New Interfaith Research Reveals Surprising Data
David Barrett, Director of Public and Institutional Affairs
77 Sherman Street
Hartford CT 06105
NEW YORK, March 13, 2001---The typical American has a faulty picture of the nation's churches, synagogues and mosques, a prominent sociologist said here today.
"When we see President Bush go to church it is to a Texas-size United Methodist Church," Professor David A. Roozen explained. "And newspaper pictures show Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Eagan in the vast St. Patrick's Cathedral where he is flanked by a group of other priests."
The reality, according to Roozen, is demonstrated by a new study of religion in the United States today. "Half of all congregations have fewer than 100 regularly participating adults. And fully 52 percent are located in small towns and open country," he said.
He cited the most extensive and inclusive research survey ever conducted of American congregations, called Faith Communities Today or FACT.
Another scholar, Professor Carl S. Dudley, reported that among congregations enjoying financial health, a whopping 71 percent see themselves as "moral beacons" in their communities. "Personal morality is an important factor for healthy congregations," he says, citing the example that "69 percent of such congregations emphasize the importance of abstinence from premarital sex."
Dudley and Roozen, who co-directed the FACT study with major support from the Lilly Endowment and 41 faith groups, are faculty at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary. More than 100 other researchers, teachers and communicators from a wide spectrum of religious groups helped design and conduct the survey and have already developed follow-up plans.
Dudley told a news conference at the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral here today that the study reveals how faith-based programs of human services provide a national, personal network that reaches into nearly every community in America. Day care and health clinics, for example, already have government connections or meet government standards.
More than two out of three congregations report sponsoring or supporting a thrift shop, for example, and more than one of three are involved in tutoring. Their responses suggest that more than 200,000 congregations sponsor thrift shops and 120,000 help tutor children and youth nationwide. "Even if we modify the projections on the assumption that a third of the congregations work with other groups providing shared services, the religious contribution to community welfare is far greater than other estimates suggest," Dudley explained.
"The FACT study shows that these programs often are located in remote or impoverished communities where other services are absent or would be more expensive than recipients can afford," he said. The Bush Administration currently is encouraging these so-called "charitable choice" efforts, promising more federal assistance to "faith-based programs."
"Our data shows that nearly all faith groups-from liberal and evangelical Protestants to Catholics, Orthodox and such world religions as Jews, Muslims and Baha'i's-support these outreach ministries," he said, acknowledging that the historically Black protestant groups "are slightly more active than the others."
Roozen called attention to charts in the 68-page FACT Report on Religion in the U.S. Today that show how "clarity of mission and purpose" and "strictness of member expectations" contribute to membership growth. FACT's research, based on responses from 14,301 congregations located in every state, show that half of these congregations report membership growth. The findings also show that social ministries and working for social justice have contributed to growth.
Other topics covered by the massive study include public worship, spiritual growth, and how congregations are managed and led.
Faith Communities Today is thought to be the first major research on congregational life that also includes wide-ranging efforts to help local religious groups use the data to strengthen their own programs and ministries. One innovative approach, an on-line interactive workbook, was also made available today to churches, synagogues and mosques across the nation. Three years in the making, that workbook is known as "Interact with Fact" and may be accessed on the Faith Communities Today website at http://FACT.hartsem.edu
Copies of the Report on Religion in the United States Today are available from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105. Call 860-509-9543 or write to FACT@hartsem.edu for copies.
©Copyright 2001, Hartford Seminary