Portraits of American Life Study
Hosted by The ARDA
The PALS seeks to understand the impact of religion in everyday life, and ultimately the connections between religious change and other forms of change among diverse individuals and families over the course of their lives.

Participation (2006)

Beyond attending worship services, congregations offer many avenues for members to become involved, whether participating in social activities, serving on committees or taking leadership roles, or volunteering in other ways.

Social Activities

The average person who is affiliated with a congregation participated in social activities or groups several times a year but not quite once a month. Jewish respondents, and each of the Protestant categories (Evangelical, Black, Mainline, and Other) reported higher participation rates than average. Catholics and Religiously Unaffiliated persons have the lowest participation rates.

Almost half of the Jewish respondents reported participating in social activities two to three times a month or more, while conversely, a full third reported never participating.

Laity Leadership

When asked about leadership roles, such as teacher, elder, small group leader or worship leader, about one in five persons (20%) held such a role in the past three years. Hispanic and Asian members reported serving as laity leaders less frequently.

Almost half of the Jewish respondents reported serving in a leadership role. About a third of Evangelicals served as a leader, while about 1 in 4 of the Black Protestants and Mainline held a leadership position. Only 1 in 10 Catholics held a leadership role, which is less than persons who are Religiously Unaffiliated (13%).

African Americans among Mainline Protestants were more likely to hold leadership positions (44%) compared to African Americans among Evangelicals (27%) and Black Protestants (27%).

Because over 70% of Hispanics are Catholic and few Catholics hold leadership roles, only 14% of Hispanics are among the laity leadership.

Asian Evangelical Protestants have a much greater likelihood of holding a leadership role than Asians among any other religious tradition.

Why is the average Catholic less likely to be among the laity leadership? Is it related to the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church? Is it due to the size of a congregation? According to the U.S. Congregations Study, 2000, the average weekly attendance is 715 at Catholic Churches compared to 225 at Black Protestants, 127 at Mainline Protestants, and 120 at Evangelical Protestant churches. COMMENTS.

Committees and Volunteering

One in five persons (20%) affiliated with a congregation served on a committee or board during the previous three years. African Americans were more likely than other race groups to serve on committees or boards of their congregation.

Almost half of Jewish respondents serve on boards or committees of their synagogue while a third of Mainline Protestants are committee members. About a fourth of Black Protestants and Evangelical Protestants served on committees with Catholics having a low committee participation rate of 12%.

African Americans among Evangelicals (40%) and Mainline Protestants (33%) were more likely to serve on committees compared to African Americans among Black Protestants (27%).

About one third of persons affiliated with a congregation felt burned out or overextended by their work at their congregation, at some time during the last three years. Of those persons, 15% felt this way often. Black Protestants and Jewish respondents reported higher levels of burn out than the average.

Despite some feelings of burnout, 94% of congregation volunteers felt appreciated at some point by the congregation leadership. On average, volunteers felt appreciated in the range of "often" to "very often." Jewish respondents reported feeling appreciated less frequently than average, while members of other affiliated religious traditions (non-Christian) frequently felt appreciated – 60% reported feeling appreciated "all the time."

The more often volunteers felt appreciated by the congregation leadership, the less often they felt burned out. Do you have suggestions for others as to how to show appreciation to volunteers? COMMENTS.


Give us your feedback!

Through out these sections, we invite you to enter the discussion about these findings and what their implications may be. Click on the COMMENT link to send your thoughts to pals@rice.edu. Where appropriate we will include comments for others to read and discuss. Names of contributors will not be posted, but, if you like, include your religious tradition.

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