01: The line between members and non-members is blurring in congregations, as regular attenders are found to have similar patterns of attachment to their church and religious devotion as those on church rolls, according to a recent study.
The first comparative data of active non-members, collected by John Marcum of the Presbyterian Church (USA), finds that one-fourth of all active nonmembers in mainline churches declined to join for at least six years, and 14 percent still resisted after a decade or more of activity in a church. These “holdout” figures are almost the same for evangelical congregations, reports John Dart in The Christian Century (Nov. 30).
Marcum found that mainline congregations have a greater percentage of members and those in the process of becoming members (86 percent) than evangelical congregations (80 percent). Those tending to be active nonmembers are usually younger and less likely to be married. They also give far less money to their churches as compared to members (in mainline churches, 28 percent of nonmembers report giving five percent of their income, compared to 52 percent of members).
In activities, the active nonmembers are far less involved in Sunday school, study and community outreach than members. But they value sermons, contemporary worship and community social justice activities almost as much as members. The nonmembers in mainline churches also have similar views of the Bible and practice of daily prayer as members.
More surprisingly, the nonmember regulars in mainline churches are almost as likely to invite friends and relatives to services as do members (50 percent of members versus 44 percent of nonmembers). Dart adds that scholars suspect such “freeriders” financially overburden churches, though some hold that even more marginal givers and participants assist congregational life.
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02: Most American Catholics believe that the sex abuse crisis is still the most serious issue facing the church, although the scandal has not undermined their faith, according to a new survey.
James D. Davidson of Purdue University and Dean R. Hoge of Catholic University of America interviewed a random sample of 1,119 self-identified Catholics and found strong agreement (85 percent) that the sex abuse crisis is the most serious issue facing the church. Sixty-two percent said the bishops are “covering up the facts,” with younger Catholics more likely to say that the reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, reports Commonwealmagazine (November 19)
But Davidson and Hoge find that in the wake of the scandal there has only been a slight reduction in religious participation and contributions. Generational differences on the effects of the scandal turned out to be minor, though those least connected to the church were likely to have the hardest time with the scandal.
The study confirmed earlier findings that younger Catholics are less traditional in doctrine and practice than those raised in the pre-Vatican II church, questioning anecdotal claims that the younger generation of Catholic laity are becoming more orthodox.
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