Researchers unveil study on congregations’ community impact

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Sept. 9, 2016 — After two years of work, a team of researchers at Missouri State University and Drury University today released a report titled “Springfield Area Congregations Study: Profile and Community Engagement” that explored the dimensions and community impact of congregations in Greene and Christian counties.

“This study filled the gap in the community as there needed to be a study that shows how many churches there are, who they are and what they are doing,” said Dan Prater, Drury University executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership. “It reinforces the truth that community issues require community collaboration and change.”

Study Results 

The study focuses on congregations as part of the nonprofit sector and their engagement in social services, volunteer activity and other forms of civic activity. It not only complements Missouri State’s studies on social capital and civic engagement, but also serves as a companion report to Drury’s 2014 Nonprofit Impact Study.

A total of 176 congregations completed the study’s survey. Among the study’s key findings were:

  • Greene County has a higher density of congregations compared to other similarly sized counties nationwide
  • 16 percent of congregational leaders are women and 7 percent are members of a racial minority
  • 91 percent have at least one organized group for members such as Bible studies and social groups
  • 88 percent sponsor social service programs that serve the broader community
  • 82 percent provide volunteers for schools, social service and other community agencies
  • 77 percent of congregations have leaders who are involved in community activities
  • 90 percent of congregations collaborate with other congregations or community groups
  • Congregation size has the most notable effect on community engagement

“The most interesting finding for me is there is a high level of participation among all churches, but larger churches tend to be more involved,” said Dr. Catherine Hoegeman, Missouri State assistant professor of sociology. “The next step is to see why that is and if there are ways to offer partnerships with smaller churches who often do not have the same resources.”

The report was a collaborative effort among four researchers: Hoegeman, Prater, Christina Ryder, Missouri State sociology instructor and director of community based research at the Center for Community Engagement, and Matthew Gallion, Missouri State alumnus and CaseWorthy Inc. client support specialist.

“This study is a first-of-its-kind report providing an in-depth look at important traits and contributions of these groups in the Springfield area,” said Hoegeman.

Study design

The research team created a comprehensive list of 549 congregations. They followed the same definition of congregation used by the National Congregations Study (NCS), which includes a series of surveys done in 1998, 2006 and 2012 to find out about programs and other characteristics of American congregations.

To collect the information, the team designed a survey that included questions about congregational characteristics and activities, involvement of congregations’ leaders in community activities and congregation-sponsored volunteering at other organizations.

The questions were based on the NCS so comparisons could be made between congregations in the Springfield area and nationwide.

For more information, contact Dan Prater, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at (417) 873-7443 or dprater@drury.edu; or Hoegeman at 417-836-5683.

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