Mark Chaves, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (291p) ISBN 978-0-674-01284-4

Considering how ubiquitous religious congregations are in America, it is surprising that social scientists had never carried out a statistically reliable survey of them before the 1998 National Congregations Survey. Principal investigator Chaves reports here on some of its more striking findings, based on a treasure trove of data from 1,236 congregations that reflect the diversity of the more than 300,000 congregations in America. (While non-Christian religions are growing, their numbers are so small that Chaves can only analyze the data for Christian and Jewish congregations.) Most relevant for current policy debates, Chaves examines how involved congregations are in providing faith-based social services. His conclusions are sobering: far from offering "holistic" or "transformational" services, congregations generally focus on services "requiring only fleeting contact, if any at all, with needy people." Further, there is no great untapped reserve of resources in congregations, most of which are quite small (60% of U.S. congregations have fewer than 100 active members). But if congregations' social service potential is often overstated, Chaves finds that they are the preeminent venue in American society for the arts, especially music—the only place, he points out, where Americans still regularly sing together. Though Chaves writes with admirable clarity, his Olympian statistical perspective makes for rather bloodless reading. However, he provides a vital empirical supplement to more anecdotal studies, and no doubt to many readers' assumptions. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/26/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-674-02944-6
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