Probably every churchgoer can say how his or her church is changing or has changed. It is much more difficult to know whether the experience of any particular congregation fits into a larger pattern. We need a bird’s-eye view to answer such questions.
The National Congregations Study (NCS), which draws on a nationally representative sample of religious congregations from across the religious spectrum, provides that view. The survey, which I direct, was first conducted in 1998, with 1,234 participating congregations, and it was fielded again in 2006-2007, this time with 1,506 congregations taking part. The survey’s data offer a way to systematically track changes in American religion.