Drums Are Not That Common And 6 Other Surprises from the National Congregations Study

<p>Who knew that about 80% of congregations have a time for greetings in the midst of a church service? I didn't. In this post, I cover the most interesting and surprising findings of the National Congregations Study's most recent report—from drums, to incense, to the best places to find a job as a professional musician.</p>

This post is part of a series on the National Congregations Study, a sociological study of religious congregations in America. Check out my summary of the study’s main findings and specifics on worship services, the growing informality of worship services, and what the study tells us about the power of small groups and choirs.

Who knew that about 80% of congregations have a time for greetings in the midst of a church service? I didn’t. In this post, I cover the most interesting and surprising findings of the National Congregations Study’s most recent report.

Drums are not actually that common

Only 9.8% of white liberal congregations use drums and only 28% of white conservative ones do. To read articles like this one in Christianity Today, you would think that every white-leaning Protestant church uses drums and if yours doesn’t, you really need to get with the program. But that just isn’t true.

Incense—not very likely

Only 20% of Catholic congregations use incense. So, friends of mine who wish their parish did use incense…first of all, it’s not just your parish, and second…come visit us Orthodox! We have boatloads of it!

Conservatives favor visual projection

White conservative congregations are least likely to have a printed bulletin or order of service—and the most likely to use visual projection equipment. Pretty sure these two factors are related. Also likely related: conservatives are much, much less likely to have corporate readings (e.g. responsorial prayers and psalms, everyone praying the same prayer together) than any other branch of Christianity.

More soloists at conservative than liberal churches

White liberals are way less likely to have a soloist in their main service than white conservatives—21.9% to 51.5%. I wonder what causes that shift? Is it just that conservatives are more likely to use contemporary worship music—a style that typically encourages solo singing?

Youth ensembles most likely at black Protestant churches

66.8% of black Protestant congregations have youth music ensembles. How fantastic is that? (White Protestants and Catholics…not so much.)

Laughter? Movement? Socializing?

Want to laugh? Head to your local white liberal congregation (86.7% have laughter at the main service) and steer clear of the neighborhood Catholics (only 50%).

Want to move? Head to a black Protestant or white conservative congregation—these are most likely to have spontaneous jumping, shouting, or dancing (63.9% and 21.6%, respectively). The numbers plummet to about 3% for Catholics and white liberals.

Mingling and socializing: before and after a main service, congregations usually have about 35 minutes to informally socialize (check out Question #240 here)In the service itself, about 80% of congregations have a time for greetings—the “passing of the peace” in many churches or, in the Baptist circles I grew up in, the “handshake chorus” in which I, the pianist, played a chorus while people milled around for a few minutes and the occasional joker would get me to squeeze in a quick handshake without missing a beat of the song.

For professional musicians…

(Because making music is work. It’s not a full-time hobby that pays in fun and love and puppies. Also: musicians need to eat/pay rent/wear clothes just like everybody else.)

One, don’t put your money on white conservative churches—only 14.5% typically have a paid musician at a main service (and yes, that 14.5% could include the music director who is also the youth leader who also teaches Sunday School).

Two, black Protestant churches are not much better: 23.2% typically have a paid musician at the main service.

Three, Catholic and white liberal congregations are your best bet (but you knew that already): about 44% of them have paid musicians in their main services. And of course this means possibly good things if you’re an organist, pianist, vocalist, or choir director…and not so good if you’re a drummer.

Last but not least: if you’re an organist hoping to move west—well, good luck finding a job!

Note: for the purposes of this post, I simplified the categories of “white liberal/moderate” and “white conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist” to “white liberal” and “white conservative.” These categories roughly correspond to mainline Protestants and white evangelicals.