Faith Communities Today: American Congregations ‘Thriving and Surviving’

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has released its first report on the national Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey conducted in 2015.  In it, Dr. David Roozen, the report’s author, concludes that, “the continuing erosion of vitality and growth notwithstanding, when all is said and done, more congregations are thriving than struggling.

The 2010 FACT report found that American congregations, in general, were a bit less healthy than they were at the turn of the century. In 2015, that downturn has continued, the report says, but less steeply, and “with some interesting twists.”

The 2015 FACT survey contains responses from 4,436 congregations. The entire report can be viewed here: FACT 2015 American Congregations.

Major topics in the report include a look at the size of congregations, and how smaller ones tend to struggle more than larger ones. Lack of growth remains a big issue, but spiritual vitality has seen less of a drop.

“The erosion of spiritual vitality since 2010 is much less steep than the decline in congregational growth, and it is considerably less severe than it was between 2005 and 2010,” the report states.

The financial distress apparent after the recession of 2008 has eased somewhat, but that parallels a drop in full-time paid staff. “While congregations may be feeling more positive about their financial situation, it is because they have become more comfortable doing with less than because they have more to invest in their ministry.”

Theologically, the survey found a “slight move toward the very conservative.”

Overall, the report ends on a somewhat positive note. “The cup of American congregations is still more than half full. Almost a third of American congregations view themselves as thriving and another third see themselves as doing okay. Only one in ten see themselves as confronting a continuing struggle, and less than 3% are not sure of their survival. Even if one discounts a potentially overly optimistic bias in faith-based organizations, the numbers are hardly a message of imminent demise.”

This article by Religion News Service reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman looks at the vibrancy of several small churches within the context of the survey results.


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