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Survey results show strength, vitality during hard times

PC(USA) congregations adapt to resource constraints, research shows

September 14, 2009

Louisville

Many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations display strength, vitality, and openness to change despite current resource constraints.

These findings are from a fall 2008 survey of 115 PC(USA) congregations that was part of the larger Faith Communities Today 2008 (FACT 2008) survey.

Two-thirds of PC(USA) congregations (66 percent) are experimenting with different worship styles. One in six is using drums (18 percent) or visual projection equipment (15 percent) in worship.

Leaders of most congregations “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that their congregations are “like a close-knit family” (89 percent) and “spiritually vital and alive” (85 percent) and 86 percent say that the statement, “We hold and teach strong beliefs and moral values,” describes their congregation “very well,” “quite well,” or “somewhat.”

Most leaders also describe their congregation’s largest regular weekend worship service as very, quite or somewhat “joyful” (96 percent), “filled with a sense of God’s presence” (97 percent), and “welcoming to newcomers” (99 percent).

In spite of this vitality, one in five congregations (18 percent) cannot find enough people to serve in volunteer roles. Two in five (40 percent) have no full-time paid staff other than administrative or custodial staff. Leaders of one in five congregations (21 percent) say their congregation is in “serious” or “some” financial difficulty.

The research found that factors contributing to constrained resources are:

  • The global recession;
  • A 2008 average worship attendance of about 100 people in PC(USA) congregations participating in the survey and in all PC(USA) congregations; and
  • Evidence from the broader Faith Communities Today survey that congregational vitality and financial health are declining for the majority of congregations.

Comments from congregational leaders underline the mix of opportunities and challenges that Presbyterian congregations face.

One congregation surveyed, writes its leader, looks to be “growing spiritually, attracting new members, focusing [its] vision and mission priorities.”  Another congregation aims to become “a neighborhood church in service to the neighborhood and in an intimate relationship with God rather than desperately seeking to survive.”

The Faith Community Today survey is sponsored by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a consortium of religious researchers representing two dozen U.S. Christian denominations and other faith communities.

The partnership also produces and distributes resources for congregational leaders on issues such as giving, conflict and growth.

Perry Chang, General Assembly Mission Council associate for survey research, said that the results are similar to the results of other surveys conducted by Research Services. “Many congregations are energized and trying new things, even though they don’t have extra people or money,” he said.

A detailed numerical summary of the PC(USA) congregational survey questions and responses is available online.

For more information on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) research resources for congregations, visit the Research Services Web site, or contact Research Services toll-free at (888) 728-7228, ext. 2040, or by email.

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