Bahai News - Claim of 'Post-Denominational Era' Defied
Claim of 'Post-Denominational Era' Defied
Interfaith Survey Finds That 62% of U.S. Congregations Maintain Strong
Ties to Religious Groups
By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2001; Page A03
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. congregations maintain strong ties to their
religious denominations, debunking the widely held belief that
affiliation with major religious groups has declined, according to the
largest study ever of congregational behavior, which was released
Such identification, the researchers said, defies the claim of
many sociologists that American faith groups have entered a
"post-denominational era" in which personal spirituality and needs have
preempted loyalty to a single religious heritage.
"The [overall] vitality of these congregations is pretty
stunning," said Carl S. Dudley, who with project co-director David A.
Roozen determined that 62 percent of all congregations have strong
The interfaith survey, "Faith Communities in the United States
Today," involved 14,301 congregations in 41 denominations or faith
groups. It was conducted by researchers at Hartford Seminary in
Connecticut and released yesterday at Holy Trinity Cathedral Center in
The survey confirms that the growth of less hierarchical, more
charismatic congregations and smaller U.S. faiths such as Islam and the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is "rapidly putting a new
face on American religion" and diminishing the dominance of traditional
churches, Dudley said.
It also concluded that religious history is especially important
to ethnic groups, with 64 percent of Latino congregations and half of
black congregations responding that their churches are a primary means
of preserving cultural heritage. Fewer than one-third of white
congregations emphasize religious history in the same way.
The 68-page report verifies the rapid growth of evangelical
Protestant congregations and the declining membership of Episcopalians,
Lutherans, Methodists and other mainline Protestant groups.
But Dudley and Roozen, of the Seminary's Hartford Institute for
Religion Research, said religious "trend trackers" have not adequately
noted the corresponding slowdown in new church development among Roman
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox populations, and the surge in new
congregations of Baha'is, Muslims, Jews and Mormons in the last 20
Newly organized Catholic parishes at mid-century represented
about 10 percent of all new churches, Dudley said in an interview. That
portion has dropped to 5 percent, while the combined percentage of new
Baha'i, Muslim, Jewish and Mormon congregations has increased from about
3 percent to more than 20 percent, he said.
Evangelical Protestant congregations make up the largest
portion, 58 percent, of new congregations.
The two-year study was designed to help local congregations
develop programs to attract and retain members and provide services to
Findings have been posted on the institute's Web site at
Individual churches, synagogues and mosques can plug in their own
statistics and attitudes for comparison with other congregations and
"There's nothing comparable in the way of benchmark information
on congregations," said James D. Davidson, a sociologist of religion at
Purdue University. "It's very unusual and very much needed."
In an observation that could have a long-range impact on
worship, the study found that many of the healthiest congregations --
measured by membership growth and financial stability -- offer
alternative worship styles that appeal to younger worshipers, with
electric guitars and keyboards rather than pipe organs and pianos.
Such congregations are likely to be evangelical Protestant, with
authority based "in the Holy Spirit" rather than in creeds or reason.
Rock bands and contemporary gospel artists frequently take part in
David Wallace, dean of Presbyterian-affiliated Johnson C. Smith
Theological Seminary in Atlanta, said traditionalists will have to
accept that many potential members, particularly families with children,
"will expect the church to be more sensitive and more concerned about
contemporary expressions of worship."
In African American churches, that means the focus "will be more
on gospel-style music," Wallace said. "Younger people will want to see
rap music as part of the worship experience as well."
Dudley and Roozen pointed to another unexpected trend: a
"dramatic shift" from Southern to Western states in the largest number
of new congregations, because of migration patterns. "Congregational
development in the West surpassed even the South in the last decade,"
Researchers believe the diversity of the participating
congregations has produced survey results that represent "about 90
percent" of an estimated 325,000 houses of worship in the United
Participants included Protestants; Roman Catholics; Eastern
Orthodox; Reform and Conservative Jews; Mormons; Muslims; Unitarian
Universalists; and Baha'is. Denominations that declined to participate
included Jehovah's Witnesses; Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod; Church
of God; Salvation Army; United Pentecostal Church Inc.; and Baptist
Bible Fellowship International.
Among the other findings:
• For reasons that are unclear, the authors said,
congregations led by seminary-taught pastors and rabbis are "far more
likely to report" a lack of clear purpose and to feel threatened by
changes in worship, and they are less inclined to deal openly with
• Half of the congregations in the United States were founded
before 1945. Half of all congregations have fewer than 100 regularly
participating adults, and one-fourth have fewer than 50. One in 10 have
more than 1,000 adult participants.
• Community outreach, including soup kitchens and homeless
shelters, "is far greater than many estimates suggest." Although
suburban churches are less likely to offer such ministries, the "support
for soup kitchens in the new suburban areas seems particularly
• The adage that "Sunday morning is the most segregated hour"
is true, but it is largely because society in general remains
segregated. Worshipers "represent a mirror image of the racial
composition" of the areas where their congregations are located.
• Advertising and promotional campaigns energize current
members but are less effective in attracting new people.
©Copyright 2001, Washington Post
Page last updated/revised 031401
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