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Places of Worship as Venues for Artistic Activities

Types of Artistic Activities at Places of Worship

According to the Arts & Religion Survey 1999, about six out of every seven places of worship (85%) sponsored at least one of the following artistic activities within the year preceding the survey -- an adult choir; a children's choir; a drama or skit; a musical performance (outside of worship services); an art festival or craft fair; a group discussion of art, literature, or poetry; a liturgical dance performance; or private music lessons. The most common artistic activities available to congregants were adult and children's choirs, present in about 71% and 58% of places of worship, respectively.

Even without counting choirs, nearly three-quarters of places of worship (73%) sponsored at least one of the other artistic activities listed above during the year prior to the survey. Nearly half (47%) sponsored a drama or skit, while a similar percentage (45%) sponsored a musical performance outside of worship services). One-third of places of worship (34%) sponsored an art festival or craft fair.

Artistic activities at places of worship - 1999

The types of artistic activities found in places of worship varied considerably across Protestant and Catholic churches. Evangelical or fundamentalist churches (and Protestant churches, in general) were significantly more likely than Catholic churches to have sponsored either a drama or skit or a musical performance (outside of worship services) during the past year. Such activities were mentioned by about half of the Protestants surveyed in this study, as compared to about a third of the Catholics.

Conversely, Catholic churches were more likely than Protestant churches to have sponsored either an art festival or craft fair or a discussion of art, literature, or poetry. For example, more than half (55%) of Catholics interviewed for this study said that their church had sponsored an art festival or craft fair during the past year, compared to 37% of mainline Protestants and just 22% of evangelicals. [Wuthnow, Robert. 2003. All in Sync: How Music and Art are Revitalizing American Religion. Berkeley CA: University of California Press]

Artistic activities at places of worship - 1999. By type of church

The Role of the Arts in Places of Worship

In addition to asking about the types of artistic (and non-artistic) activities found at places of worship during the past year, the Arts & Religion Survey 1999 also asked respondents to indicate the kinds of activities and programs they would most like their congregations to sponsor. Out of five types of artistic activities suggested, congregants were most interested in art festivals, concerts, or poetry readings and a worship service that features contemporary music. However, neither of these activities was favored by more than a third of congregants (29% and 28%, respectively).

While specific artistic activities do not gain support from a majority of congregants, these numbers do suggest that "in any church of any size there are likely to be enough members with interest in these activities that efforts to initiate such activities could be successful." Moreover, when taken together, a majority (52%) of congregants favor the idea of their congregations sponsoring at least one of the five activities mentioned -- art festivals, concerts, or poetry readings; a worship service featuring contemporary music; a discussion group on literature, music, or art; sermons that incorporate ideas from the arts and literature; or opportunities to explore spirituality through painting, sculpture, or dance. [Wuthnow, Robert. 2003. All in Sync: How Music and Art are Revitalizing American Religion. Berkeley CA: University of California Press]

Bar graph: Artistic activities at places of worship - 1999. Would you like your congregation to sponsor any of these activities? (Arts and Religion Survey 1999)

Beyond these findings regarding specific artistic activities, the Arts & Religion Survey 1999 found significant support for the general idea that churches should do more to bring the arts into places of worship. For example, about three-quarters of church members agreed that churches should encourage the artistic talents of their members, while about half agreed that churches should experiment more with new forms of music and art. Evangelicals were especially likely to agree with the former (78%), while Catholics were especially likely to agree with the latter (56%).

Bar graph: Role of the arts in places of worship - 1999. By type of church.

 

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