One of the most salient features of the Unites States is the high level of its population's religiosity and participation in congregational activities. Most recently, the spread of evangelical megachurches has drawn much attention in sociological debates. In our view, the growth of megachurches indicates the rise of a new religious market logic that increasingly displaces the previous logic of the denomination in the field of US Protestantism. In this process, the traditional image of the local congregation as a "subunit" of the denomination is replaced by the idea of the congregation as an entrepreneurial organization that has to shape its market niche. Consequently, local congregations increasingly produce worship services as religious performances for large audiences, tailor their programs to the religious preferences of potential participants, and compete with each other using innovative techniques in order to attract new members.
Our project aims at studying how the transformation of the protestant field from denominationalism to the religious market affects religious participation, spiritual practices, and the patterns of local religious organization.
We compare six congregations each from two metropolitan areas in the United States (Houston and Minneapolis/St. Paul) in terms of their social network structures, governance forms and religious identifications. Our empirical research rests on a multilevel case study approach that includes:
interviews with staff members and attenders of the congregations, focusing on questions about organizational practices, religious programs, and network structures,
an online survey with attenders of the congregations, focusing on their religious biographies, attitudes, and practices,
a content analysis of organizational documents and websites focusing on the formal governance, mission statements and representation of the organization in social media.
Area of research