About the National Congregations Study

Congregations are the basic social unit of American religious life. They are the local gatherings of people that exist within almost every religion in the United States. They include churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Nearly all collective religious activity in America occurs through them.

Congregations are:

The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey effort to gather information about the basic characteristics of America's congregations. The first wave of the NCS took place in 1998, Wave II was fielded in 2006–07, and Wave III was completed in 2012. The study was repeated in order to track both continuity and change among American congregations. Waves II and III also explore subjects that were not explored in Wave I. Over all three waves, a total of 3,815 congregations have participated in the NCS.

There is no doubt that religious congregations are a significant part of American society. We know congregational life is changing, but it is difficult to document exactly what is changing in the 21st century, and how fast. The National Congregations Study contributes to knowledge about American congregations by collecting information about a wide range of their characteristics and programs across time. NCS results have helped us to better understand many aspects of congregational life in the United States.
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In all three waves,
the research was done in conjunction with the General Social Survey (GSS). The 1998, 2006, and 2012 GSS asked respondents who attend religious services to name their religious congregation, thus generating a nationally representative sample of religious congregations. Researchers then located these congregations.

A key informant at each congregation – a minister, priest, rabbi, or other staff person or leader – provided each congregation's information via a one-hour interview conducted either over the phone or in person. The survey gathered information on many topics, including the congregation's leadership, social composition, structure, activities, and programming.

Using this web site you can review the survey methodology and the questionnaires themselves (Methodology), work with the survey responses to find out the basic facts for each question (Explore the Data), create your own customized tables that cross-tabulate responses to two different questions (Explore the Data), and learn where you can find more extensive writings about the research results (Study Writings).

You can also download the combined data from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). Both waves have been combined into one dataset for ease of use.

Feel free to explore the information on this site and let us know if you have questions. Top of Page

Sponsors & Acknowledgements:

The 1998 National Congregations Study (Wave I) was supported by a major grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., and by additional grants from Smith Richardson Foundation, Inc., Louisville Institute, Nonprofit Sector Research Fund of the Aspen Institute, and Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.

The 2006–07 National Congregations Study (Wave II) was also supported by a major grant from the Lilly Endowment, and by additional grants from Kellogg Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Louisville Institute.

The 2012 National Congregations Study (Wave III) was once again supported by a major grant from the Lilly Endowment, and by additional grants from Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project, Louisville Institute, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, RAND Corporation, and Church Music Institute. It also received generous support from Duke University and from the National Science Foundation via NSF's support of the General Social Survey.

All three NCS waves were directed by Professor Mark Chaves, now at Duke University. In all three waves, data were gathered by NORC at the University of Chicago, a respected social survey research organization that has conducted nationwide studies for over 70 years. NORC has earned a reputation for research that is scientifically sound and socially valuable. Many of the studies NORC has conducted have influenced decisions made by Congress and other public policymakers.

The original NCS web site was created in collaboration with the University of Arizona library and the Alban Institute. The University of Arizona library also maintained the site. In 2008, the NCS web site was updated and redesigned by Scott Thumma and Jennifer Musto of Hartford Institute for Religion Research, and by Bob Jackson and Gary Thompson of Duke University. In 2014 it was updated again by Alison Eagle, in collaboration with the Association of Religion Data Archives. It is maintained by Duke University's Sociology Department.
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About the study

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