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)