Religious Congregations Prove Tough to Close

USA TODAY, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Religious Congregations Prove Tough to Close


Religious congregations in the U.S. have one of the lowest closure rates ever observed for any type of organization, with only one percent on average going out of existence each year, reveals a study by researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson. That low mortality rate, however, is not necessarily good news for the nation's churches and synagogues, the study's authors caution.

"Normally, one would think such a low mortality rate means that congregations overall are unusually healthy organizations, but we believe that's probably not the case," says sociologist and study co-author Mark Chaves. "Instead, we think it means that congregations are a type of organization that have ways to stay alive even when they are very weak."

The researchers found a few notable differences between disbanded and active congregations. The disbanded were less likely to have a denominational affiliation and to own the building where they met. They also tended to be smaller than active congregations, with a median size of 50 adult participants, compared to 269 for active ones.

Congregations are what sociologists call minimalist organizations. …

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