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National Congregations Study - 1998, 2006, and 2012 [Cumulative File] (ICPSR 3471)

Principal Investigator(s):


The National Congregations Study (NCS) surveys a representative sample of America's churches, synagogues, mosques, and other local places of worship. The current cumulative NCS dataset includes Waves I, II, and III data. Wave I was conducted in 1998, Wave II in 2006-07, and Wave III in 2012. Wave II also included a panel component comprising re-interviews of a sample of congregations who participated in Wave I. Between all three waves of the NCS, the study now includes data from 4,071 congregations. A key informant in each congregation was asked to provide information about many aspects of the congregation, including clergy characteristics, social composition, worship services, community and political activities, and much more. NCS congregations were selected using hypernetwork sampling: respondents of the 1998, 2006, and 2012 General Social Surveys (GSS) who said that they attended religious services at least once a year were asked to report the name and location of their congregation. These congregations comprised the NCS samples. Interviews with a single informant in each congregation then took place via telephone, or in person if necessary, and most of the informants were clergy. Respondents were asked to describe their position, the year the congregation had been founded, when it began worshipping in its current location, and whether it was formally affiliated with a denomination or a local association of congregations. Informants also described the type of building in which the congregation met, whether it belonged to the congregation, and whether visitors came just to view the building's architecture or artwork. Respondents were asked for the number of members, participating nonmembers and full- and part-time staff, how many participated regularly, the number of worship services, and the demographic characteristics of members and the congregation's head or senior leader. They also described the worship service, including its length, languages used, attendance, whether the congregation sang, engaged in silent prayer or meditation, applauded, used incense in the services, or worshipped jointly with another congregation, among other activities. Informants listed and described programs sponsored by the congregation other than the main worship services, including religious education classes, musical groups, groups meeting around social justice, neighborhood, or community issues, vacation or summer religious schools, and groups to help people with substance abuse problems. Informants indicated whether meetings for purposes such as discussing people's problems or concerns at work, praying or meditating, discussing race relations, or taking an overnight trip had occurred in the past 12 months. Respondents also described the congregation's participation in social service, community development, or neighborhood organizing projects such as disaster relief programs, programs for victims of rape or domestic violence, cleaning highways or parks, programs focused on physical health needs, and recreational programs. Information was given in regards to the congregation's budget, the source of its funding, and recipients of the congregation's funds. In addition, informants were asked to describe the congregation's political and theological leanings from "more on the conservative side" to "more on the liberal side," and whether the congregation had rules or norms governing certain behaviors. Finally, nearly all congregations were placed within a census tract, enabling the inclusion of selected census variables in the data file.

Access Notes

  • These data are available only to users at ICPSR member institutions. Because you are not logged in, we cannot verify that you will be able to download these data.


DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  Cumulative (1998, 2006-07, and 2012) Cross-Sectional Data File - Download All Files (53.9 MB)
DS2:  Panel (2006-07) Data File - Download All Files (14.9 MB)

Study Description


Chaves, Mark A. National Congregations Study - 1998, 2006, and 2012 [Cumulative File]. ICPSR03471-v3. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2015-05-06. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03471.v3

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This study was funded by:

  • Lilly Endowment, Inc. (#1997-1429-000, #2006-1675-000, #2011 0974-000)
  • Duke University
  • Smith Richardson Foundation (#9801-020)
  • Louisville Institute (#97-0074, #2005105)
  • Aspen Institute (#98-1-NSRF-01D)
  • Henry Luce Foundation
  • National Science Foundation (#0452269 and support of the General Social Survey)
  • W. K. Kellogg Foundation (#P0118042)
  • University of Arizona

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   advocacy, charitable donations, church attendance, church buildings, church groups, church membership, clergy, community involvement, community participation, demographic characteristics, financial support, gender roles, leadership, memberships, mosques, outreach programs, political ideologies, religion, religious affiliation, religious behavior, religious beliefs, religious congregations, religious denominations, social activism, social behavior, social issues, synagogues, worship

Smallest Geographic Unit:   Region

Geographic Coverage:   United States

Time Period:  

  • 1998
  • 2006
  • 2012

Date of Collection:  

  • 1998
  • 2006
  • 2012

Unit of Observation:   Congregation

Universe:   United States religious congregations.

Data Types:   survey data

Data Collection Notes:

In Wave II a panel component was added to the NCS. In addition to the new cross-section of congregations generated in conjunction with the 2006 GSS, a stratified random sample of congregations who participated in NCS Wave I was drawn.

Verbatim responses are not included in the public dataset. Several sets of Wave I open-ended responses for social service programs, congregational groups, and other items were recoded by the data producer to ensure comparability between Waves I, II, and III. Researchers interested in working directly with the verbatim responses should contact the Principal Investigator to arrange access.

NCS Waves II and III data collection differed from NCS Wave I data collection in that the NCS Waves II and III questionnaire was translated into Spanish and eleven interviews were conducted in Spanish.

More summertime interviews were conducted in Wave II: 34 percent compared with 20 percent in Wave I. Analysts should ensure that differences between the two waves do not reflect a higher percentage of summer interviews in Wave II. No information was provided regarding seasonality in Wave III.

A different data collection strategy produced more in-person interviews in Wave II: 22.5 percent versus 7.5 percent in Wave I. In Wave I, all NCS cases were allocated immediately to field staff around the country who were relatively close to their assigned congregations. In Wave II, data collection began from phone banks in Chicago and Arizona. Wave III returned to the Wave I strategy, producing 8.5 percent in-person interviews.

Wave III included an oversample of congregations attended by self-identified Hispanics.

For more information on this study, please refer to the National Congregations Study Web site.


Study Purpose:   The purpose of this study was to create a representative sample of religious congregations in the United States, allowing researchers to conduct more rigorous analyses of congregation data.

Sample:   NCS congregations were selected using hypernetwork sampling: respondents of the 1998, 2006, and 2012 General Social Surveys (GSS) who said that they attended religious services at least once a year were asked to report the name and location of their congregation. These congregations comprised the NCS samples.

Time Method:   Longitudinal: Trend / Repeated Cross-section

Kind of Data:   quantitative

Weight:   The data are not weighted. For most purposes, analysts will want to weight the data by WT_ALL3_CONG_DUP when examining the data from the average congregation's perspective and by WT_ALL3_ATTENDEE when examining the data from the average attendee's perspective. The panel dataset contains two weighting variables: W7 and W8. These are analogous to WT_ALL3_CONG_DUP and WT_ALL3_ATTENDEE, respectively, in the cumulative cross-sectional dataset. The NCS-III weights are described in detail in the document entitled "Original P.I. Documentation."

Mode of Data Collection:   computer-assisted personal interview (CAPI), face-to-face interview, telephone interview

Response Rates:   Wave I (80 percent); Wave II (78 percent); Wave III (between 73 and 78 percent - depends on calculation method and assumptions)

Extent of Processing:  ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


Original ICPSR Release:  

Version History:

  • 2015-05-06 The cumulative file, dataset 1, has been updated by the producer to include the NCS Wave III data (2012). No additions or changes were made to the panel dataset during this update. However, the previously study-wide codebook has been divided into two dataset-specific codebooks. ICPSR also generated a new version of the Variable Description and Frequencies for the panel dataset codebook as well an R data file for the panel dataset.
  • 2009-11-17 NCS Wave I data (1998) and Wave II data (2006-07) have been combined into the current version of the cumulative file. Also, a panel dataset was added, and several sets of Wave I open-ended responses for social service programs, congregational groups, and other items were recoded by the data producer to ensure comparability between Wave I and Wave II.

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