Indiana Mainline Churches, 1986

Data Archive > U.S. Surveys > General Population > National > Other > Summary


The original study was designed to examine church finances and membership trends. Six important conclusions arose from these findings: 1) Congregations that emphasize growth and evangelism can grow (or at least slow their decline), but only 37 percent of the mostly mainline churches in this study emphasize growth; 2) If churches want to grow, they need to have an openness to change and an orientation to serving the needs of people outside the local congregation rather than just the needs of current members; 3) Emphasizing social action programs may limit growth somewhat, but this is not a cause of denominational decline for mainline denominations, since only 8 percent of these churches have such an emphasis; 4) As in previous studies (e.g., Hoge and Roozen 1979), membership trends are heavily influenced by community population trends. However, the influence of demographic factors declined during the 1980s in Indiana because there was less variation in population growth rates among Indiana communities; 5) The growth rates of small churches and churches in smaller communities are less affected by community population changes than are the growth rates of large churches and churches in larger communities; 6) Denominational differences in growth rates are major, but are not explainable using the variables contained in this study.

Data File
Cases: 1,388
Variables: 209
Weight Variable: None
Data Collection
Date Collected: Survey data were collected in 1986.
Funded By
The Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Collection Procedures
The data come from three sources: a survey of congregations, census data at the ZIP code level, and church yearbook data including membership and giving statistics. The census data were purchased from National Planning Data Corporation and are organized by ZIP code for all ZIP codes in Indiana. The census data include actual census data for 1970 and 1980, plus estimates for 1984 and projections for 1989.

The survey was conducted in early 1986. Questionnaires were mailed to 1,424 congregations in the state of Indiana associated with six denominations (the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church). Each church received a single questionnaire to be filled out by the minister or a knowledgeable church leader. The questionnaire asked for self-descriptions of the congregation, its program emphases, methods used by the church to increase membership and giving, presence or absence of church conflicts, subjective assessments of changes in the surrounding community, and similarities or differences between congregation members and people in the local community. The survey did not ask about actual levels of membership or giving, since this information is available from church yearbooks. The main focus of the original study was to predict changes in financial giving and membership of congregations.

A total of 641 usable questionnaires were completed for a return rate of approximately 45 percent. However, most of the analysis done in Olson (1993) is based on a smaller group of 457 churches for which it was possible to match questionnaire data with census data and membership data for both 1980 and 1988. Because the appropriate annual yearbook data for the Episcopal congregations were not easily available at the time of data entry, the Episcopal churches (only 30 churches) were excluded from this analysis.

Compared with other Indiana churches in these denominations, the churches that completed the questionnaire and met other selection criteria have larger average memberships in 1980 (407 versus 340 members), are in somewhat larger communities, and have somewhat better growth rates.

In all but the case of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), the church yearbook data come from printed denominational yearbooks kept in the library of Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. (The LCMS data were purchased in diskette form from the LCMS.) During early 1989, the information in these yearbooks was entered manually into Dbase files under the supervision of Dan Olson, who was then a Research Fellow at the Center for Social and Religious Research at Hartford Seminary. In general, yearbook data for 1970, 1980, 1986 and 1988 were collected. However, the actual years for which the yearbook data were available differs somewhat by denomination.

There are 1,388 congregations (cases) in the file. This is because when the yearbook data were being collected, it was considered more efficient to enter the data for all churches in the state of Indiana belonging to each of the five participating denominations, whether or not they returned a questionnaire. Thus, the cases (congregations) in the file vary in terms of which types of data were available. Most of the cases, 1,368, have census data for the ZIP codes in which the churches are located.
Sampling Procedures
Questionnaires were mailed to the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. Generally, the file includes all of the churches in these denominations in Indiana; however, the file does not include any Episcopal churches (because membership and financial figures were not easily available at the time the yearbook data were collected), and the file does not contain churches that did not return a survey and for which census data were unobtainable (because of unidentifiable ZIP code) and for which there were no yearbook data.

A total of 641 usable questionnaires were completed for a return rate of approximately 45 percent. However, most of the analysis done in Olson (1993) is based on a smaller group of 457 churches for which it was possible to match questionnaire data with census data and membership data for both 1980 and 1988.

Compared with other Indiana churches in these denominations, the churches that completed the questionnaire and met other selection criteria have larger average memberships in 1980 (407 versus 340 members), are in somewhat larger communities, and have somewhat better growth rates.
Principal Investigators
John Hiller
Jackson Carroll
Daniel Olson
Related Publications
Olson, Daniel V. A. 1993. "Congregational Growth and Decline in Indiana Among Five Mainline Denominations" in Church and Denominational Growth: What Does (and Does Not) Cause Growth or Decline, David A. Roozen and C. Kirk Hadaway, editors. Nashville: Abingdon.