About U.S. Congregations

U.S. Congregations is a religious research group staffed by religious researchers and sociologists who are conducting the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. It is housed in the offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Kentucky.


What is the U.S. Congregational Life Survey?

Photo of window and pews

Worshipers are what makes a congregation. And the attitudes, opinions, and perceptions of worshipers are essential to understanding congregations and religious life in the United States. Without focusing on worshipers we cannot identify a congregation's strengths or hope to find avenues for effective congregational change.

As part of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, about 300,000 worshipers in over 2,000 congregations in the United States completed a survey during worship services in April 2001. Worshipers in Australia, England, and New Zealand completed similar surveys. Together, the international effort included about 2 million worshipers and 17,000 congregations across three continents. [Read more]


Participating Denominations

Congregations from many denominations participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in April 2001. They were selected in one of two ways: (1) a random sample of congregations across the U.S., and (2) denominations that agreed to sample their own congregations for participation.

The Random Sample

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 will 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.

Because the individuals who participated in the GSS were guaranteed that their responses would be confidential, we can't tell you who nominated your congregation if you were invited to take part in April 2001. It was someone who worships there. And we're glad you were given the opportunity to take part!

Nominated 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. Here's the complete list of Participating Denominations and Faith Groups.

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 will compare their own results to the national benchmark to affirm their strengths and identify areas where improvements might be made.

Other Denominations That Have Participated

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:


Participating Countries

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey was conducted in cooperation with parallel studies in three other countries:

  • Australia
  • England
  • New Zealand
National Church Life Survey   Australia has experience conducting similar surveys since 1990. The National Church Life Survey has been conducted by NCLS Research — a team including individuals from the Uniting Church Board of Mission (NSW), ANGLICARE (NSW), and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. In 1996, a total of 6,900 congregations from 20 different denominations participated. Almost 325,000 individual attendees completed surveys in worship that year. In addition, through the Catholic Church Life Survey , an additional 281 parishes and 101,000 attendees took part in 1996. In 2001, nearly a half million worshipers from 7,000 churches took part.

Several publications are available that report findings from the National Church Life Surveys [Learn more] :

  • Connections for Life: Core Qualities to Foster in Your Church (2002)
  • Why People Don't Go to Church (2002)
  • Taking Stock: A Profile of Australian Church Attendees (1999)
  • Build My Church: Trends and Possibilities for Australian Churches (1999)
  • Shaping a Future: Characteristics of Vital Congregations (1997)
  • Views from the Pews: Australian Church Attendees Speak Out (1995)
  • Mission Under the Microscope: Keys to Effective and Sustainable Mission (1995)

For further information or to order these resources, contact:

NCLS Research
PO Box A2178, Sydney South NSW 1235
Phone: (02) 8267 4394
Fax: (02) 9267 7316

Churches Information for Mission   In England, the project was coordinated by Churches Information for Mission, an initiative by Christian Churches and Agencies in England to forward mission there. 2001 was the first time England has participated in the survey. About 100,000 worshipers from 10 denominations took part.

For further information, contact:
Phillip Escott
Research Fellow, University Of Manchester
Manchester, UK M139PL

In New Zealand, the project is being coordinated by NCLS Research . 2001 was the second time New Zealand participated in the survey, with 60,000 worshipers in 1,000 parishes taking part.

For further information, contact:
Church Life Survey New Zealand
PO Box 28-843
Remuera, Auckland
Fax +64 9 522 1785


U.S. Congregations is staffed by:

Dr. Cynthia Woolever   Cynthia Woolever
  Deborah Bruce   Deborah Bruce
Project Manager and Resource Designer
Dr. Keith Wulff   Keith Wulff
International Board member
  Ida Smith-Williams   Ida Smith-Williams
Database Manager
Perry Chang   Perry Chang
Congregational Liason

Project Sponsorship

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey is being conducted with support from several sources:

In addition, we are grateful for the assistance and support of the staff of NCLS Research in Australia. Their experience conducting similar projects in that country has been priceless in helping us develop and implement the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

Likewise, collaboration with our colleagues in England and New Zealand has strengthened the project immeasurably.