Study shows ministers want more cooperation among denominations, but

are often frustrated at a lack of agreement within their own denomination

(Original release date:  January 12, 2004)  Just how “denominational” are denominational churches in the United States?  Newly released survey results show that most Protestant church pastors in the U.S. are committed to their denomination, but also frustrated at the lack of agreement within their own denomination, as well as the lack of inter-denominational cooperation.

 

The research was independently funded and conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona among a nationally representative sample of 567 ministers from all Protestant denominations.

The study asked pastors from denominational churches to agree or disagree with a number of statements about denominations.

 

Fifty-eight percent of all ministers agreed strongly with the statement “You feel committed to your denomination.”  Another 33% agreed somewhat with this statement, while 8% disagreed (7% somewhat, and 1% strongly).  Ministers who were 60 or older, as well as those from Pentecostal/charismatic denominations, were particularly likely to be committed to their denominations.

 

While many pastors are committed to their denomination, there was not an overwhelming feeling that “Your denomination is an important part of the identity of your church.”  Just 38% agreed strongly with this perspective, although another 45% agreed somewhat.

 

Lutherans and Pentecostal/charismatic ministers were particularly likely to feel that their denomination is an important part of their church’s identity, while Methodists were less likely than average to feel this way.  Older pastors were over twice as likely to agree strongly with this statement than were young ministers (55% among those 60 or older, 36% among those 45 to 59, and 26% among those under 45).

 

On the subject of identity, one recent trend has been the exclusion of a denominational reference in the church’s name (e.g. “Medford Community Church” rather than “Medford Baptist Church”).  Excluding the denomination from the name is still relatively uncommon in denominational churches; just 11% of churches associated with a denomination did not reference the denomination in their name, while 89% included a denominational reference in the church’s name.

 

Although over nine out of ten pastors felt at least somewhat committed to their current denomination, that didn’t stop some of them from saying they might consider leading a church in another denomination.  Fifty-nine percent agreed with the statement “Your current denomination is the only one you would considering pastoring in” (31% agreed strongly, 28% agreed somewhat), but 41% disagreed with this statement (30% somewhat, 11% strongly).  Interestingly, although Lutherans were no more likely than other ministers to feel committed to their denomination, they were much more likely than others to say their current denomination is the only one in which they would consider serving.

 

Fifty-three percent of all ministers agreed with the statement “There are too many differences of opinion among churches in your denomination.”  While only 10% agreed strongly with this statement, 43% did agree somewhat.

 

This was particularly a problem in mainline Protestant churches with membership in the National Council of Churches (Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Episcopal, United Methodist, etc.).  Among NCC-member churches, 63% agreed that their denomination suffers from too many differences of opinion.  Members of the National Association of Evangelicals were considerably less likely to complain about internal differences (34%).  Baptists, too, were particularly likely to feel that there are too many internal differences (62%).  Pentecostal/charismatic denominations were the ones least likely to raise this complaint from member pastors (39%).

 

A significant proportion of ministers struggled with at least some feelings that their denomination is headed the wrong way.  One-third agreed with the statement “In many ways, your denomination is moving in the wrong direction,” although only 6% agreed strongly with this.  Methodists were particularly concerned about this (54% agreed with the statement), while Pentecostal/charismatic pastors were among the least likely to have this worry.

 

A significant percentage also said they don’t always feel as if they fit in their denomination.  Four out of ten agreed that “You sometimes feel like an outsider in your own denomination.”  Ten percent agreed strongly with this, and another 30% agreed somewhat with it.  This was especially an issue among mainline churches in the NCC (51% agreed); even more particularly among Methodists (58% agreed).

 

Regardless of how pastors felt about their own denomination, the vast majority felt there should be more inter-denominational cooperation, both at the denominational level and among individual churches.

 

Eighty-six percent of all Protestant pastors agreed with the statement “There should be more cooperation among different Protestant denominations.”  Forty percent agreed strongly with this, and another 46% agreed somewhat.  A majority of just about every group of ministers agreed with this sentiment, but some were more vocal about it than others.  The strongest agreement came from Methodists and other members of the National Council of Churches, while Baptists were among those less likely to feel strongly about this.  Among Baptists, 30% agreed strongly, and another 49% agreed somewhat.

 

Even stronger was the feeling that “There should be more cooperation among individual churches of different Protestant denominations.”  Forty-seven percent agreed strongly with this, and another 42% agreed somewhat.  Again, churches from mainline denominations were the ones most likely to agree strongly.  While most Baptist ministers agreed with this, only 35% agreed strongly, which was lower than average.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that it’s not surprising that mainline churches were the ones most likely to call for ecumenism and complain that there are too many differences within their own denomination.  “Mainline denominations are being split apart by severe differences between liberal and conservative elements on major issues such as abortion, homosexuality, syncretism, and the primacy of Scripture.  Many pastors in these denominations find they have more in common with like-minded conservatives or liberals from other denominations, rather than with pastors holding opposing viewpoints within their own denomination.”

 

Sellers also pointed out that pastors are the ones who must make inter-church cooperation work.  “The vast majority of ministers wanted more cooperation among churches of different denominations, but that level of cooperation will not happen just by hoping or desiring.  The pastors themselves will have to make this happen.  Maybe knowing that there’s a strong chance other ministers in their community also want more inter-church cooperation will encourage that cooperation to take place.”

 

Study Details

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 567 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

What is wise?  He that learns from everyone.

Benjamin Franklin

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Grey Matter logo

Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements (among Protestant clergy from denominational churches)…

Percent agreeing (strongly or somewhat) with each statement...

 

Statement

Agree

Strongly

Agree

Somewhat

Disagree

Somewhat

Disagree

Strongly

You feel committed to your denomination

58%

33%

7%

1%

Your denomination is an important part of the identity of your church

38

45

14

4

Your current denomination is the only

   one you would consider pastoring in

 

31

 

28

 

30

 

11

There are too many differences of opinion

   among churches in your denomination

 

10

 

43

 

31

 

15

In many ways, your denomination is moving in the wrong direction

6

27

27

39

You sometimes feel like an outsider in your own denomination

10

30

26

34

There should be more cooperation

   among different Protestant denominations

 

40

 

46

 

10

 

3

There should be more cooperation among individual

   churches of different Protestant denominations

 

47

 

42

 

7

 

4

Statement

Baptist 

Methodist

Pentecostal

Lutheran

All Others

You feel committed to your denomination

89%

88%

99%

96%

90%

Your denomination is an important

   part of the identity of your church

 

81

 

73

 

94

 

95

 

77

Your current denomination is the only

   one you would consider pastoring in

 

61

 

42

 

66

 

74

 

57

There are too many differences of opinion

   among churches in your denomination

 

62

 

59

 

39

 

44

 

51

In many ways, your denomination

   is moving in the wrong direction

 

31

 

55

 

15

 

33

 

37

You sometimes feel like an

   outsider in your own denomination

 

40

 

58

 

21

 

40

 

45

There should be more cooperation

   among different Protestant denominations

 

79

 

98

 

96

 

62

 

91

There should be more cooperation among individual

   churches of different Protestant denominations

 

84

 

99

 

96

 

65

 

96