Structural and Cultural Sources of Community in American Congregations

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Religious institutions are among the deepest reservoirs of social belonging in America, but what determines whether belonging is cultivated in these institutions? Previous research shows that individuals’ social network composition is a primary predictor of feelings of belonging. However, less is known about how group characteristics condition the influence of social networks on belonging. We use data from the 2001 U.S. Congregational Life Survey and multilevel modeling to examine how organizational characteristics such as group size, in-group network density, and aggregate ideological uniformity moderate the effects of individual social networks on sense of belonging. Results indicate that both structural (network density, church size) and cultural (ideology) characteristics of groups significantly condition the effects of individual social networks on belonging. Smaller group size, network density, and ideological unity cultivate contexts that amplify the relationship between personal networks and belonging.