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A matter of FACT

Faith Communities Today, an organization of researchers, is making good use of the new conference space at the Presbyterian Center

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The beverage center, part of the new conference facility at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, is a popular gathering spot among conference-goers. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

LOUISVILLE — The first organization outside the PC(USA) to use the new conference space in the Presbyterian Center goes by the acronym FACT, an apt name for ecumenical researchers from around the country.

About 20 members of the Hartford Institute’s Faith Communities Today meeting in person and another 10 or so joining online concluded the organization’s two-day annual meeting Wednesday. Dr. Susan Barnett, director of Research Services in the PC(USA)’s Administrative Services Group, said one FACT member told her she now has “conference room envy” after meeting in the renovated space in downtown Louisville.

“It’s a great facility,” Barnett said just before breakfast was served there Wednesday morning. “We have space for refreshments, and the rooms are high-tech equipped.”

Kathy Lueckert, the president of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, welcomed attendees on Tuesday.

FACT includes members from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Bahá’i and Hindu traditions. The PC(USA) is among the members of FACT, and with four researchers [and one vacant position], it’s among the most robust of the FACT contingent present for the annual meeting.

“For those denominations who no longer have research offices or never did, they can benefit from [FACT’s] research,” Barnett said. One such example is EPIC, for Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations, a five-year study.

“From this we’ve learned commonalities that congregations anywhere are facing. Do we stay hybrid or return to in-person worship? What are the stressors on pastors? Are [church] finances going down?” Barnett said. “We are also looking at the decline in participation.”

Every 10 years, FACT does an extensive survey. Every five years, it looks at hot topics. Because of all the changes brought about by the pandemic, the organization is currently designing a 2023 survey to look at church finances and the well-being of clergy and other church leaders, among other topics.

Researchers are partnering with the Hartford Institute for Religion Research to design and execute the 2023 survey. Some of the questions go back to a 2020 survey and are being repeated for a good reason: across the nation, the pandemic closed many church offices in 2020. Barnett said researchers hope to “pick up some data we missed” now that so many church offices have reopened.


Susan Barnett

“Within FACT there is great collaboration. We work together to put out our reports,” Barnett said. “If there is an issue, we can call and say, ‘Are you seeing this in your denomination?’ That way we don’t have only the Presbyterian perspective. It expands our body of knowledge.”

It also gives researchers a much larger group of churches when it comes time to conduct a survey.

“Our [PC(USA)] congregations are growing tired of talking about [Covid], but it’s important to look at the long-term impact of this pandemic,” Barnett said. “To have information we are gathering from other denominations will help to inform us as well. I could not have 2,000 Presbyterian churches participate in a Covid study. But collectively we get a representative number of congregations.”

Barnett, who’s at the end of her third and final term as FACT co-chair, said the organization voted on Wednesday to return to the Presbyterian Center for its next annual conference, set for Aug. 8-9, 2023.

On Tuesday during their down time, some conference attendees rented bicycles and electric scooters to explore the Louisville waterfront, which is less than a block from the Presbyterian Center.

“It’s convenient with all the local hotels and restaurants,” Barnett said of the new conference center. “They’re all within walking distance.”

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