Level of church involvement in selected issues according to clergy, by church size and theology…

Level of church involvement in selected issues according to clergy, by denominational group…

Only a minority of churches are involved in social justice,

politics, personal finances, or social and moral issues

(Original release date:  August 10, 2006)  Research conducted for Facts & Trends magazine uncovered just how involved Protestant churches are with key issues such as politics, personal finances, and evangelism, according to the clergy who minister in those churches, and the lay people who attend them. 

 

Two studies were conducted for Facts & Trends by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona, with details about the political involvement of churches. One study is a representative sample of 802 Protestant church ministers nationwide, and the other is a companion survey of 1,184 adults who attend Protestant churches at least once a month.

 

The studies asked each group how involved their church is in a number of issues.  “Involved” includes the focus placed on each topic through church programs, sermon topics, funding, financial support, Sunday school or Bible study topics, and prayer groups.  The issues included local, domestic, and overseas evangelism and outreach, study of the Bible, personal morality, social justice, personal finances, social and moral issues, the environment, and local and national politics.

 

Out of all these 11 issues, the only two in which a majority of ministers say their church is very involved are study of the Bible and personal morality (defined as helping individuals live according to God’s plan).  Seventy-six percent of all clergy believe their church is very involved in study of the Bible, 21 percent are somewhat involved, and 3 percent are not very involved.  Less than 1 percent say their church actively avoids involvement in study of the Bible.

 

For personal morality, 62 percent of all clergy say their church is very involved, 30 percent somewhat involved, and 7 percent not very involved, while 1 percent actively avoid this issue.

 

Other issues have much lower levels of involvement.  Evangelism and outreach are most likely to take place at either the local level or the international level, with less involvement in domestic outreach outside the local area.  Forty-one percent of all clergy say their church is very involved in overseas evangelism or missions and 37 percent are very involved in local evangelism or missions, compared to only 23 percent that are very involved with domestic evangelism or missions.

 

While more than 6 out of 10 ministers feel their church is very involved in personal morality issues, just 28 percent are very involved in personal finance issues (such as stewardship, giving, or fostering a biblical view of finances).

 

About 1 out of every 4 clergy (24 percent) believe their church is very involved in social or moral issues, such as supporting or opposing abortion, gay marriage, or gambling.  Interestingly, while an equal proportion are not very involved in these issues, only 3 percent of all clergy say their church actively tries to avoid social or moral issues.

 

An even lower proportion – 15 percent – are very involved in social justice issues such as poverty, homelessness, racism, or immigration.  But again, while 37 percent are not very involved, few churches (3 percent) actively avoid involvement in these issues.

 

Clergy tend to see their churches as relatively uninvolved in politics or political issues.  Seven percent are very involved in national politics, and 6 percent in local politics.  In fact, it is more common for churches to actively avoid political involvement (12 percent for national politics and 11 percent for local politics) than to be actively involved in political issues.

 

The tested area with the lowest level of involvement was environmental issues.  Just 3 percent of clergy feel their church is very involved in these issues, with 20 percent somewhat involved, 65 percent not very involved, and 12 percent actively avoiding environmental issues.

 

There are dramatic differences in what churches are involved in according to whether they are from an evangelical or mainline denomination.  Mainline churches are more likely than their evangelical counterparts to be very involved in social justice issues (23 percent to 10 percent), and to be either very or somewhat involved in environmental issues (37 percent to 14 percent).

 

However, evangelical churches are more likely than mainline churches to be very involved in study of the Bible (84 percent to 61 percent), personal morality issues (71 percent to 40 percent), overseas missions and evangelism (49 percent to 20 percent), local evangelism and missions (44 percent to 20 percent), personal finance issues (31 percent to 18 percent), social and moral issues (26 percent to 14 percent), and domestic evangelism and missions (25 percent to 13 percent).  There are not large differences between evangelical and mainline churches only on political issues at both the national and local level.

 

Broken down by specific denominational groups, there are even greater differences.  For example, 89 percent of Pentecostal clergy say their church is very involved in study of the Bible, compared to just 55 percent among Methodist clergy.  Forty-four percent of Southern Baptist clergy report being very involved in local missions and evangelism, versus just 17 percent among Lutherans.  And 24 percent of Methodist pastors say their church is very involved in social justice issues, compared to only 8 percent of Southern Baptist pastors.

 

The people in the pews tend to perceive their church as being more involved in various issues than do the people in the pulpits.  Pastors and laity have similar perceptions about their church’s involvement in study of the Bible, overseas evangelism and missions, and national and local politics.  But laity are more likely than clergy to say their church is very involved in personal morality issues (70 percent to 62 percent), local evangelism and missions (50 percent to 37 percent), personal finance issues (45 percent to 28 percent), domestic evangelism and missions (41 percent to 23 percent), social justice (31 percent to 15 percent), and environmental issues (11 percent to 3 percent).

 

Among laity, denominational differences are present, but not nearly to the extent they are among ministers.  Essentially, laity of all denominations see their church as fairly involved in many issues, while pastors have widely divergent views of their church’s involvement according to their denominational membership.

 

For instance, on the issue of personal morality, perceived high levels of involvement by clergy range from 86 percent among Pentecostal pastors all the way down to 32 percent among Methodists (a gap of 54 points), while among laity, the range is from a high of 76 percent among those in non-denominational congregations to a low of 62 percent among Methodists (a gap of just 14 points).

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that these findings suggest laity may have a view of how involved their church is that is based in assumptions, rather than reality. “The consistency of laity responses among different denominational groups, and the frequent belief among laity that their church is more involved in various issues than their pastor believes it is, both suggest that lay people may be making evaluations of their church’s involvement that are based on assumptions or guesswork,” Sellers explained.  “Clergy are in a position to know much more about what is actually happening throughout the whole church, while lay people often are involved just in certain areas or activities.”

 

Sellers also noted that this lack of real awareness of what the church is involved in may hinder ministers who want to increase the church’s involvement in a particular issue.  “If the pastor wants to get the church more involved in social justice issues, for example, and the congregation already has the assumption that the church is involved, they’ll have little motivation to support further involvement,” he advised.  “It’s important that the congregation understand what’s really going on in the church, and what the church is actually doing or not doing, if the clergy wants to increase involvement in a particular area.”

 

Study Details:

Both studies were conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 802 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±3.3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.  The sample of 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more is accurate to within ±2.7 percentage points under the same parameters.

 

Both studies were conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors and laity from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ gender, age, geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

There are risks and costs to a program of action.  But they are far

less than the long-term risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

John F. Kennedy

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

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Level of church involvement in selected issues according to laity, by denominational group…

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Community Outreach/Programs

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

All  Others

Study of the Bible:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

76%

82%

88%

55%

59%

89%

69%

72%

     somewhat involved

21

18

12

44

27

11

24

23

     not very involved

3

1

--

1

14

--

7

5

     actively avoid

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

Personal morality issues

   (e.g. helping individuals live

   according to God’s plan):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

62

61

81

32

34

86

52

56

     somewhat involved

30

33

17

54

41

12

36

34

     not very involved

7

6

2

14

19

2

12

8

     actively avoid

1

--

--

--

6

--

--

1

Overseas evangelism/missions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

41

31

55

15

22

62

37

41

     somewhat involved

42

56

35

53

49

23

51

43

     not very involved

16

12

10

32

27

14

12

15

     actively avoid

1

1

--

1

1

2

--

1

Local evangelism/missions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

37

44

48

21

17

58

26

28

     somewhat involved

47

41

45

60

54

37

55

50

     not very involved

14

13

4

19

29

5

19

20

     actively avoid

1

1

3

--

--

--

--

1

Personal finance issues (e.g.

   stewardship, giving, biblical

   view of finances):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

28

24

31

12

11

52

15

24

     somewhat involved

50

48

51

62

53

41

48

52

     not very involved

21

26

17

25

34

7

35

24

     actively avoid

1

1

1

1

2

--

2

--

Social/moral issues (e.g.

   supporting/opposing abortion,

   gay marriage, gambling, etc.):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

24

31

33

11

12

36

9

17

     somewhat involved

48

46

49

51

49

51

32

47

     not very involved

25

21

16

37

32

11

42

31

     actively avoid

3

2

2

1

6

2

17

4

Domestic evangelism/missions

   outside of your local community:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

23

23

43

11

11

31

28

14

     somewhat involved

49

55

43

50

48

51

41

48

     not very involved

26

22

12

38

41

17

31

35

     actively avoid

2

1

2

1

--

2

--

3

Social justice issues

   (e.g. poverty, homelessness,

   racism, immigration):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

15

8

7

24

14

20

18

15

     somewhat involved

45

41

44

56

50

46

42

41

     not very involved

37

48

44

20

32

32

40

40

     actively avoid

3

3

4

--

5

2

--

4

National politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

7

13

6

4

4

12

8

4

     somewhat involved

41

36

46

39

18

54

31

39

     not very involved

40

43

38

47

63

26

40

42

     actively avoid

12

9

9

10

16

8

20

16

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

6

9

5

8

2

11

--

3

     somewhat involved

36

36

41

40

23

44

35

31

     not very involved

46

46

44

44

61

36

45

51

     actively avoid

11

8

9

8

15

9

20

15

Environmental issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

3

1

3

3

5

2

5

3

     somewhat involved

20

11

20

28

16

24

38

18

     not very involved

65

73

63

67

69

59

57

67

     actively avoid

12

15

14

3

10

16

--

12

 

Community Outreach/Programs

<100 People

100 – 199 People

200+ People

 

Mainline

 

Evangelical

Study of the Bible:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

73%

78%

79%

61%

84%

     somewhat involved

24

17

20

32

16

     not very involved

2

5

1

7

--

     actively avoid

--

--

--

--

--

Personal morality issues (e.g. helping

   individuals live according to God’s plan):

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

57

66

68

40

71

     somewhat involved

34

26

27

44

25

     not very involved

9

6

4

15

4

     actively avoid

--

1

1

1

1

Overseas evangelism/missions:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

34

45

52

20

49

     somewhat involved

46

40

35

51

40

     not very involved

18

15

12

28

11

     actively avoid

1

1

--

1

1

Local evangelism/missions:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

33

39

50

20

44

     somewhat involved

48

50

40

55

45

     not very involved

18

10

9

22

10

     actively avoid

1

1

--

2

1

Personal finance issues (e.g. stewardship,

   giving, biblical view of finances):

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

22

31

38

18

31

     somewhat involved

54

47

45

53

49

     not very involved

23

20

16

28

19

     actively avoid

1

1

--

1

1

Social/moral issues (e.g. supporting/opposing

   abortion, gay marriage, gambling, etc.):

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

23

23

23

14

26

     somewhat involved

45

51

53

44

51

     not very involved

28

21

21

37

21

     actively avoid

3

4

2

5

3

Domestic evangelism/missions outside of your local community:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

20

24

32

13

25

     somewhat involved

48

51

48

50

50

     not very involved

30

23

20

34

23

     actively avoid

2

2

--

3

1

Social justice issues (e.g. poverty,

   homelessness, racism, immigration):

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

12

13

25

23

10

     somewhat involved

44

48

45

52

42

     not very involved

40

38

28

25

44

     actively avoid

4

1

2

--

4

National politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

7

5

7

6

7

     somewhat involved

42

44

34

32

44

     not very involved

40

40

43

50

38

     actively avoid

11

11

16

13

11

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

6

6

7

7

6

     somewhat involved

35

40

37

35

36

     not very involved

48

45

42

46

48

     actively avoid

11

9

15

13

10

Environmental issues:

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

2

4

1

6

--

     somewhat involved

21

18

23

31

14

     not very involved

65

68

64

58

71

     actively avoid

13

10

11

5

14

 

Community Outreach/Programs

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

Non-Denom.

All  Others

Study of the Bible:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

80%

90%

77%

75%

73%

83%

76%

82%

80%

     somewhat involved

15

8

20

13

20

15

20

15

15

     not very involved

4

1

3

11

7

2

1

3

4

     actively avoid

1

--

--

1

--

--

3

--

1

Personal morality issues (e.g.

   helping individuals live

   according to God’s plan):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

70

74

63

62

65

75

68

76

72

     somewhat involved

23

20

32

25

24

22

28

20

21

     not very involved

6

4

5

14

10

3

4

4

5

     actively avoid

1

2

--

--

1

--

--

--

1

Overseas evangelism

   or missions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

42

39

44

29

42

42

49

47

45

     somewhat involved

36

37

31

54

39

26

32

28

35

     not very involved

20

21

19

17

15

29

17

21

17

     actively avoid

3

4

5

--

4

4

2

3

3

Local evangelism/missions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

50

58

56

49

47

50

47

54

44

     somewhat involved

36

27

32

40

36

33

41

33

44

     not very involved

12

12

10

11

14

16

12

14

11

     actively avoid

1

2

2

--

4

1

--

--

1

Personal finance issues

   (e.g. stewardship, giving,

   biblical view of finances):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

45

51

47

49

43

49

44

39

40

     somewhat involved

40

29

36

38

44

37

44

43

49

     not very involved

13

16

13

13

10

12

12

18

11

     actively avoid

1

4

3

--

2

1

--

--

--

Social/moral issues (e.g.

   abortion, same-sex

   marriage, gambling, etc.):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

36

36

39

23

37

47

25

37

36

     somewhat involved

38

45

34

33

34

34

41

38

42

     not very involved

22

14

24

34

28

17

32

21

17

     actively avoid

4

5

3

9

1

1

3

4

5

Domestic evangelism/

   missions outside of

   your local community:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

41

44

39

36

30

47

55

40

41

     somewhat involved

40

37

48

43

40

26

31

40

46

     not very involved

17

17

12

18

26

26

15

17

11

     actively avoid

2

2

--

3

4

1

--

3

2

Social justice issues (e.g.

   poverty, homelessness,

   racism, immigration):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

31

36

24

28

30

32

28

33

30

     somewhat involved

49

46

47

48

53

45

62

48

51

     not very involved

17

14

29

10

15

22

10

19

18

     actively avoid

3

3

1

14

2

1

--

--

2

National politics

   political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

11

13

12

7

5

11

7

13

11

     somewhat involved

34

46

34

26

24

35

40

32

36

     not very involved

43

32

42

48

63

45

47

46

38

     actively avoid

12

9

12

20

8

8

6

10

15

Local politics/political issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

11

14

11

10

5

12

3

14

10

     somewhat involved

34

38

34

23

33

30

47

35

38

     not very involved

43

40

46

47

54

51

46

40

36

     actively avoid

11

8

9

20

8

6

3

11

16

Environmental issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     very involved

11

13

12

11

10

8

6

9

15

     somewhat involved

34

44

30

28

33

36

33

30

35

     not very involved

47

34

49

52

54

51

61

58

39

     actively avoid

7

8

9

9

4

5

--

3

11