2018 National Congregations Study FAQs

What is the 2018 National Congregations Study?

Why are you conducting this survey?

Who is conducting this survey?

What is NORC?

How much time will it take?

Why should I participate?

How will this study help my congregation?

How will I learn about this study's results?

What kind of questions will you ask?

Will my identity and responses remain confidential?

How was our congregation chosen for this study?

Why can't you interview someone else?

Is this the first National Congregations Study?

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What is the 2018 National Congregations Study?

The 2018 National Congregations Study (NCS) is a major survey of a nationally representative sample of approximately 1,200 congregations from all over the United States. It will document the work, programs, and activities of America’s religious congregations. It will gather this information by interviewing one knowledgeable leader from each congregation included in the study. These interviews will occur between June and December, 2018. Top of Page


Why are you conducting this survey?

Religious congregations are a significant part of American society. It is difficult to document, however, just how significant they are, and how they might be changing in the 21st century. The NCS will contribute to knowledge about American congregations by gathering information about a wide range of their characteristics and programs. The information collected will be used by scholars, religious leaders, and students to better understand religious congregations and better meet their changing needs. Top of Page


Who is conducting this survey?

The 2018 National Congregations Study is funded primarily by the Lilly Endowment, with additional support from the John Templeton Foundation, Pew Research Center, Louisville Institute, National Science Foundation, and Duke University. It is being conducted by Mark Chaves at Duke University, in collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago. Top of Page


What is NORC?

Founded in 1941 as the National Opinion Research Center, NORC at the University of Chicago is an independent, non-partisan research organization headquartered in downtown Chicago. NORC collaborates with government agencies, foundations, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to conduct social science research that serves the public good and informs important decisions about our society.

To find out more about NORC at the University of Chicago, you can contact the NCS project director at NORC, Jodie Smylie, toll-free at 866-829-3160, or at Smylie-Jodie@norc.edu. You can also visit NORC’s website at: www.norc.org. Top of Page


How much time will it take?

We will interview a leader in each selected congregation. The interview should take approximately 60 minutes to complete. Top of Page


Why should I participate?

You have an opportunity to help fill gaps in our knowledge about religion in the United States. You are one of a small number of religious leaders who are being asked to tell us about the work, programs, and activities of your congregation. For this study to truly represent the activities of religious congregations in the nation, it is crucial that we interview a leader from each selected congregation. The success of this study depends very much on your cooperation. Top of Page


How will this study help my congregation?

We will send you a report with key results from this study. These results will allow you to compare your own congregation to other congregations. You will be able to see what other congregations like yours are doing when it comes to worship, social ministries, and other activities. You will be able to learn how your congregation compares to others on characteristics like size and staffing. And you will be able to understand better which of the issues and challenges you face also are faced by many other congregations. Religious leaders and people in congregations often find that knowing more about the ways in which their own congregation compares with other congregations enables them to understand better their own experiences, situations, and practices. The context provided by the National Congregations Study helps congregations to better understand and assess where they are and how they are doing as a congregation.

We will send you, free of charge, as many copies of the report as you need if you want to use it at a board, staff, or other leadership meeting, or if you want to use it in an adult education class. Dozens of congregations have used previous NCS reports in this way.

To see in more detail how results from this study can help you to better understand your own congregation’s situation, please explore the results from the first three waves of the National Congregations Study, which took place in 1998, 2006, and 2012. A report that highlights some of those results is available here. Top of Page


How will I learn about this study's results?

We will send you a report containing key results. Like the report mentioned above, this new report will be easily readable and suitable for use in board, staff, or other leadership meetings.

You also can learn about the results from the study’s website. The NCS-I was conducted in 1998, and it generated a tremendous amount of useful information about the state of American religious congregations and the challenges they face. The NCS-II was conducted in 2006, enabling us to see trends over time in American congregations and gather data on topics not explored in 1998. The NCS-III was conducted in 2012, giving us even better insight into trends over time. We expect the NCS-IV to continue providing insight into long-term trends, and we will be gathering data on several exciting new topics.

Our website is highly user-friendly, designed so that religious leaders can explore the information on their own. You can see results from the earlier studies there, and the site will be updated with information from the 2018 study. Top of Page


What kinds of questions will you ask?

The questions we’ll ask have to do with your congregation’s work, programs, and activities. You can decline to answer any question that you feel uncomfortable with. Most participants find the interview to be pleasant and interesting, and they enjoy the opportunity to talk about their congregation and their work. Top of Page


Will my identity and responses remain confidential?

All the information that you provide will be kept in strict confidence. Your personal identity and your congregation's identity also will be kept in strict confidence. It is important to us to protect your privacy and the privacy of your congregation. Information from all the congregations we talk to will be combined and presented in the form of summary statistics, tables, and graphs. No identifying information will be released to the public. Top of Page


How was our congregation chosen for this study?

Your congregation is part of a statistically valid, nationally representative sample of congregations.

Someone in your congregation responded to a large national survey called the General Social Survey and named your congregation when we asked where they attended religious services. The General Social Survey collects information from a nationally representative group of Americans, and the congregations that these respondents say they have attended forms a nationally representative sample of American religious congregations. The National Congregations Study sample is composed of the congregations named in this way by participants in the General Social Survey. Top of Page


Why can't you interview someone else?

Your congregation was randomly selected for this survey. To maintain the scientific integrity of the study, we cannot interview any other congregation in your place. If you do not participate, important information about congregations like yours will be lost. Top of Page


Is this the first National Congregations Study?

This is the fourth wave of the National Congregations Study. The first NCS was conducted in 1998, the second in 2006, and the third in 2012.

The National Congregations Study website contains more information about the study, including some of the results. Mark Chaves has written extensively on findings from the NCS, including his books Congregations in America (2004, Harvard University Press) and American Religion: Contemporary Trends (2nd ed., 2017, Princeton University Press). Many results also were published in Religious Congregations in 21st Century America. This is the report we sent to selected congregations when we first contacted them about participating in this study. It also is available here. Top of Page


NCS Wave IV Video

Listen to Professor Mark Chaves talk about the fourth wave of the National Congregations Study.