Fieldnotes
Expert Insights from Congregational Observers
By Hannah Petersen
The landscape of religious and spiritual practice continues to change dramatically in the United States. Not nearly all spiritual gatherings take place in traditional congregations, nor is spiritual care provided only by clergy. The fastest-growing portion of the American religious population is those without religious affiliations, often called the “nones.” As the Pew Research Center has reported, they increased from 16% in 2006 to 28% currently. The impact of this disaffiliation is reflected in declining church attendance, congregation closure, and the renovation of traditional religious buildings into recreational centers, housing, and other community structures. Perhaps you have seen this shift in your congregations and neighborhoods.
By Ellen Childs
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Christian period of Lent. Christians often receive a sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead and tend to wear that mark with pride throughout the day. It’s generally one day out of the year where the lines between secular society and personal belief are blurred, where people can recognize other Christians in their workplaces, play groups, or gyms.
By Nancy Ammerman
Nobody really knows how many there are or how much all that real estate is worth, but the buildings owned by religious congregations are a formidable physical presence in virtually every American community. Elsewhere in the world, they are no less present – from grand cathedrals and temples to humble shrines and improvised shelters. People of faith build physical places in which to gather. The National Congregations Study reports that nearly 90% of US congregations meet in buildings they (or their denomination) own.
By Victoria Isaac
What happens when religion leaves the congregation? From coffee shops to living rooms, people engage with religious texts, sermons, and traditions wherever they can access them. Religion cannot be confined to a physical space.
By Julius Malin
As COP 28 opened in Dubai, the international community was called to focus on combatting climate change. Doing so is critical for the sake of those alive today, and also for those born tomorrow. Given that reality, it is important to ask what the role of religious communities might be.
By Kathy Hulin
As a pastor, not surprisingly, I often view my congregation through a theological lens, and I’ve recently challenged my congregation to join me. In a world that promotes division through competition and having the one correct perspective to a challenge, I’ve invited them to think more deeply about our collective mission as a congregation and how their differing individual gifts and passions help to make up that collective whole.
By Nancy Ammerman
There are amazing resources available to people who want to understand — and support —congregational life. Here are a few that are worth checking out. See how these sources intersect with our Frames for Study and how they help you imagine what tools from our Toolkit you might use.
By Sean C. Thomas
What might we see and hear if we asked worshippers about what they experience? It isn’t always what theologians expect. For the past few decades, many Catholic liturgical theologians and others have expressed concern about the return of a ritual practice that they worried signaled a regression from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That practice is Eucharistic adoration.
By Nancy Ammerman
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the state of health and happiness among the people who lead U.S. congregations. One widely-circulated blog post expounded on the stresses and strains that led one pastor to call it quits – not just from his church, but from the profession itself. The responses to that post led many observers to speculate about the “great pastor resignation.”All that buzz led me to wonder if there is some barometer of clergy wellbeing that might be more reliable than Twitter comments. Are all the pastors out there ready to quit?

Mapping Spiritual Innovation

The landscape of religious and spiritual practice continues to change dramatically in the United States. Not nearly all spiritual gatherings take place in traditional congregations, nor is spiritual care provided only by clergy. The fastest-growing portion of the American religious population is those without religious affiliations, often called the “nones.” As the Pew Research Center…

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Ritual Meets Twitter (X)

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Christian period of Lent. Christians often receive a sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead and tend to wear that mark with pride throughout the day. It’s generally one day out of the year where the lines between secular society and personal belief are blurred, where…

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The Places We Gather

Nobody really knows how many there are or how much all that real estate is worth, but the buildings owned by religious congregations are a formidable physical presence in virtually every American community. Elsewhere in the world, they are no less present – from grand cathedrals and temples to humble shrines and improvised shelters. People…

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Organizing for Sustainable Christian Agriculture

As COP 28 opened in Dubai, the international community was called to focus on combatting climate change. Doing so is critical for the sake of those alive today, and also for those born tomorrow. Given that reality, it is important to ask what the role of religious communities might be. Considering future generations in current…

Read Article

Thinking Together About Mission

As a pastor, not surprisingly, I often view my congregation through a theological lens, and I’ve recently challenged my congregation to join me. In a world that promotes division through competition and having the one correct perspective to a challenge, I’ve invited them to think more deeply about our collective mission as a congregation and…

Read Article
Search Our Archives

Since 2012, StudyingCongregations.org has published over 200 articles on how and why people of faith gather. Just go to the search box at the top center of the page and type in something you’re curious about. Explore a wide range of topics such congregational conflict, the Nones (non-affiliation), race & ethnicity, and civic engagement. Learn more about various methods of study including demographics, interviews, and walking the neighborhood. Or focus your curiosity on religious & cultural traditions such as African American congregations, Latinx congregations, Catholic parishes, and more.