Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


The National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States (NCC) was created in 1950 through a merger of predecessor councils to coordinate Protestant endeavors.

The NCC's organizational roots date to the early twentieth century. Leaders in mainline Protestant denominations were becoming increasingly aware of the need for churches to express more adequately their unity in Christ and to engage more actively in applying the Christian ethic to problems of a rapidly growing and changing industrial society. The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, organized in 1908 with initial participation of 33 Protestant denominations, was their answer. Conservatives who consider the Christian Gospel to apply solely to individuals were critical of this and later attempts to implement Social Gospel ideology. Nevertheless, numerous projects, such as an investigation of work conditions in steel plants and the beginning of a major study of the implications of Christian ethics for the conduct of economic life, were accomplished. The Home Missions Council (1908) focused on other aspects of the relation of Protestant churches to changing society, such as comity arrangements to reduce denominational competition in new areas of population growth, reducing duplication of efforts in sparsely populated or declining rural areas, and coordinating efforts to serve new immigrants.

The NCC brought together these two organizations, along with 10 others and their concerns, such as campus ministries, church world service, foreign missions, Protestant films and radio, and religious education. The current NCC provides a wide range of coordinative services for the moderates of American Protestantism. Some research activity was an original dimension of approaching most of these concerns. In the NCC, research was centralized, then reduced in scope, and finally eliminated as a discrete in-house function.

The NCC publishes the Yearbook of American Churches , which began in 1916 as the Federal Council Handbook , now including Canada. It is the only comprehensive source of church statistics in North America. The Federal Council began publication of Information Service in 1921 (terminated in 1969), which summarized and interpreted sociological studies on socioethical issues. Other documents were internally produced with the aid of social science consultants. The heritage of field studies of communities and their churching came through the Home Missions Council to the NCC. Major new approaches were taken later, such as a decennial county church and membership distribution study, beginning in 1956 (now continued under the auspices of the Glenmary Research Center); the mass media study The Television-Radio Audience and Religion (1955); the Unchurched American study (1978), coordinated with George Gallup and a number of denominations.

Everett L. Perry


S. M. Cavert, Church Cooperation and Unity in America (New York: Association Press, 1970).

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