Grant paying for new round of Duke congregation survey

Duke Office of News & Communications

Duke University will use a $1.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to continue a survey of America’s religious congregations to assess how they are changing over time, said Valerie Ashby, dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

These changes range from shifts in the demographic makeup of local churches to trends in congregational worship practices.

The grant will fund the fourth wave of the National Congregations Study, a survey conducted at Duke that collects information about programs and staffing at American churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship. Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religious studies and divinity, directs the NCS.

The survey’s widely cited findings are often used by religious leaders, journalists, scholars and policymakers to gain a deeper understanding of U.S. religious communities. For example, NCS data have documented increasing racial and ethnic diversity in American congregations, and have informed policy debates about how congregations contribute to community well-being.

“Congregations are a vibrant part of American life regardless of where they meet. This survey provides valuable insight into how they change in reaction to and in service of our communities,” Ashby said. “The opportunity to repeatedly survey congregations over a long period of time is especially useful for understanding trends in American religious life, and we are deeply grateful to Lilly Endowment for its sustained support.”

More than 3,800 congregations participated in the first three waves of the NCS, which ocurred between 1998 and 2012. The survey covered things like worship activities, finances, staffing and connections with other religious and community groups. The latest wave will track those areas, and add questions about things like social media use, leadership challenges and wellness activities.

“This new funding will enable us to update and expand the solid base of knowledge we’ve built so far,” said Chaves, who directs the NCS and specializes in the social organization of religion in the United States. “I’m eager to see what we learn in this next wave of data collection about congregations’ leadership patterns, social and political activities, and the many ways that they contribute to communities.”

Lilly Endowment has made grants to Duke before, with recent awards supplying $6 million for Duke Divinity School’s leadership development programs for religious leaders, $250,000 to address the education debt of seminary students, and $500,000 to strengthen preaching resources through a partnership involving Duke Divinity School, Duke Chapel and the Duke Libraries.

The latest grant will count toward Duke Forward, the $3.25 billion campus fundraising campaign that ends on June 30.