Organization and Religious Participation: Solving Collective Action Problems at the Congregational Level

Wollschleger, Jason. 2010. "Organization and Religious Participation: Solving Collective Action Problems at the Congregational Level." PhD Dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Washington.

Steve Pfaff (Chair), James Felak (GSR), Anthony Gill, Becky Pettit, James Wellman,

This dissertation explores how the organizational structure of religious congregations affects religious participation. Religious participation is viewed as a form of collective action, and the central thesis is that congregations that have solved or mitigated the collective action problems of free riding and coordination through their organization will have higher levels of participation. Participation is measured as both giving and attendance, and the Collective Action approach is tested along with Collins' Interaction Ritual Chains theory using data from the National Congregation Study (1998) and the American Congregation Giving Study (1993). The quantitative analyses offer support for both the Collective Action approach to religious participation as well as the Interaction Ritual Chain theory. The quantitative research is supplemented by a most similar case study of two congregations in the urban Pacific Northwest in an effort to get at the underlying structural mechanisms influencing participation. The congregations belong to the same liberal mainline denomination and have similar histories and demographic compositions; they are similar except that one is thriving and the other declining. As expected the thriving congregation has found ways to solve collective action problems through its organization; primarily through the use of staff as agents, the use of selective incentives, and the creation of mutual expectations of participation. Additionally, in line with Interaction Ritual Chains Theory, the thriving congregation has implemented a series of effective rites that function to integrate the congregation's members into the group and increase solidarity and congregants emotional attachment to the group. The dissertation proposes a way to integrate the non-rational micro-foundations of Interaction Ritual Chain with the rational micro-foundations of the Collective Action Approach and the Religious Economies Approach in a way that addresses current gaps or inconsistencies in the literature. Additionally the unexpected findings of the congregational case study are discussed these include the important role of leaders, the importance of offering distinctively religious goods, and evangelism i.e. avenues into the congregation for lapsed/non-Christian adults.

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