Leadership that Fits Your Church

book-leadership“From the publisher: Matching the right pastor with the right congregation is one of the most important — and daunting — decisions either party can make. While there are many pastors and congregations that merely fit OK, there are other matches that fit perfectly.

Leadership that Fits Your Church explores how to find what really works for pastors and congregations. Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, known for their work with congregational life research, lead you on an enlightening adventure in finding that perfect match. Follow the pastoral transition experiences of three churches: a mainline, Protestant congregation; a conservative church; and a Catholic parish. Each example starts with basic descriptions of pastors and church types, then digs into illustrations of deeper dynamics that yield a good match between congregation and pastoral leadership.

Download the FREE leader guide

Leader Guide for Leadership That Fits Your Church by J. Brent Bill will help your congregation unpack the wealth of learning contained in this latest book and determine how to best use that information to enhance your effectiveness as a church. While the guide is organized into six, ninety-minute sessions, it can also be adapted for use at a leadership retreat. It is a good resource for pastoral search or clergy relations committees.”

Places of Promise: Finding Strength in Your Congregation’s Location

book-promiseTraditionally we think about context as location.  In this view:

  • Community context determines who we were, what we are, and what our future holds.
  • Congregations are passive—location has the upper hand!
  • Leaders use contractual language about location—our location is a piece of real estate with a specific land value, appraised as a retail outlet might appraise a location.  It’s a commodity.

Instead—Think about context as place.  In this view:

  • Location is God’s gift to us.  The congregation is in this place at this time for a reason—God’s reason.
  • Congregations can achieve strength and effectiveness in their present location.
  • Leaders use birthright language about location—God claimed this place for us; the place claims us as people of faith.  We have inherited this place from those who first worshiped here, and we have an obligation to use it wisely and care for it.

Download the FREE Leader Guide

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did our congregation come to be in this location? What is our birth story?  Why has God planted us here?
  2. What significant things have happened in this location that continue to shape our ministry?
  3. What do we believe are the strengths of our location?
  4. How would we describe our theology of inheritance using birthright language?
  5. What steps can we take to build on the strengths of our location?
  6. Who is in our community that we can reach out to?

Other Resources

Faith Communities Today (FACT)

Hartford Institute for Religion Research

National Congregations Study

The Association of Religion Data Archives

Encyclopedia of Religion and Society

Insights into Religion

Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Center for Congregations

Faith & Leadership

Pulpit & Pew Project

U.S. Religion Census

The Louisville Institute

The Lilly Endowment

Church of the Nazarene Research Center

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Research Services

Resources for American Christianity

Beyond The Ordinary Blog

Publications

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey continues to be a valuable resource for researchers. If you know of a book or study not featured here, or your work using the US CLS was recently published, please contact us with a copy or citation of the work.

Books

Leadership That Fits Your Church: What Kind of Pastor for What Kind of Congregation, 2012, Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press.

A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations, Second Edition, 2010, Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Places of Promise: Finding Strength in Your Congregation’s Location, 2008, Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations, 2004, Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations, 2002, Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Louisville, KY: Westminster Jon Knox Press.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Structural and Cultural Sources of Community in American Congregations, 2014 Samuel, Stroope and Joseph O. Baker, Social Science Research (45), 1-17.

Satisfaction of Spiritual Needs and Self-Rated Health among Churchgoers, 2014, Neal Krause, R. David Hayward, Deborah Bruce, and Cynthia Woolever, Archive for the Psychology of Religion, (36), 1-20.

Sources of Social Support: Examining Congregational Involvement, Private Devotional Activities, and Congregational Context, 2013, Jennifer McClure, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (52:4), 698-712.

Race, Belonging, and Participation in Religious Congregations, 2013, Brandon Martinez and Kevin Dougherty, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (52:4), 713-732.

Church Involvement, Spiritual Growth, Meaning in Life, and Health, 2013, Neal Krause, R. David Hayward, Deborah Bruce, and Cynthia Woolever, Archive for the Psychology of Religion, (35), 169-191.

Understanding a Cultural Identity: The Confluence of Education, Politics, and Religion within the American Concept of Biblical Literalism, 2013, Aaron Franzen and Jenna Griebel, Sociology of Religion, (74:4), 521-543.

How Religious Communities Affect Political Participation Among Latinos, 2012, Paul Djupe and Jacob Neiheisel, Social Science Quarterly (93), 333-355.

The Intergenerational Transmission of Churchgoing in England and Australia, 2012, David Voas and Ingrid Storm, Review of Religious Research, (53:4), 377-395.

Social Class and Finding a Congregation: How Attendees are Introduced to Their Congregations, 2012, Philip Schwadel, Review of Religious Research, (54:4), 543-554.

Race, Class, Congregational Embeddedness, and Civic and Political Participation, 2012, Philip Schwadel, in L.A. Keister, J. Mccarthy, R. Finke (ed.) Religion, Work and Inequality (Research in the Sociology of Work, (23), 253-279.

How Culture Shapes Community: Bible Belief, Theological Unity, and a Sense of Belonging in Religious Congregations, 2011, Samuel Stroope, The Sociological Quarterly, (52:4), 568–592.

Assessing the Validity of Key Informant Reports about Congregations’ Social Composition, 2011, Steven M. Frenk, Shawna L. Anderson, Mark Chaves, and Nancy Martin, Sociology of Religion, (72:1), 78-90.

A Place to Belong: Small Group Involvement in Religious Congregations, 2011, Kevin D. Dougherty and Andrew L. Whitehead, Sociology of Religion, (72:1), 91-111.

Education and Religion: Individual, Congregational, and Cross-Level Interaction Effects on Biblical Literalism, 2011, Samuel Stroope, Social Science Research, (40:6): 1478-1493.

Assessing Key Informant Methodology in Congregational Research, 2010, Philip Schwadel and Kevin D. Dougherty, Review of Religious Research, (51:4), 366-379.

Acceptance of Other Religions in the United States: An HLM Analysis of Variability across Congregations, 2010, Buster G. Smith, Social Compass, (57:1), 127-142.

Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations, 2010, Christopher P. Scheitle1, Kevin D. Dougherty, Sociological Inquiry, (80:3), 405-423.

Testing the Strictness Thesis and Competing Theories of Congregational Growth, 2010, Jeremy N. Thomas and Daniel V.A. Olson, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (49:4), 619-639.

Financial Commitment Within Federations of Small Groups: The Effect of Cell-Based Congregational Structure on Individual Giving, 2010, Andrew L. Whitehead, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (49:4), 640-656.

Neighbors in the Pews: Social Status Diversity in Religious Congregations, 2009, Philip Schwadel, Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, (5:2).

It Takes Two: The Interplay of Individual and Group Theology on Social Embeddedness, 2009, Christopher P. Scheitle and Amy Adamczyk, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (48:1), 16-29.

Market Share and Religious Competition: Do Small Market Share Congregations and Their Leaders Try Harder? 2009, Jonathan P. Hill and Daniel V.A. Olson, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (48:4), 629-649.

Social Power and Attitude Strength Over the Life Course, 2009, Asia A. Eaton, Penny S. Visser, Jon A. Krosnick and Sowmya Anand, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, (35:12), 1646-1660.

Congregational Analysis Revisited: Empirical Approaches, 2009, Malan Nel, University of Pretoria, South Africa, HTS Teologlese/Theological Studies, (65:1), 1-13.

The Relationship between Labor Market Structure and Clergy Compensation in Protestant Denominations, 2008, Becky Roselius Haney, Atlantic Economic Journal, (36:1), 65-75.

The Sociology of Religious Organizations, 2008, Christopher P. Scheitle and Kevin D. Dougherty, Sociology Compass, (2:3), 981-999.

Why Do Small Religious Groups Have More Committed Members? 2008, Daniel V.A. Olson, Review of Religious Research, (49:2), 353-378.

Maximizing Congregational Resources: Selection versus Production, 2008, Christopher P. Scheitle and Roger Finke, Social Science Research, (37:3), 815-827.

Class and Congregations: Class and Religious Affiliation at the Congregational Level of Analysis, 2007, Sam Reimer, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (46:4), 583-594.

An International Survey of Congregations and Worshipers: Methodology and Basic Comparisons, 2006, Deborah Bruce, Sam Sterland, Norman Brookes, and Phillip Escott, Journal of Beliefs and Values, (27:1), 3-12.

What Do We Think about Our Future and Does it Matter: Congregational Identity and Vitality, 2006, Cynthia Woolever, Deborah Bruce, Keith Wulff, and Ida Smith-Williams, Journal of Beliefs and Values, (27:1), 53-64.

Fast-Growing Churches: What Distinguishes Them from Others, 2006, Deborah Bruce, Cynthia Woolever, Keith Wulff, and Ida Smith-Williams, Journal of Beliefs and Values, (27:1), 111-126.

The Gender Ratio in the Pews: Consequences for Congregational Vitality, 2006, Cynthia Woolever, Deborah Bruce, Keith Wulff, and Ida Smith-Williams, Journal of Beliefs and Values, (27:1), 25-38.Recent Research on Catholic Parishes: A Research Note, 2006, James D. Davidson, Suzanne C. Fournier, Review of Religious Research, (48:1), 72-81.

Research Note: Beyond the Ordinary and Adventist Congregations, 2006, Roger L. Dudley, Review of Religious Research, (48:1), 50-55.

How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement, 2005, C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, (44:3), 307-322.

Friendship Ties in Church and Depressive Symptoms: Exploring Variations by Age, 2005, Neal Krause and Keith Wulff, Review of Religious Research, (64:4), 325-340.

Religious Doubt and Health: Exploring the Potential Dark Side of Religion, 2004, Neal Krause and Keith Wulff, Sociology of Religion, (65:1), 35-56.

Church-Based Social Ties, A Sense of Belonging in a Congregation and Physical Health, 2004, Neal Krause and Keith Wulff, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, (15:1), 73-93.

U.S. Congregational Life Survey, 2004, Review of Religious Research, (46:2), 206-207.

Downloading The Data

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey is made available for download on the Association of Religion Data Archives (the ARDA). Currently, there are 38 different US CLS datasets. These datasets are from both the 2001 and 2008/2009 waves and consist of leader, congregational profile, and attender surveys.

2001 U.S. Congregational Life Survey datasets

Attender Surveys

Leader Surveys

Congregational Profiles

2008/2009 U.S. Congregational Life datasets

Attender Survey

Leader Surveys

Congregational Profile

Sampling Methodology

Congregations from many denominations participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in Wave 1 (April 2001) and Wave 2 (2008 and 2009). They were selected in one of two ways:

  1. a random sample of congregations across the United States, and
  2. denominations that agreed to sample their own congregations for participation.

The Random Sample

Wave 1.
The National Opinion Research Center (at the University of Chicago) identified a random sample of United States congregations through the General Social Survey (GSS) in the spring and summer of 2000. The GSS is conducted every two years using a random sample of adults chosen to be representative of the U.S. population. Participants are asked questions on a wide range of issues. Individuals who were interviewed as part of the GSS in 2000 were asked if they regularly attend worship services. Those who said “yes” were asked to name the congregation where they usually attend worship. Since the GSS involves a national random sample of individuals, congregations identified by GSS participants comprise a national random sample of congregations. About 1,600 congregations were identified with this strategy and invited to participate in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

Wave 2.
Harris Interactive identified a random sample of congregations through a poll of adults in this country conducted in 2007. Individuals who were interviewed were asked if they attend regularly attend worship services. Those who said “yes” were asked to name the congregation where they usually attend worship. Since the poll involved a national random sample of individuals, congregations identified by these participants comprise a national random sample of congregations. About 1,800 congregations were identified with this strategy and invited to participate in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in 2008 and 2009.

Nominated and participating congregations represent the full spectrum of religious life in the U.S. — from Roman Catholic to Southern Baptist, from Methodist to Assemblies of God, from Muslim to Hindu, from large to small, from rural to urban, and from all racial-ethnic groups in the United States.

Because these congregations represent a random sample of U.S. congregations, we used the survey responses from all who worship in these congregations as the national benchmark or national average. Each congregation that participates can compare their own results to the national benchmark to affirm their strengths and identify areas where improvements might be made.

Denominational Oversamples

Denominations were invited to draw random samples of their congregations. These denominational samples will be large enough so that the results are representative of congregations within each denomination and can be used as denominational benchmarks. This allows congregations within the denomination to compare their results to results for the “typical” congregation in their denomination.

These denominations invited their congregations to participate in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey:

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • United Methodist Church
  • Southern Baptist Convention
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • United Church of Christ
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Episcopal Church
  • Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)

Testimonials

What are people saying about the US CLS?

“I strongly encourage any congregation that is involved in leadership transition, long range planning or simply taking stock of its mission, to participate in the Congregational Life Survey.  Our mission study team, after much deliberation and with some doubts, decided to participate in the CLS.   We recently received the results and discovered a treasure trove of insight into the life of our church family.  Some of the insights confirmed things that we had sensed but could only hold as opinion.  Other results opened our eyes to important factors in our congregation’s health and strength to which we had not given much thought. As the facilitator of our mission study team my conclusion is that the CLS is the single most helpful thing we have done to complete our task.   As the results are being shared within our mission study team and with our elders a real sense of excitement is being felt.  There is no question that we are much better equipped to prepare for the future of our church family.  I would also add that the staff of Research Services have been more than helpful doing everything possible to accommodate the unique needs of our church.”

- David Bjerke, mission study team leader, Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood, Ketchum, Idaho

The following are comments taken from a satisfaction survey of congregations that used the US CLS in the last three years. The survey was fielded in August 2013.

“It carefully measured our strengths and the relationship of those to our community needs.”

“It gave us a good overview of our congregation and helped quantify areas of agreement/disagreement.”

“It gave us an objective snapshot of where and who the congregation is.”

“Getting the data is the best part. It’s extremely useful and the survey is much more thorough and professional than any mission study committee or pastor search committee could create.”

“It helped us focus on our future as a community.”

“It gave people the opportunity to both express themselves and hear what others in the congregation were expressing.”

“It encouraged us to think about where we were as a congregation.”

“It provides a base for ‘strategic’ planning and a benchmark for future measurement of progress.”

“It allows members to contribute to what is done here.”

“We compared our strengths and weaknesses per the survey with our strategic plan and also with a process our diocese uses to assess ourselves. This was the best part of the survey.”

“It helped us identify exactly what we were looking for in a new pastor.”

“It helped us see our strengths and weaknesses and plan ways to address them.”

“We obtained an objective, statistics-based evaluation of our congregation’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than just anecdotal opinions.”

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