Religion in America: What the Statistics Mean for Meetings

By Stephanie Davis Smith, February 5, 2015

The National Congregations Study and its founders at Duke University have taken the pulse of the religious community in America three times in history. Explore the results and how these trends translate into today’s faith-based meetings landscape.

1,300: The number of congregations—representing more than 70 Christian denominations along with Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious groups—that were polled for this study.

1998, 2006, 2012: The three years that the ongoing national survey effort has gathered information about the basic characteristics of America’s congregations. The study is ongoing in order to track both continuity and change among American congregations.

What the Findings Mean for Meetings

Music Matters
Did you know that 46 percent of Americans worship in congregations where drums are played? That’s up from 25 percent in 1998. It seems organs are going the way of the dodo bird, down from 70 percent to 56 percent, while guitar during service is up from 44 to 49 percent.

Allow Attendees to Express Themselves
Being buttoned up is no longer the norm. In 1998, 48 percent of worshippers attended church services where praise was usually expressed via up-stretched hands. By 2012, that number had risen to 59 percent.

Amp Up the Multimedia
The percentage of congregations using visual projection equipment is up to 45 percent from 32 percent since the last poll was taken in 2006, and up from 15 percent in 1998. It turns out, more and more Americans worship in congregations where words or images are projected on screens.

Consider Nontraditional Spaces
The number of religious groups meeting in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque is down, while meeting in a school is up, as well as other kinds of buildings.

Universe Diverse
Just as the demographics in the United States change, diversity is rising in the religious sector too. As the number of all-white congregations goes down, the percent of those speaking English as a second language has risen 6.5 percent in the last 14 years.

Town vs. Country
The number of people who attend congregations in predominantly urban areas increased from 61 percent in 1998 to 67 percent in 2006 to now 73 percent in 2012. The number of people who attend congregations in rural areas fell from 23 to 15 percent, while the percent of congregations in rural areas fell even faster.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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