More than 10 percent of American congregations
occupy buildings not originally designed as houses of worship.
There are many houses of worship in the country. Most were built to be houses of worship. Others were re-made for the purpose.
According to the National Congregations Study, more than 10 percent of American congregations meet in these re-purposed places. This includes 11 percent of African-American churches and nearly 13 percent of white evangelical churches.
This is not a lot, but enough to note. And these churches outside of churches are often noted. They're colorful and attract attention. Some capture the imagination. Others cause controversy. They are a curious and, in some ways, significant feature of the American religious landscape -- the literal landscape, as well as figurative -- showing something important about the shape of the religiousness and the diversity of America.
These churches outside of churches are an example of how, in America, religiousness is connected to diversity, and religious diversity is connected to the country's intense religiousness.
Of the 1,332 congregations surveyed in the third phase of the study in 2012, 39 were meeting in store front churches. This is about 3 percent.
Notably, the percentage of store front churches has increased dramatically since the late 1990s, when the survey found only 1 percent of congregations were meeting in spaces designed for commercial purposes.
There are also a lot of religious congregations meeting in public schools, renting the space from the school districts and re-purposing them for weekend worship services. Of the 1,332 congregations in the recent study, 12 were meeting in schools. This is 1.8 percent -- a steep decline from the 1998 survey, which found 5 percent of congregations meeting in schools.
The National Congregation Study shows that the number of store front churches has increased from 15 years ago, while the number of congregations meeting in schools has declined.