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Myths About Worshipers and Congregations:
Results from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey
Book Image:  A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations

  • Myth #1: People under 30 do not participate in religious activities.

    Given the large gap between the average age of worshipers and the average age in the U.S. population, it is easy to conclude that religious activities only attract older adults. However, many congregations are filled with worshipers under 30. What are these congregations offering that younger adults find meaningful? Learn more

  • Myth #2: All of today's worshipers prefer traditional hymns.

    Musical preferences are related to age. While two out of three worshipers 40 years of age and older prefer traditional hymns, less than half of those under 40 prefer traditional hymns. And our findings say nothing about the musical preferences of people who are not currently attending worship services. What changes could be made to offer music that authentically speaks to the traditions, beliefs, and the lives of current worshipers, yet also speaks to those in the community whom congregations want to see in their worship services? Learn more

  • Myth #3: "Nothing ever changes around here" is an accurate statement about parish or congregational life.

    One in three worshipers has been attending services at their current congregation for five years or less. This finding indicates high levels of turnover in an average congregation. Parishes and congregations are made up of the people who participate. With the inflow of new people comes the potential of new ideas and new energy. How can congregations readily involve new people as partners in their ministry? Learn more

  • Myth #4: Congregations grow by attracting new people who are not attending religious services anywhere.

    The largest percentage of new people who joined a congregation in the last five years transferred from another congregation of the same faith tradition (57%). Only 7% joined a congregation or parish for the first time. Those returning after not attending anywhere for some time were also a small percentage of all new people (18%). The remaining 18% of worshipers switched from a congregation of a different faith tradition. What new strategies might be required to attract people without a history of involvement in a faith community to worship services and congregational activities? Learn more

  • Myth #5: Congregations have to choose between taking care of their members and serving the community.

    This is a false choice for congregations. Some parishes and congregations feel they must take care of themselves first because they operate out of a sense of scarcity rather than abundance. However, worshipers and congregations report many ways of relating to each other and those in their community that require little or no funding. How can congregations and parishes "make sacred" the caring voluntary acts of people of faith?

  • Myth #6: Congregations have difficulty adapting to the changing world around them because the majority of worshipers are not open to change.

    Worshipers express ample willingness to try new things (61%), and many believe their parish or congregation is already considering or implementing new directions (51%). What obstacles exist for congregations seeking to be bold in their mission? Learn more

  • Myth #7: A typical worship is over 65 years of age and retired.

    The typical worship is female, 50 years old, employed, well educated, and married. Learn more

  • Myth #8: Because worshipers are highly involved in their congregation, they spend little time being involved in their community.

    Almost half of worshipers (45%) are involved in community service, social service, or advocacy groups. Some worshipers are involved in these kinds of activities through the congregation (19%) but an even larger number (31%) are involved in these types of groups outside the congregation. 72% of worshipers voted in the last presidential election, and more than a third made a financial contribution to a charitable organization other than their congregation. Learn more

  • Myth #9: Worshipers who regularly attend are almost always members of the congregation.

    One in ten worshipers who regularly attend are not members of the congregation. Some experts believe this is a growing trend in America's congregations. Two out of 100 people sitting in America's worship services are attending that congregation for the first time. Learn more

  • Myth #10: Most worshipers attend services in small congregations.

    While most congregations are small, most worshipers attend large congregations. A wide gap exists between where the largest numbers of people worship and the size of the typical congregation. These statistics summarize this gap: 10% of the U.S. congregations draw 50% of all worshipers each week. Another 40% of congregations have 39% of worshipers attending services each week. The remaining 50% of all congregations have only 11% of the total number of worshipers in any given week. [Note: The average Catholic parish has 375 worshipers each week attending Mass while congregations of other denominations and faith traditions average only 84 in worship each week.] Learn more

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Learn More! A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations: Who's Going Where and Why Now Available!

Book Image:  A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations "This book presents the first comprehensive portrait of congregational life in the United States in the new century and is based on the results of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey of more than 2,000 congregations and over 300,000 worshipers from across many denominations. The Field Guide seeks to answer questions like, “What are the characteristics of satisfying worship?E“How involved are worshipers in their communities?Eand “How can congregations both recruit new members and retain existing members?EIt provides a portrait of congregational life today in four dimensions: spirituality and faith, activities in the congregation, community involvement, and worshipersEvision for the congregation’s future."

Order online now from the publisher, Westminster John Knox Press.



Also Available Now: A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations: Poster

The Field Guide Poster provides a snapshot of key findings from the study. The four-color, 11x17 poster includes 12 graphs showing the age and gender profile of worshipers, their experiences during worship and involvement in congregational activities, their time spent in private devotions, and more. Available from U.S. Congregations for $5. (Call 1-888-728-7228 ext. 2040 to order.)


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Last modified January 10, 2005 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager