3023 UU Faith Communities Today Survey: What You Said

Speaker: Rev. Charlotte Cowtan

Prepared for UUA.org by: Allan Stern, Reporter; Margy Levine Young, Reporter

In the spring of 2000, more than forty faith groups participated in the first Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. This was the largest survey of congregations ever conducted, and was the most inclusive, denominationally-sanctioned program of interfaith cooperation in United States ' history. The participating faith groups developed a core questionnaire of more than 200 questions covering six areas of church life. 500 of our Unitarian Universalist congregations (almost 50%) responded in 2000. The survey was repeated in 2005 and the results are being tabulated, with 497 congregations responding.

The final results of the 2005 survey are not available yet, but here are some preliminary notes.

In the 2000 survey, the majority of responders were ministers, but in 2005 the majority of responders were lay leaders or paid staff.

Who responded:

  • 31% are midsize congregations
  • 4% are large congregations
  • 67% have fewer than 150 members
  • Location: good distribution
  • Half in cities, half in towns or rural

Patterns vary among congregations. Based on reported growth from the 2000 and 2005 reports, the overall net membership gain was 34%. The good news is that there were 280 growing congregations between 1995 and 2000 and there are fewer declining congregations between 2000 and 2005 than between 1995 and 2000.

What does net membership gain mean? 4% of our congregations created 18% of our membership gain. 65% of congregations created 33% of our membership gain. Congregations of fewer than 50 created the same amount of gain as those congregations over 1,000 members

The net growth in all our congregations is a total of 17,068 (after people have come and gone). The only districts that had a net loss in membership were two New England districts, Northeast and Mass. Bay.

The survey also asked about how congregations work. When asked how many worship services a week, congregations hold, 85% have one day a week, while growing midsize congregations and up have more than one service a week.

What are the elements of our largest worship service? Here are some results:

  • 50% have a choir
  • 63% never or seldom have an organ
  • 73% would never think of having an organ
  • Very few use electric guitar or visual projection devices
  • 33% have youth participation
  • Declining congregations are more likely to have a choir.
  • 83% of largest congregations always or often have choir
  • 54% always or often have an organ
  • 33% always or often have children or youth participation

The conclusion is that traditional worship forms are not as attractive for growing membership.

When asked to describe their worship services, 87% called them thought-provoking, 73% inspiring, 45% reverent, and 13% reported a sense of God's presence. Rapidly-growing congregations are more likely to describe their services as thought provoking and inspiring.

Healthier congregations seem to be in fiscally better shape. Most congregations seem to say that fiscally things were worse five years ago. But five years ago, 62% said their fiscal health was great.

Key activities in the past year were religious education, social activities, fundraising activities, and prayer/meditation/faith groups. New congregations don't see them as key activities. Regarding evangelism and recruitment, those congregations that don't see that as important are not growing as much.

Integration of new members is least likely to happen in new small congregations and most likely to happen in mid-size congregations.

New congregations are most likely to say we hold strong beliefs and values; declining congregations are least likely to say that.

There is a circular pattern: as congregations get larger—say 500 or 750. They become more like an institution with multiple congregations inside.

The bottom line is that we have to work harder to stay afloat.

For further information, see the UUA Congregational Services Faith Communities Today page.