The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey effort to gather information about America's congregations. The first wave of the NCS took place in 1998, and the study was repeated in 2006-07, 2012, and 2018-19. The NCS tracks continuity and change among American congregations, and each NCS wave also explores new subjects.
Congregations -- churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other local places of worship -- are the basic social unit of American religious life. Nearly all collective religious activity occurs through them. They are the main context in which religious identities are forged and reinforced through education and practice. They are places of sociability and community for more than half of all Americans, locations for a wide variety of community events, and incubators of community service, artistic endeavors, and civic engagement. There is no doubt that religious congregations are significant institutions in American society.
We know congregational life is changing, but it is difficult to document exactly what is changing, and how fast. With information from 4,469 unique congregations collected over a span of more than 20 years, the National Congregations Study helps us better understand many aspects of congregational life in the United States, and how congregations are changing in the 21st century. The NCS contributes to knowledge about American religion by collecting information about a wide range of congregations’ characteristics and programs at different points in time.
In all four waves, the NCS was conducted in conjunction with the General Social Survey (GSS). The 1998, 2006, 2012, and 2018 waves of the GSS asked respondents who attend religious services to name their religious congregation, thus generating a nationally representative sample of religious congregations. Researchers then located these congregations.
A key informant at each congregation – a minister, priest, rabbi, or other staff person or leader – provided each congregation's information via a one-hour interview conducted either over the phone or in person. The survey gathered information on many topics, including the congregation's leadership, social composition, structure, activities, and programming.
Using this website you can review the survey methodology, work with the survey responses to find out the basic facts for each question, create your own customized tables that cross-tabulate responses to two different questions, and learn where you can find more extensive writings about the research results.
You can also download the cumulative NCS data from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). All four waves have been combined into one dataset for ease of use.
- More than 5,300 participating congregations representing 80+ Christian denominations, plus Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other religious groups.
- Information on demographics, leadership, worship life, community engagement, and much more.
- Contains data tables, graphs, and detailed analysis.