logo for US Congregations

U.S. Congregations:
Research, Resources, and Results
Congregational Life Survey
Resources for Congregations
Community Profiles

U.S. Congregational Life Survey -- Project Timeline


In November 1998 the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded a major grant to fund a national and international study of congregations.


During 1999, leaders in denominations and other religious organizations were contacted to gain their support and involvement in the project. We worked with our international partners to refine the survey and to pilot test both the survey and the printouts in a wide range of congregations. A supplemental grant was also awarded by the Louisville Institute to support the project.


Congregations were selected and invited to participate during 2000. This included both congregations in the random sample and those sampled by participating denominations. Pilot testing of the survey and reports continued as we worked to finalize these materials near the end of the year.

During 2000, Dr. Jackson Carroll, Director of the Pulpit & Pew Project, Duke University, became a major collaborator for a study of key leaders in each participating congregation. This study is also funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.


  • January: Surveys were finalized and formatted so that automated scanning equipment will be able to quickly process all returned forms.
  • February: All surveys were delivered for printing. A total of 850,000 surveys were printed for distribution to congregations across the U.S.
  • March: Surveys and other materials were custom-packaged for each participating congregation. The package each congregation received included:
    • An overview of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey for congregations, including instructions for returning completed surveys
    • Instructions for giving the survey during worship
    • Enough survey forms so that all worshipers 15 years and up in all worship services could participate
    • Pens for use in completing the survey
    • A Congregational Profile for use in collecting factual information about the congregation's facilities, worship services, staff, and programs
    • Some congregations also received a Leader Survey to be completed by the senior minister, pastor, priest, or rabbi or other key congregational leader (others received this survey in a later mailing or were contacted by phone to answer these questions)
    • FedEx pre-paid return labels for returning packages.
  • April 12: On April 12, 2001 all packages were picked up in Louisville, Kentucy and shipped by FedEx to participating congregations.
  • April 29, 2001: Worshipers in participating congregations around the world completed the worship service questionnaire during survey week: April 29, 2001.
  • May: Starting on Wednesday, May 2, 2001, FedEx picked up boxes of completed surveys from participating congregations. Our staff spent most of May opening boxes, checking in responses, and packaging surveys to be sent to our scanning firm. We have completed surveys from over 2,000 congregations!
  • June through December: We hope you enjoyed a relaxing summer and fall. It was a very busy time for us:
    • Returned attender surveys were scanned.
    • Leader surveys and Congregational Profiles were prepared for traditional data entry and our data entry firm worked long and hard on that huge stack of surveys.
    • By the fall, all of our datafiles were completed, and we began combining files for each congregation, tabulating results, and seeing what we have learned.
    • We also completed writing a book, A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations, that was published in April 2002 by Westminster John Knox Press. The Field Guide to Congregations summarizes the national survey results. Each participating congregation receives one copy of the book for free.
    • We worked with programmers to design and set-up a system to produce customized, 8-page, color reports for each participating congregation showing their results. After pilot-testing the reports with a number of congregations, we made final changes to incorporate their suggestions.
    • We produced and pilot-tested a short, 23-minute video that each congregation also receives. The video will help congregations understand and use their results.


  • Spring
    • Reports and videos were sent to all 2,000 congregations that took the survey in April 2001. We started printing, packaging, and mailing reports in February, and completed this process by the end of April. Book Image
    • A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations: Who's Going Where and Why was published by Westminster John Knox Press in April 2002. It summarizes the study findings. When we received our copies from the publisher, we mailed each participating congregation a copy of the book, along with a poster showing 12 key findings from the project. This mailing was completed in May 2002.
    • We've also been working on programming for additional reports that we're making available to congregations. These show the congregation's responses in comparison, not to the national average, but to a different comparison group. One type of comparison is to other congregations within major denominations (e.g., Catholic, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Church of the Nazarene). With comparion reports like these, a Methodist congregation can see how their worshipers' responses compare to those of worshipers in other Methodist congregations. The other type of comparison is to congregations of similar size. A small congregation could compare its responses to those of other small congregations; a medium-sized congregation, to other medium-sized congregations; and a large congregation to other large congregations.
    • Throughout the Winter and Spring of 2002, we've been making presentations and conducting workshops to help congregations understand and use their printouts. Some of these will be part of conferences and other events offered around the country and some will be stand-alone events for those interested in results of this project. Scheduled presentations and workshops can be found in the section on Reporting the Results.
  • Summer and Fall
    • Over the summer we'll be conducting additional analyses and reporting the results. For example, we'll look at large and small congregations and see how they compare. We'll also compare congregations and worshipers across faith groups so we can identify differences between, for example, Evangelical congregations and mainline congregations.
    • We'll also begin working with other congregations that are interested in taking the survey and learning how they compare to the national average. Can My Congregation Take Part? will help you learn how your congregation can be part of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.
    • Finally, we use our additional analyses to begin designing the second report that each participating congregation will receive. The second report will give you additional information to help your congregation better understand your survey results.

  • Winter and Summer. We will be working with programmers to design the second set of congregational reports, and completing the second book that will illuminate our continuing work on the survey results. Beyond the Ordinary is scheduled for release in January 2004.
  • Fall. Second reports will be printed and mailed to congregations in the Fall of 2003. The first reports were mailed in late October, and we are continuing the production of personalized 10-page Strengths Reports for each congregation. Your package will include a video to help understand and use your Strengths Report and a Leader Guide, written by Herb Miller.

  • Winter. Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations will be released by Westminster John Knox Press in January of 2004. Each participating congregation will receive a copy of the book at that time.

Go to: U.S. Congregations Home Page

Last modified October 29, 2003 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager