From P R A X I S - a quarterly magazine of Hartford Seminary. June 1998, Vol. X No. 1
Painting a Portrait of American Religion Congregational Studies as a Vehicle for Interfaith Cooperation
Such are the reality, the wonder and the challenge of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Project (CCSP) a merging of congregational studies and interfaith for cooperation that few institutions other than Hartford Seminary ever would have imagined.
This April, after two years of planning meetings large and small versions of that described above and literally hundreds of phone calls, letters, memos, faxes and e mail messages, the Seminary's Center for Social and Research Religious Research received a $760,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, to be matched by more than $800,000 in in kind contributions from participating denominations and religious groups.
According to Dudley and Roozen, the Center's co directors, the project grant will coordinate this interfaith coalition's realization of two primary goals: To complete a genuinely cooperative interfaith research project unparalleled in the breadth of participating religious groups and the number of participating congregations specifically, a cooperative national survey of congregations in the year 2000; and To develop and implement plans for utilizing the survey research results in ways that will be appropriate within each participating group to strengthen congregations and the structures that support them.
The estimated 350,000 congregations in the United States represent a unique set of voluntary organizations that have had and continue to have a pervasive influence on their members and the life of the communities of which they are a part. Despite available research technology and an increasing interest in congregational life, existing studies of congregations are extremely limited in their "denominational" orientation and substantive focus.
To fill in the gaps of information and appreciation, the widely inclusive, national, multi faith study of congregations envisioned by the CCSP will provide the first comprehensive portrait of congregations in the United States. Additionally, for several participating groups the effort will provide the first ever statistical profile of their congregations and their first, disciplined use of congregational studies. In uniquely American voluntary style, the CCSP has assembled an interfaith coalition of research and educational leaders who are committed to developing common procedures, shared data gathering and analysis, and cooperative utilization of information.
Although individually limited in experience and resources, the cooperative approach permits the broadening of the base of ownership, expertise and financial support, thus reducing the overhead costs while expanding exponentially both the impact and the scope of the interfaith sharing.
The research component of the CCSP, coordinated by Roozen, will consist of a key informant, national survey of congregations. Each participating denomination or group will survey a random sample of approximately 500 of its own congregations, resulting in a total aggregated database of between 15,000 and 20,000 congregations. The surveys will use a commonly developed core set of closed ended questions, supplemented by additional questions at a denomination or group's discretion.
The core questionnaire focuses on seven aspects of congregational life. Using the common language developed by participants, these include:
To most effectively utilize the survey results, the CCSP is developing
an integrated dissemination strategy, coordinated by Dudley, to reach
three broad target groups:
To reach the first and primary target denomination/group will identify a key teacher who will develop and implement a plan, in consultation with key teachers from other participating groups, to help congregations and their supporting religious structures to use the research in way appropriate to that religious group.
To reach the other target audiences, Dudley and Roozen will personally write or supervise the preparation of a variety of project related publications.
Currently, seven kinds of "publications" are envisioned:
©Copyright 1998, Hartford Seminary