Choosing the Demographic Data

Logo for series on Church Demographics and Congregational Websites

One of the advantages of being part of a large congregation is that it’s easy to gather good statistics for this kind of research. The ELCA is a large, nationwide denomination with over 10,000 congregations, and with that kind of size comes a great deal of complexity. I identified the two biggest factors as being congregation size and community setting.

  • The ELCA has congregations ranging in size from tiny rural sanctuaries to megachurches. Congregational size affects the resources available to a congregation to create a website, as well as the attractiveness of a congregation in drawing people to visit a church website.
  • Churches in communities experiencing population growth or turnover, such as suburban settings, are more likely to have people seeking a new congregation and visiting a church website. On the other hand, churches in areas going through depopulation, such as some rural areas, will have relatively fewer visitors, and thus will have less effectiveness even for a technically excellent website.

Correlation is not causation, and this study’s methodology does not attempt to extract causation from the data collected. The confounding factors involved mean that when the data is analyzed, we might only conclude that large congregations create nicer websites. No one would be surprised by that. But if we see a rural or urban congregation experiencing unexpected growth with an excellent website, we might conclude that the website was part of the draw – and similarly, a suburban congregation in a demographic slump might have a low quality website partly to blame.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the particular sampling strategy used to get the data I needed for this research.

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