01: A new study of congregations involved in social service shows that such involvement is widespread and targeted more to the unchurched than to members.
The study, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Ram Cnaan, is said to be the most extensive of its kind, using a representative sample of clergy and volunteers from 401 Philadelphia congregations (out of approximately 2,000 congregations). The Wall Street Journal (March 17) reports that the study reveals that 91 percent of the city’s congregations provide at least one community service. Most provide two or more services. Food pantries and summer day camps ranked highest (48 percent and 40 percent respectively) followed by prison ministries (21 percent) and substance abuse prevention (17 percent).
On average, each of these reaches 135 people, 99 of whom are not congregation members. The main beneficiaries of these services are “unchurched” teens and children. Cnaan estimates that for the government to provide the same services, it would cost at least $200 million per year, which doesn’t include the indirect social benefits created by these ministries.
02: Are women “burning out” from their traditionally high rate of participation in congregations?
George Barna raises that question after a recent poll he ran showed a sharp decline in church attendance and volunteering among women during the 1990s. The online religion site Beliefnet (March 7) reports Barna found that women’s attendance has dropped 22 percent since 1991. There has also been a 21 percent decrease in women volunteering to help at church over the same period of time. Barna adds that the “intense levels of involvement” women still show as compared with men are evident in the fact that their church involvement rates higher than men in 12 out of 13 religious activities, including church attendance, leadership, giving, and evangelism.
l Religious television is not viewed favorably among a majority of Americans who call themselves believers. A poll of 1,000 randomly selected viewers by the New York firm Zoetics finds that one-third of those who call themselves evangelical Christians don’t like Christian TV.
Among those who are non-evangelical but consider themselves religious, the percentage disliking these programs increased to 60 percent. ReligionToday.com reports that Ken Waters of Pepperdine University says most Christian TV is “preaching to the choir. There’s not enough variety.”
03: A significant number of people say their near-death experiences have not been wholly positive, though even these incidents have served to strengthen the recipients’ religiosity and spiritual lives, reports a new book.
The book Blessings In Disguise (Llewellyn Publications, $12.95) by Dr. Barbara Rommer, finds that 17.7 percent of near-death experiences (NDEs) have elements of terror, fear, and judgment. Rommer, a strong promoter of the NDE phenomenon, interviewed over 300 people with near-death experiences for her study. She finds that the most prevalent type of negative NDEs (involving 41 percent of these respondents) contained “graphic hellish landscapes and entities,” such as demons and devilish imagery.
But these “less than positive experiencers” subsequently tended to have a greater belief in life after death than those with positive NDEs (67.7 percent versus 56.6 percent). They also were more likely to report that their experience significantly and positively changed their religious beliefs (58.3 percent for the negative experiencers versus 51 percent for the NDEs). Rommer writes that one reason for the higher level of spiritual interest may be that these negative experiencers are more likely to start a spiritual search to gain an understanding of their experiences.
04: Recent statistics released on Hispanic Catholics suggest that the church has made progress in ministering to this community while failing to keep up with changing realities.
A study sponsored by the U.S. bishops, called “Hispanic Ministry at the Turn of the Century,” finds that since 1985 enormous progress has been made: There are now 21 Hispanic bishops and Hispanic ministry offices in 150 dioceses. At the same time, there is a serious shortage of resources in the areas where Hispanic growth is now the fastest, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.
In Atlanta, possibly only 15 percent of these newcomer Catholics are known to the church. The National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 11) cites the study as suggesting that existing programs are geared to the older generations of Hispanics settled in the U.S. while those new arrivals say they can’t gain a foothold in the parishes.
In places like Long Island, N.Y., there is new movement of these disenchanted immigrants into Protestant churches, says Stewart James Lawrence of the research firm Puentes, Inc., which conducted the study. Other findings include: a lack of “cultural sensitive” programs for Hispanics; Christian base communities (groups reflecting on social and spiritual matters influenced by liberation theology) “no longer are, if they ever were, the quintessential expression of the Hispanic small group faith experience;” charismatic groups are the main Hispanic form of small group fellowships; there are few Hispanic youth programs; Hispanic men are not significantly less likely than Hispanic women to participate in church activities; and that there is limited collaboration between Hispanic ministry and other diocesan ministries.
(National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111):
05: Involved but non-Orthodox Jewish women are more likely than men to be studying their faith, according to a new study.
The Boston Globe (March 13) reports that a new Brandeis University study of American Jews finds a “real sea change in attitudes toward girls and women studying traditional texts, so that for the first time in 2,000 years of Jewish history girls and women now have access to the basic tools for [Jewish] cultural literacy.”
The survey of 1,302 American Jews, conducted by sociologist Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, finds that the rate of adult Jewish learning is equal among men and women, but that if the Orthodox and the unaffiliated are excepted, women take the lead. Cohen says, “This is significant in that it points to the central role of women in Jewish life.” Erica Brown of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston stated: “As women became more educated secularly, you had rabbis understanding that if you didn’t educate women Jewishly, they were going to leave the fold.”
06: Eighteen years after a famous mass marriage blessing ceremony for 2, 075 couples in the Unification Church, a new study finds that most of the couples have remained together.
The survey by Unification Church staff member Michael Inglis is said to have been conducted independently of church supervision. The survey, conducted among a representative sample of 294 individuals who were married at the mass ceremony in New York’s Madison Square Garden, found that 82.99 percent of the marriages have been successful. This is compared to the national average of 60 percent for first marriages. The number of children per couple is 2.52 percent; the national average is 1.60.
(The study is found at the Unifcation web site: www.unification.net/news/news20000328.html)