Insight into Religion and Religious Congregations in America

​Churches, synagogues and other places of worship provide a social and spiritual anchor in the communities that they serve, and they are also economic entities with staff to pay, and debts, income, and properties to manage. NORC has three projects that will engage worship leaders in providing information about their staff, activities, resources, and place in the community.

Since 1998, when NORC conducted the first wave of data collection for the National Congregations Study (NCS), NORC has examined places of worship from a variety of angles, including the professional and economic. NORC will begin the fourth wave of data collection for the NCS in 2018. The study, which is funded primarily by the Lilly Endowment and draws additional support from the John Templeton Foundation and the Pew Research Center, has gathered data on a range of congregational characteristics, including worship activities, finances, staff configurations and connections with other religious and community groups. The latest wave will also explore such topics as congregations' social media use, leadership challenges, and wellness activities.

As part of the fourth wave of the NCS, NORC is conducting the National Survey of Religious Leaders (NSRL), the first ever nationally representative survey of religious leaders from across the religious spectrum that includes part-time, assistant, and specialist ministerial staff in addition to full-time ministerial staff and head clergy. The subjects the NSRL will explore include attitudes and practices related to mental health and the relationship between science and religion, as well as features of the religious leaders’ jobs and careers, including their community and political involvement and their engagement with the larger religious world.

In a separate but related study, NORC is conducting the National Study of Congregations' Economic Practices (NSCEP), which will help scholars, clergy, and lay leaders better understand how American congregations receive, manage, and spend resources and their theological, cultural, and practical orientations toward money. Both the NCS-IV and NSRL use the General Social Survey as the source for their sample. The NSCEP uses NORC's nationally representative panel, AmeriSpeak, to generate the sample of congregations across all faiths.

The projects will all be completed by early 2019. Previous publications of NCS data can be found in American Religion: Contemporary Trends (2011) and Congregations in America (2004) by Mark Chaves. Work related to the NSCEP include the publication A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy authored by Richard Wood & Brad Fulton.

To learn more about the NCS, watch this helpful explanatory video featuring Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religious Studies, and Divinity at Duke University and one of the principal investigators for the study.

National Congregations Study (NCS) Video FAQ

Please click the links below to view short video answers for each question.

NCS Based Books

American Religion: Contemporary Trendsextlink
(Chaves 2011)

Congregations in Americaextlink
(Chaves 2004)

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