On the other hand, the multitude of definitions presents a challenge to research and practice. If concepts are defined and measured in different ways in various research efforts, results cannot be compared across studies, and perhaps not even over time. There is, as well, little common language within and among denominations for addressing policy and planning issues related to increasing congregational affiliation.
Exchange among all the actors--clergy, researchers, national organizations, congregations, denominations, and institutions, including seminaries and universities--is essential. Ultimately, there is agreement that increased participation in religious community is beneficial. Research on factors associated with membership, local recruitment efforts and programs to increase involvement, and national efforts to address major contextual influences on religious life all play key roles in our understanding of participation, growth, and decline. The study of affiliation, membership, and participation must be integrated into the everyday lives of denominations and congregations. Otherwise, isolated individuals, institutions, and movements talking only among themselves (and sometimes not even among themselves) limit the ability of religious groups to increase church and synagogue participation. The first step for a full and productive exchange is to develop a glossary of commonly accepted definitions or, at the very least, to clarify the plurality of meanings underlying the terms being used in our dialogues on congregational affiliation.
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