Research Notes

RUC 2.0

Of Culture or Against Culture? A Dilemma for Congregations (October 2021)

A perennial question over the past three decades, especially among Protestant denominations, is whether some congregations have become transactional and instrumental versus transformational and relational. The framing is intentionally provocative. Much traditional religious practice in America resists elements of secular culture that elevate individualism, consumerism, and competition—traits we usually consider transactional or instrumental. Sometimes this resistance is framed as therapeutic, sometimes as communitarian, sometimes transformational—and these are not mutually exclusive categories. But there is always a sense that traditional religion stands in judgment of dominant secular orientations that fall short of guiding people, or societies, toward their highest good.

The Pandemic’s Bright Light and Dark Shadows (September 2021)

Clergy are concerned that congregations face an existential crisis. Specific issues occur in the context of concern about the future. Questions about technology or anti-racism or political polarization are also questions about survival. We do not use the term “existential” glibly. In-person groups, the form of association most common to older generations, have weakened over the past few decades, as Robert Putnam noted long ago in Bowling Alone. For younger generations especially, virtual (digital) association often take precedence over traditional forms.

Congregations and their Neighborhoods (August 2021)

Communities change and congregations move. A host of variables—immigration, tax policy, perceptions of school quality, and many others—create community change. Congregations seek to serve their members and to serve their communities, but the relationship between these two desires is fluid and dynamic. How congregations resolve this tension is what is important for us to understand.

The Changing Role of Clergy (July 2021)

Our observations suggest that the pastoral role is being decentralized to a significant degree. In large mainline, predominantly white Protestant congregations, as well as in the larger African American congregations, we are seeing movement toward leadership roles for supporting clergy or other  professional staff who have significant responsibilities beyond what assistants have traditionally done. Indeed, in the largest congregations, associates are essentially vice-presidents with full responsibilities for their functions. We even see shared preaching responsibilities in some settings. We are seeing sabbaticals among senior clergy with authority transferred, at least temporarily, to top associates.

Congregations and Mass Violence: More Questions than Answers (May 2021)

On April 15, 2021, Indianapolis was thrust into national, even international, headlines because of the shooting at a FedEx truck facility near the airport. We asked researchers to observe how the current eight congregations responded this extremely visible example of gun violence, as well as look in on the thirteen congregations we had observed in the past.

Congregations, Pandemic, and the Digital Divide (April 2021)

The pandemic shined a bright light on the digital divide among congregations. Students of congregations specifically, or service organizations more broadly, already knew there were wide disparities in the adoption of technology, but as congregations made the rapid switch to virtual platforms in March 2020, the differences became glaring.

January 6 and White Christian Nationalism (March 2021)

One of the most evident changes over the past two decades has been the dramatic increase in political partisanship. Such polarization has existed throughout U.S. history, with the 1960s an example within living memory. The hyper-partisanship of the 2020 election and its aftermath, especially in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, provided us a unique opportunity to gauge its impact on local congregations and clergy.

Advent during the Pandemic (February 2021)

The pandemic worsened in the fall, requiring many congregations to return to virtual worship. Disparities in audio-visual technology and the capacity to engage with members through digital media were evident. Moreover, Christians were entering one of their two most sacred seasons and many other religious traditions were celebrating their own winter festivals. How did congregations and clergy adapt to an emotion-laden high season under pandemic conditions?

RUC 1.0

Roundtable  (April 2001)

The final issue of RUC 1.0 Research Notes hosted a special roundtable discussion at The Polis Center, inviting researchers involved in the Project on Religion and Urban Culture to discuss what has been learned in the preceding five years of the Project.

An Analysis of Congregational Programs  (February 2001)

How are congregations currently involved in providing social services? Does charitable choice make a difference? Our analysis describes the program activities of 400 congregations in 17 urban and suburban neighborhoods. While our census grouped programs into six categories, worship services into four categories, and events into seven categories, for purposes of analysis, we have collapsed these activities into two broader categories: religious programs and social outreach programs.

Indianapolis Clergy: Private Ministries, Public Figures  (November 2000)

As religious and community leaders, clergy have joined the political battles over slavery, Prohibition, civil rights, the anti-war movement, and abortion. Recently, The Polis Center sponsored a telephone survey to explore the role clergy play in shaping community life in Indianapolis, and the extent of their involvement in neighborhood and city affairs. City residents were sampled to compare their views of clergy with how the clergy viewed themselves. In general, we found that Indianapolis clergy see themselves as having more influence in civic affairs than residents perceive them as having.

The Mosaic of Black Religion in Indianapolis  (September 2000)

Using the categories devised by Robert Franklin, we examined an array of worship styles and social-political stances among approximately 100 African-American congregations in Indianapolis. We found little evidence of the radical activist engagement that was once identified with black churches. However, new styles of social and political engagement are beginning to emerge. Franklin’s categories range from grassroots revivalists, who focus on personal salvation and individual responsibility, to prophetic radicals, who critique the basic economic and political structures of American society. The issue includes a roundtable discussion featuring scholars Elfriede Wedam, Ron Sommerville, and Joseph Tamney.

Religious Attitudes in Indianapolis: A Survey  (May 2000)

Since 1995, the Polis Center has been engaged in exploring the ways that religious organizations and people of faith shape community life in Indianapolis. In studying seventeen neighborhoods around the metro area, we have collected detailed information about the religious beliefs and practices of residents. There are several important questions that this project is interested in answering. What do Indianapolis residents think about the role of religion in this community? What do they believe about the priorities of religious groups; about the overall influence of the religious leaders in this city? What role do they see for congregations and religious leaders in making the city a better place to live? How do their religious beliefs affect their personal decisions? Roundtable discussion follows essay.

What Do You Mean By Average?  (March 2000)

If we expect congregation to assume a larger role in providing public services, we must begin with realistic expectations, based on a fair accounting of the enormous breadth and variety among congregations as organizations. We can accurately describe the mean and median sizes of congregational memberships and budgets in Indianapolis, but the numbers require interpretation. The majority of congregations are smaller and have less money than early studies would lead us to believe. The top tier of congregations—the largest one-fifth—have a very large share of the members and control a very large share of the money. In some urban neighborhoods the single largest congregation accounts for as much as 90 percent of all social service spending by congregations. Only 20 percent of congregations actually spend as much on social services as the mean-average. When only one-fifth of a group is “average” or above, there is something misleading about the term. Roundtable discussion follows essay.

Religion and Mobility in 20th Century Indianapolis  (December 1999)

Religious commuting—the act of driving to church in another neighborhood or even on the other side of the city—has been part of the metropolitan experience since the early 20th century. Surveys have consistently shown that people willingly drive past nearby congregations to attend one they prefer farther away. Such patterns of religious mobility challenge common perceptions that congregations are—or should be—locally oriented. Nevertheless, religious commuting can help to foster a sense of metropolitan connectedness, as people drive through other parts of the city to attend worship.

Ethno-Racial Diversity within Indianapolis Congregations  (August 1999)

More than forty years after the civil rights movement began to mobilize against racial segregation, religious congregations continue to reflect the segregation Americans experience in their voluntary associations in general. Diversity in public institutions does not translate easily into diversity within voluntary associations. Diversity in congregations is created by the combined effect of the congregation’s neighborhood context—its racial, ethnic, and class makeup—and the kinds of choices congregations make in response to the challenge of diversity. Most important is a conscious decision to be diverse. The stories of these congregations point to new ways of thinking about pluralism in voluntary associations generally. Roundtable discussion follows essay.

Religion and Social Welfare in 20th Century Indianapolis  (June 1999)

What is most striking about faith-based social welfare in the 20th century is not its decline but its continued presence. Despite the widespread fears of many that an expanded welfare state would result in a less vibrant civil society, the policies initiated by the public welfare sector often had the effect of helping buttress the voluntary sector even as they guaranteed a dominant role for the public sector. In Indianapolis, public agencies often frequently enlarged their responsibility for social welfare by cooperating with faith-based agencies. The history of the relationship between public social welfare agencies and private voluntary organizations suggests that, in Indianapolis at least, the voluntary or independent sector has never been completely independent; neither has the welfare state overtaken the voluntary sector. Roundtable discussion follows essay.

Faith and Place: Religion and the Metropolis in Historical Perspective  (April 1999)

Until the middle of this century, people’s conceptions of proximity and distance were closely correlated. Things physically nearby were perceived as “close,” while physically distant places were “far.” But changes in transportation and communication technology changed this dynamic. The metropolis is now structured around time, rather than distance. For congregations, this represents a dramatic shift. What does it mean to have a congregation that is geographically scattered yet still feels some tie to a church? What does “neighborhood ministry” mean when metropolitan growth has transformed the neighborhood into something much larger? How can you define “community” when you can’t physically see it? Roundtable discussion follows essay.

Religion and the Regional Metropolis  (January 1999)

During the last few decades, cities have redefined their boundaries to include their metropolitan areas. Greater Indianapolis, defined by economic and social interdependency, is a nine-county region of which Marion County is the center. How will religion shape, and be shaped by, the shift in focus from city to metropolis? Beginning with this issue of Research Notes, the essay is followed by a roundtable discussion of the issues raised in the paper. Participants included: Kim Didier of the Front Porch Alliance (FPA); Bill Enright, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church; Art Farnsley, director of research at The Polis Center; and moderator Kevin Armstrong, senior public teacher at The Polis Center.

Thinking of Congregations as Community Assets  (September 1998)

Neighborhoods in Indianapolis, as in every city, are concerned about community development. The desire for economic growth, necessary social services, and residential stability is universal. Scholars and policy-makers have turned more of their attention to the role congregations can play in community development. There is an assumption that congregations are important social assets that are not being fully leveraged. Our research in neighborhoods has shown, however, that residents do not consider congregations to be economic assets to the community. In fact, congregations on average spend very little money or time on the development of the neighborhoods around their houses of worship.

Age and Tenure Among Indianapolis Clergy  (April 1998)

The average Indianapolis pastor is a 50-year-old male. Full-time ministry is usually his second career. He is currently at his fourth ministerial post. These are some of the raw facts that emerge from the initial scan of a database that now includes more than 500 clergy in the city. There is a suggestive similarity between the age of clergy and the age of parishioners. In short: mature adults are over-represented by half in the average congregation we studied. Clergy are older, on average, than other professionals such as teachers. These two facts together do not prove a correlation, but they certainly suggest one.

A Report on the 1997 Summer Research Effort  (August 1997)

The Project on Religion and Urban Culture employed 33 high school, college, and graduate school students to help us learn about religion’s role in shaping Indianapolis. The majority of them spent their summer as part of a research team assigned to a particular Indianapolis neighborhood. Others searched for themes from our neighborhood research, or pursued individual projects on religion’s role in Indianapolis history. The students visited more than 150 congregations and other community organizations and meetings, writing reports and conducting interviews, with the mission to answer the questions that drive our research: Does place matter? Are urban neighborhoods similar, or different in meaningful ways? Does religion build social capital in a neighborhood? How do congregations fit into a neighborhood’s infrastructure?

Urban Congregations as Local Actors: The Rest of the Story  (December 1997)

In many neighborhoods, the majority of worshippers and clergy do not live in the area surrounding their church or synagogue. Most Christians believe they are called to love and to serve their neighbors. But must “neighbors” be defined as people who live near the sanctuary? In a mobile society, good stewardship may require making choices in which locale is not the overriding consideration. Significant racial or socioeconomic differences between the members of a congregation and the people who live around their sanctuary make communication and trust more difficult. On the other hand, when people from wealthier neighborhoods worship and serve in poorer neighborhoods, they often bring with them resources that the poor neighborhood lacks.

Urban Congregations as Local Actors  (August 1997)

Do congregations think and act locally? Does it matter whether congregations are, or intend to be, anchors for the neighborhoods surrounding their houses of worship? Catholics maintain parishes, but even when boundaries are not so clearly set, congregations often think of themselves as community resources, providing services to the folks who live around their house of worship. Some policy-makers believe congregations are in a better position than secular social workers to know those who live around their facilities, and can serve their neighbors in a way that imparts values and moral structure in addition to material goods and services. But is this true?

The Changing Face of Indianapolis Religion  (May 1997)

We’ve all looked at photographs of a beautiful landscape, of some place frozen in time by the camera. As lovely as that picture might be, it is limited in one important respect: it does not tell us much about the past. Did that landscape always look so beautiful? How have nature or humans shaped it over time? Only by looking at old photos of the same site at different times can we begin to understand how a place has changed.

The Religious Landscape of Indianapolis  (February 1997)

Most people sense that Indianapolis is a typical, mid-sized American city with traditional values, values presumably drawn from a representative sample of American religious traditions. But how closely does this “Crossroads of America” mirror the religious landscape of the United States?