Bahai News - Painting a Portrait of American Religion
From P R A X I S - a quarterly magazine of
Hartford Seminary. June 1998, Vol. X No. 1
Painting a Portrait of American Religion Congregational
Studies as a Vehicle for Interfaith Cooperation
- Imagine, if you will, a large
hotel conference table encircled by high ranking representatives of a
more broadly interfaith coalition of religious bodies than you have ever
experienced before: Assemblies of God, Baha'i, Muslim, Southern Baptist,
Jewish, Mormon, the nine major historic black denominations, Christian
Orthodox, independent mega churches, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, Unitarian
Universalist, Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, Church of Christ, Church of the
Nazarene and 15 or so old line Protestant denominations.
- And imagine that the conference room walls are lined with newsprint,
each piece the attempt of a particular religious body to map out its
image of a faithful and effective congregation.
- And imagine the conversation as participants both affirm and puzzle
over their commonality and their difference.
- And imagine that you are Hartford Seminary's Carl Dudley and David
Roozen trying to keep the diverse group civilly engaged and constructively
Such are the reality, the wonder and the challenge of the Cooperative
Congregational Studies Project (CCSP) a merging of congregational studies
and interfaith for cooperation that few institutions other than Hartford
Seminary ever would have imagined.
This April, after two years of planning meetings large and small
versions of that described above and literally hundreds of phone calls,
letters, memos, faxes and e mail messages, the Seminary's Center for
Social and Research Religious Research received a $760,000 grant from
the Lilly Endowment, to be matched by more than $800,000 in in kind
contributions from participating denominations and religious groups.
According to Dudley and Roozen, the Center's co directors, the
project grant will coordinate this interfaith coalition's realization
of two primary goals: To complete a genuinely cooperative interfaith
research project unparalleled in the breadth of participating religious
groups and the number of participating congregations specifically, a
cooperative national survey of congregations in the year 2000; and To
develop and implement plans for utilizing the survey research results in
ways that will be appropriate within each participating group to
strengthen congregations and the structures that support them.
The estimated 350,000 congregations in the United States represent
a unique set of voluntary organizations that have had and continue to
have a pervasive influence on their members and the life of the
communities of which they are a part. Despite available research
technology and an increasing interest in congregational life, existing
studies of congregations are extremely limited in their "denominational"
orientation and substantive focus.
To fill in the gaps of information and appreciation, the widely
inclusive, national, multi faith study of congregations envisioned by
the CCSP will provide the first comprehensive portrait of congregations
in the United States. Additionally, for several participating groups the
effort will provide the first ever statistical profile of their
congregations and their first, disciplined use of congregational studies.
In uniquely American voluntary style, the CCSP has assembled an interfaith
coalition of research and educational leaders who are committed to
developing common procedures, shared data gathering and analysis, and
cooperative utilization of information.
Although individually limited in experience and resources, the
cooperative approach permits the broadening of the base of ownership,
expertise and financial support, thus reducing the overhead costs while
expanding exponentially both the impact and the scope of the interfaith
The research component of the CCSP, coordinated by Roozen, will
consist of a key informant, national survey of congregations. Each
participating denomination or group will survey a random sample of
approximately 500 of its own congregations, resulting in a total
aggregated database of between 15,000 and 20,000 congregations. The
surveys will use a commonly developed core set of closed ended questions,
supplemented by additional questions at a denomination or group's
The core questionnaire focuses on seven aspects of congregational
life. Using the common language developed by participants, these include:
- The spiritual, organizational and statistical vitality of
- The variety and style of worship the foundational act of religious
- The variety of congregational activities and programs which nurture
faith and provide opportunities for the expression of faith;
- Levels of participation and the characteristics of participants;
- Strategies congregations use to reach new members and raise financial
- Characteristics of clergy and lay leadership;
- How congregations relate to other congregations, to denominational
structures and to other institutions in their communities such as schools,
homes and hospitals; and
- The widely different ways that congregations support and strengthen
the social and material well being of their communities.
To most effectively utilize the survey results, the CCSP is developing
an integrated dissemination strategy, coordinated by Dudley, to reach
three broad target groups:
1. the congregational and denominational leaders of participating
2. the news media and the general public it serves; and
3. academic and research communities interested in religious research.
To reach the first and primary target denomination/group will identify
a key teacher who will develop and implement a plan, in consultation with
key teachers from other participating groups, to help congregations and
their supporting religious structures to use the research in way
appropriate to that religious group.
To reach the other target audiences, Dudley and Roozen will personally
write or supervise the preparation of a variety of project related
Currently, seven kinds of "publications" are envisioned:
- A Project Report a user friendly, 50 page report on congregations
as religious institutions for the secular and religious press, and for
wide distribution throughout the public and participating groups;
- Workbooks on Congregational Issues: teaching, consulting and self
study materials, grounded in the survey data, for use in congregations
and among the leaders of participating denominations/groups to better
understand and strengthen particular areas of congregational life, such
as fund raising, leadership development, member recruitment, volunteer
training, and ministry development.
- Press releases in 2001 2002: A two year, monthly series of press
releases, coordinated with the release of U.S. census data and with the
holy days and special events of the various CCSP faith traditions,
designed to maintain public consciousness following the initial
information release in the fall of 2000.
- Articles for academic meetings and journals in a variety of
disciplines, prepared as a conscious strategy to show the relevance of
congregational research in such areas as sociology of religion, social
work, organizational theory, nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, urban
or rural studies, theology, history of religious institutions, "church"
administration/leadership, theological education, etc.
- A basic book for popular and academic audiences on the Characteristics
of Religious Congregations in the U.S.
- A more applied book on U.S. Congregational Programs and Practices,
written primarily for congregations and religious leaders, and geared to
the above noted workbooks on congregational issues.
- Electronic access to all published information, including this project
web site locating the congregational survey data set in a major and
publicly accessible data archive.
©Copyright 1998, Hartford Seminary
Page last updated/revised 090100
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