Myths About Worshipers and Congregations:|
Results from the U.S.
Congregational Life Survey
- Myth #1: People under 30 do not participate in
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
with worshipers under 30. What are these congregations offering that younger adults find
meaningful? Learn more
- Myth #2: All of today's worshipers prefer
Musical preferences are related to age. While two out of three worshipers 40 years of age and
traditional hymns, less than half of those under 40 prefer traditional hymns. And our findings say
about the musical preferences of people who are not currently attending worship services. What
could be made to offer music that authentically speaks to the traditions, beliefs, and the lives of
worshipers, yet also speaks to those in the community whom congregations want to see in their
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
This finding indicates high levels of turnover in an average congregation. Parishes and
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
who are not attending religious services anywhere.
The largest percentage of new people who joined a congregation in the last five years transferred
another congregation of the same faith tradition (57%). Only 7% joined a congregation or parish
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
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
care of their members and serving the community.
This is a false choice for congregations. Some parishes and congregations feel they must take
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
require little or no funding. How can congregations and parishes "make sacred" the caring
of people of faith?
- Myth #6: Congregations have difficulty adapting
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
congregations seeking to be bold in their mission? Learn more
- Myth #7: A typical worship is over 65 years of age
The typical worship is female, 50 years old, employed, well educated, and married. Learn more
- Myth #8: Because worshipers are highly involved
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
Some worshipers are involved in these kinds of activities through the congregation (19%) but an
larger number (31%) are involved in these types of groups outside the congregation. 72% of
voted in the last presidential election, and more than a third made a financial contribution to a
organization other than their congregation. Learn more
- Myth #9: Worshipers who regularly attend are
always members of the congregation.
One in ten worshipers who regularly attend are not members of the congregation. Some
believe this is a growing trend in America's congregations. Two out of 100 people sitting in
worship services are attending that congregation for the first time. Learn more
- Myth #10: Most worshipers attend services in small
While most congregations are small, most worshipers attend large congregations. A wide gap
between where the largest numbers of people worship and the size of the typical congregation.
statistics summarize this gap: 10% of the U.S. congregations draw 50% of all worshipers each
Another 40% of congregations have 39% of worshipers attending services each week. The
of all congregations have only 11% of the total number of worshipers in any given week. [Note:
average Catholic parish has 375 worshipers each week attending Mass while congregations of
denominations and faith traditions average only 84 in worship each week.] Learn more
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Go to Myths and Facts about Evangelism and Church Growth
Learn More! A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations: Who's Going Where and Why Now Available!
"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?EHow
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 worshipersEvision
for the congregations 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.)