Congregations in Changing Communities

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Fri, 04/10/1992
End Date: 
Wed, 08/31/1994

Nancy Ammerman, with associate Arthur Farnsley, directed this study that examined the dynamics of community change upon a select number of congregations across the United States. The study sought to understand the relationship between religious practices and beliefs of specific congregations and the social change impacting their communities. The results of the study were published in a book authored by Ammerman titled Congregation and Community (Rutgers University Press, 1995). <p> The project identified five types of change typical of American life at the time the study was conducted. These were: economic downturn, economic growth, increasing stratification within the African-American community, the formation of gay and lesbian communities, and successive waves of immigrant populations from outside the U. S. Ammerman and Farnsley designed the study to discover how the congregations under study, the individuals in the congregations and the congregations’ institutional structures attempted to negotiate and respond to the specific changes their communities faced. <p> Seventeen congregations from nine different communities in five states received in-depth attention through observation, interviews and surveys conducted by the project’s research team. Ten additional churches in decline, also from these same communities, participated in associated studies to discover reasons for their downward turn. Protestant, Catholic, Hispanic, African-American and Anglo-American churches participated. Researchers worked under the supervision of an on-site supervisor—usually someone on faculty at a local university—as well as under the general oversight of the Ammerman and Farnsley. Interspersed within the researchers’ ethnographic fieldwork were three consultations to define, share and refine their findings. These took place in Atlanta (April 10-12, 1992), Boston (July 10-12, 1992) and Atlanta (July 23-25, 1993.