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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

Beyond the “People”: The Stories Congregational Buildings Tell by Nancy Ammerman

Two stories back in 2014 had me thinking about that old children’s finger play – “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”  Congregations certainly are “the people.”  But most are also the building and all the “stuff” they accumulate. Lots of theologians and church critics lament the emphasis on material things, but we human beings express who we are by making things.  And we express who we collectively are by making and building and saving things together. On Tuesday, an historic African American church in Atlanta was bulldozed to make way for a new football stadium (surely there’s at least one good sermon in that metaphor!).  Standing in southwest Atlanta since 1879, Friendship Baptist was full...
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Ecology

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

Theology

A theological frame means looking for how congregations reveal knowledge about God.

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

Beyond the “People”: The Stories Congregational Buildings Tell by Nancy Ammerman

Two stories back in 2014 had me thinking about that old children’s finger play – “Here’s the church, here’s the ...
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Thinking about How We Gather

In recent years, many people have wondered whether new forms of religious gathering might be replacing traditional gatherings like congregations ...
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Seeing and Staying – Rural Congregations and Rural Communities

Many students of congregational life focus their attention on religious gatherings in the city. It’s where the action is! Where ...
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Why is Church so Hard for Families of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

“Church should not be another place of struggle. Like school can be a struggle, or going to the store can ...
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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!