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People of faith around the world gather.  With this website, we explore why and how they do. No matter what form the gathering takes—a parish, synagogue, mosque, temple, prayer circle, etc.—these are transformational human communities with religious and spiritual purposes. Whether your aim is to understand them or to lead them, learning to see these communities in all their human joy and messiness is essential. So we invite you to understand, to explore and to engage.

Understand

This website builds on two generations of insight by scholars and leaders who have developed ways of thinking about seeing a congregation. We call them frames because by looking through the ecology, theology, culture, resources and process of a gathering, we move toward deeper understanding. That’s the place to start.

Explore

Experts in anthropology, social work, theology, sociology, public policy and ritual studies have great insight into these transformational communities. Return often for new findings, search our archives for articles that answer your questions and explore our searchable bibliographic database to start your reading list.

Engage

If you are seeking to better understand a congregation—whether your own or another—it’s time to engage in your own research project! But first, assemble your toolkit. Our free PDF downloads are introductions to tools you can use. Educators take note: they're perfect for use in seminary, M.Div., D.Min., religious studies or social science classrooms!

Featured Article

What to do about the building

A recent article in The Atlantic proclaimed ”an epidemic of empty churches.” And the very same week the Washington Post asked, ”Does a religious community need its own building to flourish?” Both authors pointed to the reality that buildings are often a problem, and finding the right solution will require congregations and their leaders to do a careful assessment of their resources — but also of their place in the community and their own culture and theology. Some congregations are wondering if rented space or ”pop up” space or a corner table at the pub might not better suit today’s needs. In their infancy, congregations have long sought out spaces that are otherwise empty on Sunday. I remember worshipping in a National Guard...
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Ecology

The congregation’s social environment: its neighborhood and region but also its denomination, networks and other institutions.

Theology

The congregation’s “way of doing things”: its decision making, leadership; its morale, its power dynamics and patterns of relationship.

Culture

The culture of a congregation is its identity, its life together: the activities it does, its artifacts, habits, symbols, and the stories they tell.

Resources

The raw materials of congregational life, including: its members, building, reputation, history, its gifts and financial assets.

Process

The congregation’s “way of doing things”: its decision making, leadership; its morale, its power dynamics and patterns of relationship.

More about What We’re Thinking

What to do about the building

A recent article in The Atlantic proclaimed ”an epidemic of empty churches.” And the very same week the Washington Post ...
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Who is Your Neighbor? Who Decides?

Immigration has become one of the most difficult issues facing people throughout Europe and North America. And congregations are on ...
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Finding Resources in Unexpected Places

Mike Mather has spent most of his adult life pastoring churches in neighborhoods most people would call ”deprived.”  Not Mike.  ...
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From the Archives: “Faith and Political Engagement: Latina/o Protestants At the Intersection”

From the outside, Allen Temple Ministerios Hispanos (ATMH) is unimposing. Located deep in poverty-stricken East Oakland California, ATMH’s neighbors include ...
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From the Toolkit: Stepping Back to Watch and Listen

The Studying Congregations Toolkit gives you the tools you need to better understand a congregation. These PDF downloads were created especially for seminarians and religious leaders. Often deepening our understanding of our congregational spaces and communities is as simple as learning to open our eyes to the hidden dynamics and realities at play on the ground. Find out more here!
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About Us

StudyingCongregations.org is the premier resource for understanding religious congregations in the United States. A collaborative project of leading scholars in the fields of sociology of religion, history, and practical theology, the strategies, resources and tools you will discover on this site have been designed specifically for theological educators, future religious leaders, and anyone else who wants to go beyond the received wisdom to discover what is happening in religious gatherings today.

This resource is offered to you as a gift of the Congregational Studies Team, an informal research group that has led the way in researching US congregations. Their work was generously funded by The Lilly Endowment.

Buy the Handbook

Prefer paper? Love a good throwback in time? Want more examples and exercises for understanding your congregation? Buy Studying Congregations: A New Handbook.

Buy it now!