01: A major study by the Gallup Poll shows significant ambivalence among American believers in their attitudes towards dying and death.
Sponsored by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Fetzer Institute, the report of the attitudes of l,200 randomly selected adults found that only 36 percent of the respondents were sure that a member of the clergy would offer real comfort in their last days. At the same time large numbers of those surveyed were sure this support would come from family and friends.
In the Washington Post National Weekly Edition (Dec. 15), Richard Morin writes that the findings should be seen as “a wakeup call” for the clergy. Equally sharp as an indictment of clergy leadership was the belief by laity they had not been adequately instructed in issues of heaven and hell.
Although some 56 percent stated they believed in a hell, only 4 percent thought their own chances of going there were “excellent”. Seven in 10 stated they believed in heaven, but knew little more than that. On other matters, those interviewed stated their greatest fears were about having a long, painful time of departure.
Some 70 percent stated that if they knew they had only one chance in four to survive, they would want a plan that would relieve their pain and shorten their lives rather than a plan that would extend their life but with more pain. Those with stronger religious beliefs chose to prolong their lives even if it included more pain. Those with less interest in religious matters chose the relief of pain over that of longevity of life. Finally, the survey shows what Gallup called “old news”, that people want to die at home, a fact “largely ignored by institutions such as hospitals and health care organizations.”
— By Erling Jorstad
02: The Protestant teaching that one cannot gain salvation through good works but only by God’s grace has fewer Protestant adherents than one might think, according to a recent survey.
A poll by the Barna Research Group asked 6,242 respondents whether they “agree strongly” or “somewhat agree” with the view that a good person can earn their way to heaven. In a denominational breakdown, 22 percent of Assembly of God respondents agreed with this statement; 30 percent of non-denominational Christians; 38 percent of Baptists; 52 percent of Presbyterians; 54 percent of Lutherans; 58 percent of Episcopalians; 59 percent of Methodists; 76 percent of Mormons; 82 percent of Roman Catholics.
03: California and especially the Los Angeles Metropolitan region registered the fastest growing churches in the nation in a current survey of North America’s 100 fastest growing congregations.
The most recent survey of attendance growth (1995), conducted by John N. Vaughan and featured in Church Growth Today newsletter (volume 11, #6, and volume 12, #1), puts the Los Angeles Church of Christ at the top of the list for the second year in a row. The congregation grew from 6620 attending to 8,779 from 1994 to `95.
In a separate survey of North America’s fastest growing churches, the Los Angeles metro region had the highest number of such congregations, with 33; Atlanta followed with 22 of the fastest growing churches. As usual, Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, independent charismatics, and the International Church of Christ led the nation’s fastest growing churches, although the Evangelical Free Church also had a high representation of congregations. Another noteworthy feature of the current top five of these churches is the first time appearance of a Canadian congregation — Calvalry Temple in Winnipeg, which grew from 2,000 to 3,500.
(Church Growth Today, P.O. Box 47, Bolivar, MO 65613)
04: Most Australian denominations are experiencing decline or stagnation, including the usually more buoyant Catholic and evangelical churches, while church drop-outs are increasing, according to the recent national census.
The Australian Christian quarterly Zadok Perspectives (Spring) reports that the Anglican and other mainline churches’ declining membership rates have been taking place for decades, but the more conservative Salvation Army, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists have “retained the same percentage of the population or dropped a little.”
This is especially surprising for the Catholics who have a continuing immigration flow on their side. Researcher Philip Hughes writes that even the Pentecostals who have been climbing rapidly, rising over 40 percent in membership between 1986 and 1991, have slowed down to a 16 percent increase — which was not expected for a group consisting largely of those of child-bearing age.
The growth has occurred in immigrant-based groups — Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Oriental Orthdodox (such as Egyptian Coptic Orthodox). Hughes writes he was also surprised by the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. The Mormons went from 38,000 to 45,000 in the last five years. The greatest growth, however, is in the “no religion” category. Between 1986 and 1991, the growth of this group was small — from 12.7 to 12.9 percent of the population.
Since that time, Australians choosing `no religion’ on the census represent 16.6 percent of the population, with another eight percent choosing not to answer this question. The rise in `no religion’ figures is found among people in their 40s and 50s rather than young people (who have remained stable at 20 percent). Hughes notes that the “churches are losing what contact they previously had with certain sections of the community.” He concludes that Christians may, in the long run, be losing “our sense of being different ” and having “something to offer the people around us.”
(Zadok Perspectives, P.O. Box 289 Hawthorn, Vic., 3122 Australia)
05: Catholics in Germany are the most favorable to liberal changes in the church than Catholics in any other country, according to the latest poll by sociologist Andrew Greeley.
Last year, Greeley surveyed Catholic opinion in six countries, showing that Catholics — rather surprisingly — in Ireland and Spain were the most “radical” in their desire for a more democratic church structure (such as voting for bishops). Catholics in the U.S. and Italy were also in favor of such a church structure, with only Poland and the Philippines falling short of a majority in favor of such changes.
The latest survey of German Catholics show an even higher level of support for church democracy. In a poll of 422 German Catholics, the average score in favor of major democratic reform was 78 percent; 75 percent wanted election of bishops by their people and the decentralization of power to local bishops, reports The Tablet (Nov. 1).
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Clifton Walk, London, W6 0Q2 England)