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Sociology of Religion article
Sociology of Religion article

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Does Strictness Explain the Appeal of Working-Class Conservative Protestant Congregations?Author(s): Joseph B. TamneySource:
Sociology of Religion,
Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 283-302Published by:
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Accessed: 15/04/2013 04:14
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This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:14:56 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Sociology f Religion 005, 66:3 283-302
Working Class
Joseph B. Tamney*
Ball State University
For ifferent easons, elley 1977) nd annaccone 1994) ave rgued hat scetic trictness causes ongregational rowth. he elevant ublished ase tudies f congregations o not upport strictness heory, owever his esearch oncerned ainly iddle-class ongregations. recently ub-
lished uantitative tudy ound hat church rowth was positively ssociated ith trictness, ut only
among orking-class ongregations. hus he esearch eported n his aper ocused n working-class congregations nd was meant o determine f there s a causal onnection, nd ot ust statistical association, etween trictness nd hurch rowth. pen-ended nterviews ere one with ew ar- ticipants n wo working-class rotestant ongregations bout hat rew hem o their ew ongrega- tions. he most mportant actors ere eeling he resence f the Holy pirit, he amily-like ature of congregational ife, nd ualities f he astor. o evidence upporting trictness heory as ound. The popularity f a congregation, t the micro evel, or of a brand f religion, at the macro evel, cannot be explained sing a single heory, s demonstrated y the successful se of various approaches o explain he rise and fall of religious groups. Resource mobilization heory has been used o explain he success f cer- tain congregations n attracting members e.g., Ammerman 997; annaccone, Olson, and Stark 1995). Social control heory has helped o understand hy peo- ple become religious nones nd, conversely, why they retain he religion nto which they were socialized Tamney, Powell, and Johnson 1989; Sherkat and Wilson 1995). Researchers ave, also, emphasized hat the appeal of religious groups s related o the provision f non-religious ewards y religious rganiza- tions such as by offering ellow congregants ho have the same class standing s the convert Newport 1979; Sherkat and Wilson 1995), offering health care or education Stark 2001:35, 91), supporting political opposition, r preserving n ethnic culture (e.g., Tamney 1992; Ellison and Sherkat 1995). Yet other researchers ave focused n the appeal f the religious message-some emphasize modernization heory e.g., Lambert 999; Tamney 002) and others emphasize *Direct orrespondence o: oseph . Tamney, -Mail: amneyj@aol.com
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:14:56 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
strictness e.g., Kelley 1977). This paper reports esearch xamining whether strictness heory s useful n understanding he attractiveness f religious ongre- gations. STRICTNESS THEORY Dean Kelley 1977) developed is version f strictness heory o explain why mainline Protestant enominations ere not growing nd the more conservative Protestant nes were ncreasing heir share of the religious market. He imagined what an ideal type of religion might be, and concluded hat such a religion would attend o its essential business: explaining he meaning f life in ultimate terms pp. 37, 56). While many organizations, eligious and otherwise, offer interpretations f life, all are not equally uccessful. he appeal f a specific roup is not a function of its message bout meaning but of the apparent eriousness f the group's members p. 53). Kelley heorized hat to the extent members f a religious group make sacrifices or retaining heir membership n a strong church, utsiders will assume he group's message must be worthwhile, nd thus they will be drawn o the group. Seriousness, hen, is signaled by costliness. However, when respondents n a survey of Middletown esidents were asked about he criteria hey would use f they had to select a new church o attend, ri- teria composing Kelley's trong hurch model were by far he least appealing nes to the Middletown ample Tamney nd Johnson 1998). Overall, he results ug- gest that the respondents ither did not value serious eligious rganization r that they did not equate eriousness ith a strong hurch or both. Lawrence R. Iannaccone 1994) reinvented Kelley's heory. He dropped he idea of a strong hurch and focused n the importance f strictness s a mecha- nism for the elimination of free riders people who take benefits offered by an organization ut make no contribution o the organization). trictness efers o gratuitous osts, .e., ones that provide o immediate enefit lannaccone 1997), such as abstaining rom drinking alcohol or from engaging n premarital ex. According o lannaccone, a strict congregation would have only committed members, who would sacrifice much, allowing he congregation o offer more rewards han non-strict groups. Thus in strict congregations, ven though the costs of being a member re relatively igh, the rewards re still greater, making membership ighly profitable. However relevant project ound no relationship between he perceived umber f free riders n a congregation nd the provision of two collective rewards-the availability f small, supportive roups nd the sense of being n an involved ongregation Tamney nd Johnson 1997; ee, also,
Ammerman 1997: 302). These results mean that Iannaccone's assumption of a strong relationship between free riders and the provision of collective rewards s invalid. Stark and Finke changed strictness theory by assuming hat there is a stable demand for religious ension that approximates bell-shaped curve (2000a: 197).
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