Sep 15, 2014

Changes in American congregations

Living Word
Photo: Daniel Silliman
American churches are less traditional, less formal than they were in the 1990s.

A new paper to be published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion shows some significant changes are happening in American congregations.

Sociologists Mark Chaves, of Duke University, and Shawna L. Anderson, of the University of Chicago, have identified five trends taking place in America's churches, as well as its mosques, synagogues and temples: American congregations are more ethnically diverse, increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians, more informal and Charismatic in worship, less tied to denominations, and generally declining in size while, at the same time, more people go to fewer, bigger churches.

The paper reports on significant findings from the third phase of the National Congregations Study, comparing a 2012 survey with surveys from 2006-7 and 1998. This makes possible a better picture of turn-of-the-century developments in the life of congregations.

Some of the results, showing these trends:
  • 69% of predominantly white churches have at least some black members.
  • 11% of church-goers go to all white churches, about half the number that did so in 1998.
  • 7.7% of worshipers attend predominantly hispanic congregations, up from 1.4% in 1998.
  • 48% of religious leaders said gays and lesbians can be full-fledged members of their congregation, up from 37.4% in 1998.
  • 26.4% of religious leaders said gays and lesbians could hold leadership positions in their congregation, up from 17.7% in 1998. 
  • 65% of worshipers attend congregations where there is applause, up from 54.6% in 1998.
  • 59% of worshipers attend congregations where hands are raised in prayer, up from 48% in 1998. 
  • 34% of worshipers attend congregations where drums are played, up from 19.8% in 1998.
  • The median number of regular participants at a house of worship is 70.
  • The median number of regular participants at an average person's church is 301.
  • 50% decline in giving to denominations by denominationally affiliated churches since 1998.
  • 24% of congregations are not connected to a denomination. 
The full results of the extensive survey of more than 800 possible questions is available online at the Association of Religious Data Archives.