Reflections on Faith Communities Today

FACT

Two weeks ago, I made my annual trek to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) National Offices in Chicago to gather with other denominational and religious researchers as part of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP). This collective group of brilliant minds — and that’s no joke, these people are smart — produces the Faith Communities Today (FACT) Survey. I am honored and grateful to be a part of this group — as a newbie, this was only my second meeting.

There is no other gathering like this one. We are as diverse a group as one can be religiously. Researchers represent Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), Seventh-Day Adventist, Nazarene, Baha’i, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Assemblies of God and Orthodox traditions, among others. Throw in a few other mainline / oldline traditions like the UCC, Disciples of Christ, ELCA, United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, and PCUSA, and it’s quite a group of individuals. Amazingly, the commonalities in the challenges we face within our respective traditions around research, as well as the research topics that are of interest within each of our traditions, are quite similar. Every year, I learn so much from these individuals and re-gain a sense of excitement for this work just by sitting at the table and engaging in discussion.

If you haven’t heard of FACT, please take a moment to learn more about it. In short, FACT is the longest running survey of congregations and congregational life in the U.S. The first survey was conducted in 2000, and we are currently gearing up for a 2015 survey which will include some interesting questions around technology, young adult ministries, and congregational vitality. (And I may, in fact, be writing the 2015 FACT Report on Young Adult Ministries for the CCSP.) Of course, the UCC will be participating in this larger survey by verifying the UCC churches in the larger sample and also by conducting an over-sample of UCC congregations for our own denominational learnings. The 2010 UCC over-sample revealed some interesting results which helped to shape our understanding of vital congregations, global mission and giving, and other topics (this prior research and analyses were conducted by Marge Royle, one of the contributors to this blog).

In between the 2010 and 2015 survey cycles, the CCSP also produced a collection of case studies on congregations with vital young adult ministries in the hopes of offering some qualitative / narrative depth to the overall research. I was humbled to contribute to this collection with a report about young adult life at Kirkwood UCC in Atlanta. The CCSP will be doing some editing and layout changes to publish the collection as an e-book on Amazon later this year or early next year, which will create a broader audience with which we can share our learning and best practices on young adult ministries.

As several of the long-standing members and founders of the CCSP retire in the next year or two, there will be some opportunities for younger religious researchers to carry on the work, holding traditions with care and reverence, yet bringing new ideas and ways of thinking to the collective. I am lucky to have the opportunity currently to work with researchers and scholars like David Roozen and Monte Sahlin; and when they retire, equally great researchers and scholars like Scott Thumma and Linda Bobbitt will carry us into the future. What the future of congregations holds for those of us in the U.S. remains to be seen; but that is exactly what makes the work of religious research so exciting and worthwhile. Stay tuned…

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