What would you guess is the average size of the religious congregations in the United States?
Would it shock you to know that it's only about 75?
That's the conclusion of the latest version of the National Congregations Study. At the same time, the average person attending worship is one of about 400 regular participants of that congregation.
This, as the study authors note, may seem contradictory but it isn't. It just means that most congregations are small (90 percent have 350 or fewer members) but most people participate in large congregations -- so many of them, in fact, that their numbers account for most religious adherents in the country.
Here are some of the other primary findings of the latest survey:
Most congregations are small but most people are in large congregations.
Worship services are becoming more informal.
* Congregational leaders are still overwhelmingly male.
* Predominantly white congregations are more ethnically diverse.
* Congregations embrace technology.
* Congregations and clergy are getting older.
* Congregations’ position in the social class structure remains unchanged.
* Congregations’ involvement in social service activities remains unchanged.
* Only a small minority of congregations describe themselves as theologically “liberal,” even within the Protestant mainline.
* Congregations are more tolerant and inclusive than we might expect them to be, even when it comes to hot-button issues.
* There has been no significant increase in congregational conflict since 1998.
* Congregations’ involvement in political activities is largely unchanged since 1998.
How do these findings jibe with your own experiences? I worship in a congregation of just under 1,000 members, though as my denomination reports, "Presbyterian churches tend to be small. About seven out of ten (72 percent) of congregations have 200 or fewer members. The average, or mean, size of a Presbyterian church is 204 members. The median size is 103. More than three-fourths have 250 or fewer members. Almost half (49%) have 100 or fewer."
(The photo here today is from http://www.spaldingnet.com/images/churches.jpg, with photography by Dream-Weaver.com.)
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IRAN'S CLERGY COULD POINT THE WAY
In Iran, this analysis concludes, the future may be up to the Islamic clerics, most of whom have remained silent since the recent and probably fraudulent president election. If they line up behind the opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they could carry the day for reformers who back the idea that elections should reflect the will of the voters. Let's hope they step up to the plate. AND: By the way, an interview to be aired this weekend on "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" on PBS has to do with religion in Iran and is already available online. Click here for it.