I am currently in a course with Duke sociologist Mark Chaves called "The Social Organization of American Religion" and will eventually write more about the issue of engaging with statistics and survey data surrounding congregations. But in the meantime, I have pasted my brief comments in response to the Reveal conference going on this week at Willow Creek. I made this comment at the Leadership Journal Out of Ur blog. Below that I have also pasted a brief list of recent books on congregations.
Out of Ur: Live from REVEAL: Getting the Weekend Right: What does truly transformational worship look like?
Out of Ur: Live from REVEAL: Bill Hybels on Self-Centered Christians: Jumping the chasm between self-centered and Christ-centered faith.
I would just encourage congregations to take conclusions and implications drawn from the REVEAL data with a grain of salt. I think it is appropriate for church leaders to look at how their congregations answered the questions and then reflect: "Hmm . . . I wonder why __% of our congregation said ____" but they need to be careful about drawing prescriptions too quickly or naively trusting "key findings." Remember that correlation does not mean causation. Surveys like this do descriptive work--much of it will be things observant pastors already sensed--but the prescriptive work is another story.
There is a rich literature on sociological study of congregations (Mark Chaves, Nancy Ammerman, Stephen Warner, Scott Thumma, Rodney Stark) available but "secrets" and "solutions" are rarely found there--generally their conclusions explode easy answers. There is no substitute for a wise leadership team who continues to experiment and pray and consult with the congregation on how to see the formation of better and more disciples.
Recent books by academic sociologists of religion about congregations:
Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
See review at Ram A. Cnaan, Review of "Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and their Partners" Sociology of Religion, Spring, 2007. Available online.
Tobin Belzer, Richard W. Flory, Nadia Roumani, and Brie Loskota, "Congregations That Get It: Understanding Religious Identities in the Next Generation," 103-123 in James L. Heft, ed. Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims (Abrahamic Dialogues) (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2006).
Jackson W. Carroll, God's Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations (Pulpit & Pew) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). Pulpit & Pew at Duke now Sustaining Pastoral Excellence.
Mark Chaves, Congregations in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). National Congregations Study.
David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman, eds. Church, Identity, And Change: Theology And Denominational Structures In Unsettled Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005).
Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008). Results from recent Baylor survey. In one chapter, he argues megachurches are as effective as small churches. Institute for Study of Religion at Baylor University.
Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches (J-B Leadership Network Series) (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007). Hartford Institute of Religious Research and Leadership Network
Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, “Changes In American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years Of Growth And Innovation in the Nation's Largest-Attendance Congregations” in Hartford Institute for Religion Research Website (Sept 12, 2008). Available online.
R. Stephen Warner, A Church Of Our Own: Disestablishment And Diversity In American Religion (Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005). A collection of essays.
Robert Wuthnow, After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.
Analyses of congregations by church leaders:
Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Follow Me (REVEAL) (South Barrington, Ill.: Willow Creek Resources, 2008). Reveal (Willow Creek Association).
Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? (REVEAL) (South Barrington, Ill.: Willow Creek Resources, 2007). Reveal (Willow Creek Association).
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007). Barna Group.
David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). The American Church Research Project.
Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too (Nashville: B&H Books, 2007). LifeWay Research.
Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2004). The U.S. Congregational Life Study.