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1999 NCC News Archives

Value of NCC's Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches to Grow
With Three-Year, $635,000 Redevelopment Grant from Lilly Endowment

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 1999 ---- Already an indispensable resource on North American religious life, the National Council of Churches’ Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches will become even more valuable over the next three years thanks to a $635,000 redevelopment grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

With the grant, the Yearbook will computerize its 67-year database on church membership and finances, a rich vein of information currently available only to those with access to the printed volumes and the time and patience to mine them. It will develop new user-friendly CD-ROM and web-based products to supplement its annual print edition, institute electronic data gathering and enhance its marketing.

The Yearbook, whose 1999 edition is due off press February 1, is the most up-to-date, comprehensive source of statistics from North America’s churches. It offers the most complete available summary of denominational membership and finances, along with extensive directories of denominational and ecumenical bodies and trends essays.

Church leaders, journalists, seminary and public libraries, researchers and scholars use the Yearbook extensively. The U.S. Census Bureau, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies, American Religion Data Archive, World Almanac and Book of Facts, The New York Times Almanac and others are regular users of the data.

With the Endowment grant, said the Yearbook’s editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, "we will hitch this venerable wagon of church history to the bright star of new technologies. The new CD-ROMs will, for the first time, assemble all of the 67 years of church membership and finance data in a single place. Current and historical Yearbook data will be available in a very cost-effective way to any researcher anywhere in the world."

"The Yearbook was at its inception very forward looking, and recognized religion’s important part in American cultural history," Dr. Lindner said. "Since its first edition in 1916, the Yearbook made use of new sciences of demography, sociology and the like that at the time were relatively foreign to religion. The Yearbook redevelopment project makes use of today’s new electronic sciences, and will help us understand in much finer resolution the details of our American family portrait."

Hailing the Endowment grant as "good news," John Dart of Northridge, Calif., recently retired from the Los Angeles Times after 31 years covering religion news, said, "The Yearbook has annually extended its long track record of reliable facts about North America’s denominations, seminaries, periodicals and associations.

"Journalists and researchers cannot do without it, to put it plainly," said Dart, author of Deities and Deadlines, a popular guide to religion news coverage. "If a journalist covering religion news were confined to a cubicle away from the newsroom by a perverse editor allowing the writer to have only a computer, a telephone and one sourcebook, the Yearbook would be the obvious choice of that wretched monastic (who would still impress readers with his or her breadth of knowledge and contacts)."

Said Greta Lauria of Louisville, Ky., Secretary/Treasurer of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, "Over the years the Yearbook has become like a friend you can always count on to give you the information you need. My colleagues and I use it regularly. The Yearbook belongs in the library of anyone who has a serious interest in the state of the church. I’m glad to learn that the NCC is being given the grant to put the Yearbook into electronic format, which will make it accessible to many more users."

The Yearbook "is a vital tradition and it’s wonderful that it’s going to be strengthened," said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of the empty tomb, inc., a Christian research and service organization based in Champaign, Ill. "It is a vital source for researchers, scholars and any interested church person and consolidates information from many denominations into one central location.

"We’ve found the data incredibly helpful in doing historical analysis on church giving and membership patterns," she said. "Using these data, which we’ve not been able to find elsewhere, we’ve been able to take the temperature of church member commitment in the United States."

The 1999 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches features more than 1,000 updates on a record 231 churches; a new listing of religion research centers; statistical charts and commentaries on a century of church growth in the United States and Canada, and an "electronic church" chapter with twice as many listings as in 1998.

The New York Times’ senior religion correspondent, Gustav Niebuhr, has contributed a feature on "American Religion at the Millennium’s End," and there is a new program index to youth programs, homeless/shelter ministries, hunger/food programs, interfaith dialogue and faith and order initiatives.

Prepared by staff of the National Council of Churches, the Yearbook is published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn. Once out, the book retails for $29.95. Until February 1, it may be ordered for $22.45 – a 25 percent pre-production discount – plus $3.50 shipping and handling. Phone 1-800-672-1789.


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