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Best Resources for Denominational Research

At the local congregation level, there are differences in how clergy view their faith compared to laity, and topics include who becomes clergy, women as clergy, and the issues unique to clergy leaders who are members of racial or ethnic minorities.

At the judicatory level, questions of study include the stresses within regional bodies and the changing nature of the relationship between denominations and their local churches.

At the macro level, national and international research makes it possible to compare religious traditions according to a variety of measures, both within the United States and worldwide.

Data, Articles and Commentary on Denominations and Research

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research studies the growth and decline of denominations and other official national religious bodies.  The reports and research offered by the Institute provide insight into the official regional and national denominational — and nondenominational — religious structures, new religious movements and parachurch religious groups. For an overview of the institute’s findings on current issues, see the "Archive of Quick Questions" and "Fast Facts."

The Institute also provides a list of resources for additional religion and census data, and congregation locators. Researchers or clergy may find additional tips for studying a specific church or denomination, and links to dozens of American denominations and faith groups.

The Association of Religion Data Archives is an archive site for the best research on modern religious life. Though the primary purpose of the site is to store and make accessible the original surveys and the raw data they generated, ARDA also organizes, categorizes and synthesizes data into searchable and usable collections. For denominational research, several categories of material may be valuable:

• Denominational family trees and profiles

• Where denominations stand on controversial issues

• Religious adherence by nation; interreligious and international stances on controversial issues; and religious tolerance by nation and region of the world

Archives for denominational surveys (including Unitarian, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Latter-day Saint, United Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist)

Resources for American Christianity is an archive site hosting information and reflection on selected religion research projects, including research on religious organizations and congregations funded by the Lilly Endowment.

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey, conducted in 2001 and 2008-09, is the largest and most representative profile of the people who make up U.S. congregations. Researchers identified a series of myths, facts and patterns common to declining churches.

Faith Communities Today (FACT) is a research project of the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership, a group of more than 25 denominations, scholars and sociologists of religion who cooperatively survey America’s diverse faith communities and population groups.

Pulpit & Pew was an in-depth survey of senior and solo clergy actively serving Christian and non-Christian faith communities that was conducted in 2001 in conjunction with the U.S. Congregational Life Survey (listed above). Significant study reports address leadership dynamics that are unique to African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and female clergy.

Find additional articles and information in the Insights Into Religion Denominational Research section.

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