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National Congregation Trends: Drums, Diversity, Technology and Aging Clergy
A second snapshot of U.S. religious congregations reveals four trends in American worship: a growing informality in worship practices, a graying of congregations and clergy (on average), churches becoming less white and more ethnically diverse, and an ever-increasing use of technology.
The second National Congregations Study (NCS Wave II), conducted in 2006-07, encompasses information from 1,506 congregations across many religious traditions. Informants participated in a 45-minute interview designed to collect facts and opinions about congregations' social composition, structure, activities and programming. The first NCS survey was conducted in 1998.
"This is the first study that has tracked change over time in a nationally representative sample of congregations," said Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University and lead researcher on the project. "We've never been able to do that before. This research tells us what is changing and what is staying the same."
Chaves said the biggest change in American churches since 1998 is the use of computer technology. His initial analysis of the survey, co-authored with Shawna Anderson, a research associate at Duke and a graduate student at the University of Arizona, will be published online this week in the Winter 2008 edition of the journal Sociology of Religion.
The number of church websites increased from 17 percent of all congregations in 1998 to 44 percent in 2006-07, an average of 10,000 new church websites each year since 1998, Chaves said.
E-mail communication is becoming ubiquitous as well, with 59 percent of all congregations communicating electronically now. In 1998, the number was a mere 21 percent. Also, the use of visual projectors during a worship service is now commonplace in 27 percent of congregations, up from 12 percent in 1998.
The study also reveals a move toward more informality and participation in the practice of worship. More church services now incorporate drums, jumping and shouting or dancing, raising hands in praise, calling out "amen" and applause.
Some of these changes are more pronounced among some groups than among others, but overall the use of drums increased from 20 percent of congregations in 1998 to 34 percent in 2006-07; people now raise their hands in praise in 57 percent of congregations, compared with 45 percent in 1998; and applause occurred in 61 percent in 2006-07, compared with 55 percent in 1998.
According to the NCS Wave II data, the head clergyperson of a church is older than in the previous study -- with an average age of 53 compared to 48 in 1998. Only 39 percent of churches are led by someone under the age of 50 these days, down from 48 percent in 1998. The "graying clergy" phenomenon is happening across denominations, although faster for Catholic and liberal/mainline congregations than others.
The fourth major trend is a marked increase in both the age and ethnic diversity of American congregations. Thirty percent of people in the average congregation are 60 years and older -- up from 25 percent in 1998. In short, church populations -- in step with their clergy -- are aging somewhat faster than society as a whole, Chaves said.
Predominantly white congregations are now more ethnically diverse. Only 14 percent of all churchgoers attend a church that is all white and non-Hispanic, a drop from 20 percent of churchgoers in 1998.
The number of people in congregations with no Latino members has dropped from 43 percent in 1998 to 36 percent in 2006-07. The number attending churches with no Asian members also has decreased -- from 59 percent in 1998 to 50 percent in 2006-07. This shift reflects recent immigration trends, according to Chaves.
"Perhaps the biggest surprise is that some things clearly are changing, even over just an eight-year period, which is not a long time when it comes to religion," Chaves said. "I would not have been surprised if we had observed complete stability over such a short time span. Religious traditions and organizations, after all, are widely considered to be remarkably resistant to change."
Initial data from the survey, including an interactive data analysis tool, is available at the National Congregations Study website, http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/. The complete data set will be available in the summer of 2009 from The Association of Religion Data Archives, http://www.thearda.com/.
The NCS Second Wave was funded by a major grant from the Lilly Endowment, and by additional grants from the National Science Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Louisville Institute. The survey was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center.
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