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National Congregations Study

There is no doubt that religious congregations are a significant part of American society, but there is too little quality information about these key components of American religious life. The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey that studies a representative sample of America's churches, synagogues, mosques and other local places of worship. It gathers information about a wide range of characteristics and activities of America's congregations. The first wave of the NCS took place in 1998; Wave II was fielded in 2006-07. The study was repeated in order to track both continuity and change among American congregations.

In both Wave I and Wave II, the research was done in conjunction with the General Social Survey (GSS). The 1998 and 2006 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 a wide array of topics including the congregation's social composition, structure, activities, and programming. Using the NCS website, a visitor can 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, review the survey methodology and questionnaire itself, and learn where you can find more extensive writings about the findings of the research.

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