From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Survey says: Presbyterians are busy worshipers

Date 15 Jun 2002 13:32:46 -0400

Note #7217 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Survey says: Presbyterians are busy worshipers
June 15, 2002

Survey says: Presbyterians are busy worshipers

by Mary Julia Pace

COLUMBUS, OH - People who worship in Presbyterian churches are more often involved in small-group activities, more likely to assume leadership roles and more educated than "typical" worshipers in other U.S. congregations, according to a national survey funded by Lilly Endowment.

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey gathered responses last spring from 300,000 worshipers in more than 2,000 congregations. Presbyterian Church (USA) researchers conducted the survey, which included a broad range of faith groups and denominations - from Methodist to Mormon, from Catholic to Baptist. It's the largest such survey ever conducted. 

Results concerning the nearly 50,000 respondents from 523 PC(USA) congregations are being released during this week's 214th General Assembly in Columbus, OH, and compared with the national findings. 

So what do Presbyterian congregations look like?
They're composed of people who like to study, pray and socialize together. Sixty-four percent are involved in small-group activities such as Sunday school, Bible study, prayer groups and social activities. The national average is 44 percent. 
Presbyterians are more likely to assume leadership roles in their congregations. More than half - 58 percent - of people in PC(USA) pews occupy at least one leadership position, such as serving on session, teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir. Nationally, only 38 percent serve in leadership roles.

Worshipers in PC(USA) congregations are more educated than most. Forty-nine percent have college or graduate degrees. The national average among worshipers is 38 percent; among all U.S. citizens, it's percent. 

Historically, Presbyterians have been leaders in their communities, said Cynthia Woolever, the research-project director, noting that the Rev. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister, was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

"Education, professional jobs, and leadership skills go hand-in-hand," Woolever said. "It's no surprise that Presbyterians would use their leadership skills in their own faith communities."
While people in Presbyterian pews excel in many areas, the survey also found areas in which there is room for improvement, researchers said in a soon-to-be-available report titled "The U.S. Congregational Life Survey: A Tool for Discovering Congregational Strengths."

In PC(USA) congregations, people aged 45 to 64 make up the largest age group; they have six people over age 65 for every person under 25. The average age in Presbyterian congregations is 58; the average for all U.S. faith groups is 50. According to U.S. Census figures, the national average age for the U.S. population is 44.
"Everyone is frustrated by the low levels of involvement by youth and young adults," Woolever said. "It's  perhaps the greatest challenge of the church today."

Less than half (47 percent) of worshipers in PC(USA) churches invited someone to services in the previous year who didn't attend anywhere else. The national average is 46 percent.
Researchers divided "newcomers" - people who have been attending services for five years or less - into four categories: First-timers, those who have never regularly attended anywhere; Returnees, who have belonged to a faith community in the past and are returning after an absence; Switchers, who have moved from one denomination or faith group to another; and Transfers, who are moving from one congregation to another of the same faith group. 

	Presbyterian congregations attract more transfers than any of the others; 30 percent of newcomers to Presbyterian congregations are people who have attended Presbyterian churches before; another 36 percent are switchers, which 27 percent are returnees and just 8 percent are first-timers. 

	The researchers say Presbyterian congregations do a better job of attracting returnees and switchers than congregations of other denominations do, but all faith groups have difficulty attracting first-timers.

	"I think people are attracted to our theology - theology that is reasoned and reasonable," Woolever said, emphasizing that she was expressing her own opinion. "I think people like the intentional nature of our worship services, where you have sound theology behind the liturgy. I also think that people find they can relate to our leadership as both caring and intelligent."

	A book about the survey results, "A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations," has been published by Westminster John Knox Press. (See sidebar.)

	For more information about the survey and what it discovered about PC(USA) churches, visit, or call 1-888-728-7228, ext. 5165. 

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