Date of this Version
Review of Religious Research (2010) 51(4): 366-379.
Surveying key informants is a common methodology in congregational research. While practical and cost-effective, there are limitations in the ability of a single informant to speak for an entire organization. This paper explores potential limitations empirically. Using the 1993 American Congregational Giving Study, we compare demographic descriptions provided by pastors to demographic information taken from random samples of members in the same congregations. Significant differences in congregational profiles appear along dimensions of gender, age, race/ethnicity and, most notably, education and income. The amount of discrepancy between pastor and member profiles varies by congregational factors such as denominational affiliation and employment status of pastor. We construct diversity measures using both pastor descriptions and surveys from samples of congregation members to demonstrate the impact of data type on conclusions drawn from empirical research. Difficulties notwithstanding, key informant methodology has a place in congregational research with appropriate precautions. Of course, the most complete view of congregations is one that combines perceptions from the pulpit with information directly from the pews.