01: The third Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey, conducted in 2008, finds a “persistent downward drift in congregational vitality,” according to David Roozen of Hartford Seminary. Roozen, who directed the study in 2000, 2005 and 2008, said that across eight years, congregational health, including financial stability, has declined.
Roozen, who presented his findings at the SSSR meeting in Denver, noted that the 2008 drop in financial stability was registered even before the current economic crisis had hit. Such a decline is “across the board,” experienced by mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic and Muslim congregations. Roozen also found a continuing aging pattern—50 percent of congregations now have a quarter of their members over the age of 65.
The study also found that the level of conflict in congregations had remained the same since 2000, while the level of experimentation in worship has increased. Those congregations that have shifted to contemporary worship within the past five years were far more likely to show growth than those who have long had traditional services (64 percent versus 44 percent).
02: The new wave of the National Study on Religion and Youth (NSYR) finds “emerging adults” less religiously involved, although evangelicals show some resistance to this trend through their parental involvement and participation in church youth groups.
In a session on the NSYR at the SSSR meeting, lead researcher Christian Smith and his associates noted that, five years after the study’s focus on teenagers, the longitudinal research now looks at the 18–23 age group, which is labeled “emerging adulthood.” Smith’s earlier finding of what he called “moralistic therapeutic deism” (a non-involved God associated mainly with good feelings and deeds) was less evident among the same young people in this age group, suggesting that it may have been an age effect. The young adults today are more likely to refer to “karma”—that one is paid back for good or bad deeds by a cosmic force.
Only about 20 percent attend religious services at least once a week, a 22 percent decline from Smith’s survey five years ago of the same group of young people. Catholics showed the steepest declines from adolescence to adulthood, with weak effects from religious education. Evangelical Protestants showed less decline, mainly because of greater parental religious involvement and the effect of youth group participation.
03: Evangelical clergy involvement in politics increased between 2000 and 2008, most likely due to intensified mobilization by the Republican Party (GOP), according to a new study.
The study, conducted by Laura Olson and Sue Crawford and presented at the SSSR meeting, found that in 2008, clergy, particularly evangelical clergy, were more engaged in many ways than in 2000. Compared to other clergy, evangelicals overall showed the biggest gains in political activity from 2000 and were particularly more likely to engage in public kinds of political activities. The absence of a clear “evangelical” candidate in 2008 did not weaken evangelical clergy involvement in electoral activities compared to 2000.
Olson argued that it is not possible to know from the data how much of the 2008 increase in activity came from the 2004 mobilization work of the GOP that paved the way for more activity in 2008. But she added that this may well be an explanation for why the involvement of evangelical clergy increased in 2008 from 2000. The study showed that various interest groups such as the Family Research Council and Bread for the World appeared to mobilize clergy engagement in a range of political activities.
Clergy who indicate their support for these types of groups report more political activity. Overall, this interest group advantage appears to increase from 2000 to 2008. Conservative groups appear most able to mobilize public electoral and advocacy activities by clergy, while more liberal interest groups tend to mobilize more individual-oriented electoral and advocacy activities.
04: A new project called the “Christian Activism Data Base,” charting the growth of religious activist groups since the early 1960s until the new millennium, finds that these groups are very durable, although the most growth has been in non-membership organizations and coalitional groups.
The project’s findings, presented at the SSSR meeting by Chris Pieper of the University of Texas at Austin, are based on a study of the Encyclopedia of Associations from 1960 to 2000. Pieper found that there has been a sharp growth of Christian activist organizations (from 51 in 1961 to almost 300 by the mid-1990s) and that they have an average lifespan of about 25 years. Most were founded in the 1970s (often focusing on antiVietnam war protests), while most organizational deaths were in the 1990s, due to “the crowding of prolife groups.”
These organizations are disproportionately represented by non-denominational groups, but also by peace churches and Unitarians, according to Pieper. Lutherans, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ were the most underrepresented. Pieper concluded that there has been a shift away from official denominational social action groups and a move toward non-membership and coalitiontype organizations.
05: A Baylor University study finds that in any given congregation in the U.S. with 400 members, an average of seven women have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct since they turned 18.
The study, conducted by Diana Garland, found that more than three percent of adult women who have attended a church in the past month reported that a religious leader had made a sexual advance to them. Garland said that such cases of abuse are prevalent in all denominations and religions across the country. The Christian Century (Oct. 30) reports that the findings were drawn from questions included in the 2008 General Social Survey.
06: A survey of Christians in Britain suggests they are facing pressure and in some cases discrimination, especially Pentecostals.
The survey, conducted by the Sunday Telegraph newspaper of 512 Christians about reactions to their faith, found that 44 percent reported being mocked for their faith and 10 percent experienced rejection by their families. However, 47 percent reported no such negative reactions. The differences in reaction may be related to the Christian group to which they belong.
Pentecostals felt that their faith had cost them promotion five times more than Anglicans or Catholics. Three-quarters of the respondents said there was less religious freedom now than 20 years ago, reports the newsletter FutureFirst (October).
(FutureFirst, Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Ave., Tonbridge, Kent TN10 4PW UK)