches than do people in larger congregations
- Worship services have become more informal and expressive
- 10% of churchgoers worship in multi-site congregations
- American solo or senior pastoral leaders are more ethnically diverse and older, but not more female, than they were in 1998
- Thirteen percent (13%) of congregations are led by volunteer senior or solo pastoral leaders
- Assistant and associate ministers and specialized congregational staff constitute 42% of the full-time ministerial work force and three-quarters (74%) of the part-time ministerial work force.
- Compared to solo and senior pastoral leaders, secondary ministerial staff are more female, younger, less likely to be seminary educated, and more likely to have been hired from within the congregation
- There is increasing ethnic diversity over time both among and within American congregations
- Food assistance is by far the most common kind of social service activity pursued by congregations, with more than half (52%) of all congregations listing food assistance among their four most important social service programs
- When congregations lobby elected officials or participate in demonstrations or marches, the issues they most commonly engage are poverty, abortion, and same-sex marriage
- Acceptance of female lay leadership is very widespread, with 79% of congregations allowing women to hold any volunteer position a man can hold, and 86% allowing women to serve on the main governing board
- Congregational acceptance of gays and lesbians as members and lay leaders increased substantially between 2006 and 2012, but acceptance levels vary widely across religious traditions
The National Congregations Study was directed by Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religious Studies, and Divinity at Duke University. This report was written by Mark Chaves and Alison Eagle, and designed by Spring Davis. It is a much revised and updated version of American Congregations at the Beginning of the 21st Century, written by Mark Chaves, Shawna Anderson, and Jason Byassee after the 2006 NCS.
Download the survey here: National Congregations Study (NCSIII) .