01: There is a growing acceptance of gays and minorities in congregations, and a bifurcation between very large and small congregations, according to the latest wave of the National Congregations Study.
The third wave of this survey of 1,331 congregations (first conducted in 1998, then 2006-2007 and most recently 2012) was presented at the early November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Boston, which RW attended. In 1998, only 17 percent of congregations reported that they had openly gay and lesbian members, compared with 31 percent today.
An increasing number of mainly white congregations report more Asian, Hispanic and black members—80 percent of congregations reported they were all white in 1998, compared to 57 percent today. The study found that mid-sized congregations are bottoming out, as churches are tending to grow very large or become small in membership.
02: One of the first statistical studies of the emerging church movement suggests it is attracting a youthful following, largely from mainline and evangelical Protestant backgrounds and are more actively involved in congregational activities than youth in other churches.
The study, conducted by Paul Olson and Gerardo Marti and presented at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, draws on data from eight churches that define themselves as part of the loosely based emerging church movement, which is known for its “postmodern” orientation, informal structures, and strong emphasis on community. A sample of 1,771 participants from eight emerging congregations was compared with a sample of 1,648 respondents from the Baylor Religion Survey (Wave II, 2007), which is seen as representative of the American public.
The results show that emerging church participants are predominantly young, single, childless, white, and well-educated, with more females than males. Somewhat unexpectedly, the largest percentage of emerging church respondents were mainline Protestant (the movement has been portrayed more as an offshoot of evangelicalism) at 30.7 percent, followed by evangelical (28.5), non-denominational/interdenominational 13.5 percent), and Catholic (12.6 percent).
Preaching and music were more important to emerging church participants than social activities and social justice. A large percentage of the emerging church respondents (more than 40 percent) had only started attending their congregations within one year—a far higher percent than the Baylor respondents. The researchers found that emerging church respondents (at 57 percent) were far more likely to attend services than Catholics and mainline Protestants (35 and 32 percent, respectively), although not very different from evangelicals. Racial diversity was higher in emerging churches than in the congregations from the Baylor study.
03: The link between various forms of personal and societal insecurity and religiosity was confirmed in the recent World Values Survey, according to Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris.
At a symposium on secularism at the Boston meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Norris presented new findings that she said bolstered the case she and colleague Ronald Inglehart have made in recent years correlating societal insecurity (lack of welfare) and religious faith. By using the sixth wave of the World Values Survey (2010-2014) that added new questions that measured “lived” insecurity” in terms of personal as well as community and national forms insecurity, she found that those reporting such conditions tended to rate higher in terms of religious identity, participation (church attendance) and practices (such as prayer).
Those reporting personal insecurity (such as unemployment) showed a higher frequency of prayer. As she has argued in previous research, there remains a “fit” between those nations with a high GDP and their population’s move toward a secular orientation. She points out that this doesn’t necessarily mean the world is becoming more secular; because those in more insecure societies have larger families, so the religious will continue to outnumber the secular populations.
04: The second generation of Neo-pagans has followed their generation in becoming non-affiliated, or “nones,” although they tend to identify with Pagan spirituality, according to a study by sociologists Laura Wildman-Hanlon and Julie Fennell.
Little has been known about the children of Neo-Pagans and how they have retained the faith of their parents. Wildman-Hanlon and Fennell’s study, presented at the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, consisted of an Internet survey of 183 of people raised in Neo-Pagan households.
The percentage who have disaffiliated from religious practice is somewhat high—with only 48 percent still engaging in some form of Neo-Pagan religion. Yet 72 percent consider themselves spiritual but not religious—a figure “higher than the national average, which may indicate a development of cultural Paganism,” according to the researchers.
They found a “slight correlation” between those who were raised with a strong level of family-based religious participation as a child and serious religious involvement as an adult. Religious adults were more likely to engage in volunteerism than those who were spiritual but not religious.