Tag Archives: Pew

Lack of member involvement indicates dying churches

I recently attended a church service where a wide variety of church members took part in the Sunday service. To me this was an indication of a strong, healthy, and involved church, helping make the service more interesting and representative of that church.

Several years ago, in contrast, I attended a church service where the opposite was observed. I was ignored by the greeters, and the service was conducted solely by a pastor and and a single church musician, a bit much for a lengthy service.

Two years ago, the Pew Research Center released the results of their survey of church involvement. Titled “Church involvement varies widely among U.S. Christians”, Pew used “…three measures of congregational involvement: membership in a congregation, frequency of attendance at worship services and frequency of attendance at small group religious activities.” (see http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/16/church-involvement-varies-widely-among-u-s-christians/)

The results were astounding! Ranking each denomination by involvement, the study indicated that the overall averages were 30% for high involvement, 58% for medium involvement, and 12% for low involvement.

High % Medium  % Low %
Overall 30 58 12
Mormon 67 29 4
Jehovah’s Witness 64 35 2
Evangelical Protestant 43 49 8
Historically Black Protestant 41 53 6
Mainline Protestant 20 61 19
Orthodox Christian 20 68 11
Catholic 16 70 14

The study report states the high medium level of involvement for Mainline Protestant, Catholic, (and presumably Orthodox Christian) is due to, “…while many of their members attend religious services, they do not participate in a prayer or Scripture group on a weekly or monthly basis.”

I enjoy visiting churches which exhibit a high degree of involvement encompassing all members, regardless of age. They seem to exhibit a passion for connection, which to me, is the heart of the gospel. Dying churches seem to be floundering in a tidal wave of lack of member support. Take a look at the study to see how your denomination fares.

 

Millennials haven’t completely deserted Anchorage churches

For several years, I’ve written about issues churches face in the failure of attracting millennials — at least as we currently understand that word.

Pew Research defines millennials as the demographic group that fell between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015 and projects that they number about 75.3 million, slightly surpassing the projected 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51 to 69).

As I visit churches, in many I’m seeing fewer attendees I would identify as being in the 18-29 year range. In any organization, this group would ordinarily be the lifeblood that carries an organization into the future. (This is true not only for churches but also for civic and fraternal organizations such as Rotary Clubs and Masonic Lodges.) But not all churches are losing millennials.

In mid-November I attended Sunday services at TrueNorth Anchorage. This fairly recent church plant was meeting Sundays at the Loussac Library’s Wilda Marston Theatre but outgrew that space. Now they are meeting at Clark Middle School. I was warmly greeted by millennials as I entered Clark. The church met in the multipurpose room decorated with TrueNorth banners, and full of tables, information and helpful people. There were areas for children’s instruction as well. Many millennials attended the service, which started with a brief 15-minute musical service led by a seven-piece worship band.

The pastor introduced himself as Jason and warmly welcomed guests, explaining that the regular pastor, Brent, was at an Outside conference for pastors. Few pastors take the time to warmly welcome members and guests, much less to identify themselves by name. Jason, a millennial himself, identified as the key text for his sermon Nehemiah 3, which described rebuilding a gate and wall in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. It shows how almost everyone pitched in to accomplish this common goal. Jason tied this to TrueNorth’s mission of “reaching people in this state who do not know Jesus’ name,” a brilliant take on the meaning of Gospel. Following communion, the pastor challenged worshippers to consider inviting just one person to church during the week, and talked briefly about TrueNorth’s life groups. I can see why millennials might be drawn to such a service: It was brief and friendly and featured good music and excellent preaching. I’ve seen similarly effective services at Great Land Christian Church (Central Middle School), Clear Water (Wendler Middle School) and C3 (Begich Middle School). Attending services of all of them, I’ve found millennials well-represented at each.

David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, released a research-based book, “You Lost Me,” several years ago detailing how this young generation is giving up on church. There are many issues involved, but a few key ones were: failure of older members to connect, sexuality, perceptions of hypocrisy, not addressing science and faith and church exclusivity. In a recent interview titled “Q&A: Why Millennials are less religious than older Americans,” published by the Pew Research Center, New York University sociologist Michael Hout contends that millennials, the children of baby boomers, were raised to think for themselves, to “find their own moral compass,” rejecting “the idea that a good kid is an obedient kid,” approaching religion with a “do-it-yourself attitude.” He also notes millennials reject more than religion, citing “lack of trust in the labor market, with government, in marriage and in other aspects of life.”

Ray Nadon, pastor of Great Land Christian notes they’ve achieved positive results with “personal contact, meaning young people caring about other young people. Building relationships with them, learning to talk with them and not be ‘religious,’ but real and honest.” Sounds a bit like Kinnaman’s observations to me. Nadon further notes that training and teaching is important, aided by personal dives into Scripture, community service and active involvement by everyone. He did express a concern that too many churches try “to play in the millennials’ weaknesses by making ‘church’ about entertainment.” I agree with Nadon that’s a mistake, and isn’t really what millennials are looking for.

Brian Cook, lead pastor at ACF Church in Eagle River, another millennial-heavy church, thinks “that many current cultural issues are polarizing the church, which is reducing the number of nominal Christians, especially in the millennial generation. This is causing many to weigh the cost of aligning with the label of ‘Christianity.’” He notes that ACF is “a community of grace, where doubts and questions are welcomed. People don’t have to ‘believe’ to ‘belong.’” Cook believes “millennials are simply looking for honest and loving community with a real vision to make life better in our cities.”

Many churches continue to conduct church in traditional ways that frankly do not address millennial needs. Millennials are searching for authenticity in an unauthentic world. Churches could provide more of this if they really tried. Mentoring could help in many, but the big question is, will it happen?

However, I’m encouraged that millennials in Anchorage are finding places of worship that address their various backgrounds and needs, places that extend themselves in ways that are not claustrophobic.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Are we really through with religion in Anchorage?

The other night I visited a local church for a music extravaganza where I was taken aback by statements I heard about religion. The onstage announcer said several times they didn’t follow religion, but were driven by Jesus Christ. And all the people said amen, vociferously shouting their approval. I know many of those present came from churches organized around strong religious principles. It started my thinking about what religion really is. Most dictionary definitions of religion are stated along these lines: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It was interesting that many songs sung that night expressed those same thoughts. Maybe it’s a problem of whipped up enthusiasm for a false idea, or liking to hear the sound of one’s own voice. What do you think?

Many of the faith traditions represented in this interfaith gathering fall under the umbrella of religion and religious traditions. Some of them are extremely strict and unyielding regarding the issues swirling in religion today. Oops, there’s that word again.

In a recent Odyssey Networks article by Jaime Clark-Soles, a New Testament professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, raised similar questions. First, she noticed the ignorance and intolerance of other religions around the world, then suggested readers Google this phrase — “Christians protest mosques.” I was shocked by the flood of news stories about anti-Muslim protests, primarily in the U.S.

Dr. Clark-Soles then posed these questions. “Is it possible to fully embrace my religious tradition, to be able to articulate eloquently what is distinctive and true, and holy and meaningful, and beautiful and life-giving and even genius about it without denigrating or playing off of another one? Does my tradition have to be superior to another in order to be true, holy, meaningful, etc.? Does it have to be the only one that conveys what is true, holy, meaningful, etc.? Do we have to compete, or can we cooperate?”

What I heard the other night was a case for exceptionalism, accompanied by 100-decibel music that left my ears ringing.

I see this dialogue play in our community in other ways, ways that involve dignity, charity and human rights. The latest Pew Research released this week, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” another cut of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, which goes into depth regarding the evolution of religious faith here in the U.S. found people of faith are slightly more accepting of LGBT adherence, but are declining to self-identify with specific religions. The rise of the “nones,” atheists and those not identifying with any specific religion is attributed to the influence of millennials and dying of older generations. However, researchers found “a great deal of stability in the U.S. religious landscape. … Among the roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults who do claim a religion, there has been no discernible drop in most measures of religious commitment. Indeed, by some conventional measures, religiously affiliated Americans are, on average, even more devout than they were a few years ago.”

Absolute certain belief in God showed a major drop from 71 percent to 63 percent from 2008 to 2014. The “silent generation” and baby boomers are in the 70th percentile while millennials are only in the 50th percentile in this measure. Part of the millennial position may be due to the narcissistic tag they’ve inherited. A recent Time magazine article expanded this theme. “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58 percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. They’re so convinced of their own greatness that the National Study of Youth and Religion found the guiding morality of 60 percent of millennials in any situation is that they’ll just be able to feel what’s right.”

Contrary to the outburst against religion I described at the beginning of this column, the Pew survey indicates two-thirds of religiously affiliated adults say religion is “very important” in their lives, and one-quarter of them also say religion is “somewhat important” in their lives.

There has also been no decline in religiously affiliated adults who say they pray daily, 65 percent in 2008 and 66 percent in 2014. Attendance at religious services shows little change as well with 2007 weekly attendance at 46 percent and 2014 weekly attendance at 45 percent. Christians as a subset showed 66 percent in 2007 and 68 percent in 2014.

By most measures — importance of religion in their life, frequency of prayer, frequency of religious service attendance, and belief in God or a universal spirit — analysis of the data shows the “nones” are becoming more secular.

Finally, study data clearly shows most Americans see organized religion as a force for good in American society. In fact, 89 percent of adults indicate churches and other religious institutions “bring people together and strengthen community bonds,” while 87 percent say they “play an important role in helping the poor and needy,” and 75 percent say they “protect and strengthen morality in society.”

I believe the outburst against religion was misplaced and ill-timed. We’ve a long way to go in Anchorage before taking such strong stands against religion. One of the purposes of this column is to expose the community to the multifaceted ways belief is expressed in our community. More cooperation and less dissension ensures the strength of our community through the practice of religion.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Paying a visit to the Jehovah’s Witnesses

After 15 years of attending Anchorage churches, I still look forward to visiting new denominations or congregations. Recently I was able to add a new group to my list: Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Many of us have been visited by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing their literature and trying to engage us in conversation about religious issues. Recently, I visited a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation to see firsthand how they present themselves to one coming in unannounced. My primary motive was to see if they represented the degree of diversity, noted in Pew Research data and my last column, which ranked the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the second most diverse religious group nationally.

It was difficult locating local JW churches on the Internet. Instead of websites, I found Facebook pages for several Anchorage congregations. The closest congregation to me was the Sand Lake Kingdom Hall on Strawberry Road. Their Internet presence is an unofficial Facebook page without information about service times. Confused about meeting times, I finally resorted to the national website, jw.org, and used their locator. It’s not a friendly website, but eventually I found seven sites for Anchorage and Eagle River. That’s deceptive, though. Several congregations meet in the same Kingdom Hall but are listed separately. For example, Parkway, Sand Lake and Anchorage South listings meet in the same Kingdom Hall on Strawberry Road. All are shown as English language meetings, but some are conducted in other languages.

The website showed a 1 p.m. Sunday English service, which brought me to the Kingdom Hall on Strawberry Road. The grounds were spacious and attractive, with plenty of parking, and I saw many people streaming into the building. Jehovah’s Witness commenters had previously noted that I would be warmly welcomed, but no one greeted me when I entered, or during my visit. By mistake, I went into the first meeting room. Upon asking, I discovered I’d entered the Spanish language meeting by mistake. Directed to the other side of the building, I entered, but no one greeted me. People were talking with each other but I was ignored. One always wonders, when this happens, if they are in the right place — clearly an awkward feeling.

The meeting started on time with a leader announcing an opening hymn. People sang to music played by digital piano recordings. The leader didn’t introduce himself or welcome visitors, but referred to all as brothers and sisters. Members used a thin hymnbook to sing to the music. I noticed some parents pointing out the words to their children following the song. A speaker, Brother David Bresky, was introduced to give a talk about comfort. His talk frequently referenced to scripture — and frequently used the word “Jehovah.” This term supplants many other scriptural references to the deity.

I was surprised, though not unpleasantly, by the manner in which both the Spanish- and English-speaking congregations were dressed. It was quite formal with suits and ties for the men and dresses or suits for the women. Even the children were dressed up in their best.

Bresky’s talk lasted 30 minutes, after which another song was sung. Then Brothers Chip Boyle and Michael Tuminella took the platform to review that week’s Watchtower lesson. The Watchtower is a semi-monthly magazine published by JW national headquarters. It contains updates, inspirational articles, and four study lessons used during services. Brother Boyle read the lessons, and Brother Tuminella asked congregation members questions contained in the lesson, calling on those who wanted to answer. Several men had portable microphones to give to those answering the questions, a great practice so all could hear clearly. Amazingly, parents and children eagerly raised their hands to answer. I’ve never seen so much attention to a Bible lesson in any Anchorage church. It was great. The lesson, in which one or two paragraphs were read, and a response then called for in the form of a question, lasted more than 45 minutes and was comprehensive. Its theme was “Meditate on Jehovah’s Enduring Love.” After the lesson, announcements from JW headquarters were read.

A final song was then sung and the meeting adjourned.

I approached meeting participant Chip Boyle to introduce myself and ask several questions. He was helpful in answering question for this column. He and other participants function, without titles, as elders of this congregation.

I enjoyed my visit here. Their stancess on private scriptural interpretation, biblical translation and health issues, such as blood transfusions, have brought them into the spotlight nationally. Their voluntary witnessing has some detractors, but I applaud them for courage in sharing their faith. They are a culturally diverse group with 3,000 to 4,000 members in Alaska.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

How diverse are Alaska’s religious groups?

In July, Pew Research released a new analysis of data from their 2014 Religious Landscape study. Twenty-nine religious groups were categorized by racial diversity, including percent of adherents by race and Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, widely used by demographers to quantify diversity.

According to Pew data, the top four most racially diverse U.S. religious groups are as follows: Seventh-day Adventist with 37 percent white, 32 percent black, 8 percent Asian, 15 percent Latino, 8 percent “other,” and an H-H Index of 9.1; Muslims are 38 percent white, 28 percent black, 28 percent Asian, 4 percent Latino, and 3 percent other, with an H-H Index of 8.7; Jehovah’s Witnesses are 36 percent white, 27 percent black, 32 percent Latino, 6 percent other, and have an H-H Index of 8.6; and U.S. Buddhists are 44 percent white, 3 percent black, 33 percent Asian, 12 percent Latino, 8 percent other, with an H-H Index of 8.4.

By comparison, the average H-H Index for all U.S. religious groups is 6.6.

Other notable H-H Index rankings are as follows: Catholic-6.7; Assemblies of God-6.2; American Baptist Churches-5.5; Presbyterian (PCA)-4.4; Orthodox-4.2; Anglican-3.7; Southern Baptist-3.4; Mormon-3.4; Nazarene-2.8; Episcopal-2.3; United Methodist-1.4; Lutheran (LCMS)-1.2, and Lutheran (ELCA)-1.0.

Three major historically black denominations had relatively low H-H Indexes: Church of God in Christ-3.5; African Methodist Episcopal-1.4, and National Baptist Convention-0.2, the lowest index.

I’ve visited Seventh-day Adventist churches locally and have seen this diversity firsthand. SDA congregations are clearly multicultural, especially to an outsider such as me.

I asked Alaska SDA Conference president Ken Crawford for his comments about their local diversity.

“If you were to visit one of the 40 Seventh-day Adventist churches in Alaska on a Saturday morning, you would encounter amazing racial diversity,” he said. “Why? No one has been able to put a finger on it, but it is unique among Christian churches to see such diversity in both worship and fellowship. Two possible reasons for this unique diversity is (1) the rapid growth of the church worldwide, and subsequent immigration to America, and (2) the fact that the Adventist Church as a whole is very accepting of all people. Its message emphasizes commonalities such as a community in Christ and the hope in the Second Coming rather than differences.”

Last weekend, I made my first visit to a Jehovah’s Witness congregation — Sand Lake on Strawberry Road, curious to see if they mirrored the U.S. averages. By mistake, I wandered into the Spanish congregation first, and was redirected to the English service on the other side. It appeared the English service was attended by a blend of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, including black, Hispanic, Alaska Native and white. Talking with several members afterward, I learned the congregation locally supports English, ASL, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Hmong, Tagalog, Samoan, Nuer and Yupik languages.

Dr. Youssef Barbour, a leader who fills some of the roles of an imam in Alaska’s Muslim community says, of diversity among Islam in Alaska,“I think this is very evident in our community. We have people from all backgrounds. In terms of numbers, I don’t think we have statistics, but there are approximately 3,000-4,000 Muslims living in Alaska. I would say the majority would be Muslims of African descent, and those can be African Americans or African migrants. The representation in our committee is diverse and reflects the different back grounds (sic) in the community.”

To date, I’ve not visited Alaska’s Buddhist community, but I plan to, and I’ll be keenly interested in diversity.

Catholics represent approximately one in four Anchorage churchgoers. I asked Mary Gore, executive director of the Alaska Catholic Conference, about diversity among local Catholics. “In our 10 year report to Rome, we noted that our Catholic population mirrors that of the state as far as ethnic composition: 66.7 percent Caucasian, 14 percent Alaska Native, 6.4 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders, 5.6 percent African American, and 5.5 percent Hispanic,” she said. “Those statistics are from 2010 are probably somewhat outdated. I think we’re closer to the Pew Study but we probably have more in the category of Asian/Pacific Islanders than indicated on a national level. Several of our parishes are probably 75 percent Filipino — St. Mary in Kodiak, and St. Christopher in Dutch Harbor for sure. We don’t keep ethnic statistics by parish. St. Anthony and Our Lady of Guadalupe have high proportions of Alaska Native, Filipino, Pacific Islander and Hispanic.” My visits to local Catholic parishes tend to suggest a better-than-average record of diversity.

The lack of diversity among mainline Protestant denominations, such as Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians is worrying. Two of the three local leaders of these denominations tell me it’s receiving attention from the highest levels nationally and locally. Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska ELCA Synod said, “We have a saying in the ELCA that if you’ve seen one region of the church, you’ve seen just one region. Alaska is home to 24 percent of Alaska Native and American Indian members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America so Alaskan ELCA congregations don’t look like the rest of the churches in the Lower 48.”

Many local church organizations could do more in seeking greater diversity. Alaska is, and will continue to be, a melting pot of many different cultures.

 

More on church “meet ‘n’ greets,” plus religious group warmth study – 11/15/14

Last week’s column featured 10 ways churches may drive away first-time guests based on a Twitter poll church researcher Tom Rainer performed with those who indicated they would not return to that church. The number one issue keeping first-time guests away was the “meet ‘n’ greet” or as Rainer describes, “stand and greet time.” In a later post, Rainer expressed continued surprise this was such a contentious topic, and the source of much discontent by guests, even members. In fact, it’s gone viral in the church community.

In a further post this week, Rainer lists the seven most common responses to this issue, along with a representative brief comment received for each. I could add verbiage to each one but it would only detract from the power of participant descriptions.

– Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

– Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

– Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

– Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

– Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

– In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

– Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

I address this issue regularly in my church consulting and in personal conversations with pastors. The refusal of churches to address this issue is beyond me. It’s almost like it’s an inside joke. I hear, “We know people don’t like this, but we have to do something to put them together.” Usually, the “Passing the Peace” portion of services has been less offensive to me, but many guests and members disagree. I’ve experienced all of Rainer’s seven issues in my Alaska church visits. Why would churches risk losing a return guest visit over this practice?

Religion warmth study

This summer the Pew Forum released the results of an interesting study comparing, on a zero-to-100 scale “feeling thermometer,” how various religions are rated by Americans in terms of warmness/coldness. Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians were rated the warmest with scores of 63, 62, and 61 respectively. Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons received neutral ratings with scores of 53, 50, and 48 respectively. Finally the lowest ratings were received by atheists and Muslims with scores of 41, and 40 respectively.

Some interesting takeaways were that groups tended to be rated more positively by their own members. An example is that Catholics rated themselves with an average score of 80 versus non-Catholics rating Catholics with average scores of 58. Evangelical Christians, i.e. self-described born-again or evangelicals, rated themselves 79 on average while non-evangelicals rated them 52 on average. Interestingly, 27 percent of non-evangelicals rated evangelicals as cold, while 30 percent rated them as warm.

Jews and atheists rated evangelicals negatively, but evangelicals rated Jews highly. Christians and Jews are rated more favorable by older Americans vs. younger people. Younger Americans rate other non-Christian faiths more favorably. The study indicated that Jews were rated highly by whites while evangelicals and Muslims were rated more favorably by blacks.

Evangelicals tended to negatively rate non-Christian groups with 39 rating averages on Buddhists, Hindus 38, Muslims 30, and atheists 25. Atheists gave evangelical Christians a cold 28 rating. However, atheists gave non-Christian groups positive ratings of Buddhists 69, Jews 61, and Hindus 58. Other religious groups gave negative ratings to atheists.

Personally, I believe these ratings carry through into our interaction with those of various persuasions. In my visiting various faith traditions throughout Alaska, I’ve been privileged to interact with the people of these faiths. I enjoy hearing their stories of how their faith sustains them and guides them through life. There is value in practicing human virtues with people of all faiths.

Many religion choices are made or maintained through lifelong connections. Often people tell me they are a cradle Catholic, lifelong Lutheran, and so forth. By not choosing a particular religion, one is less likely to have a cogent explanation for their faith. I’m intrigued by the Catholic evangelism initiative which focuses, in part, on equipping Catholics with the knowledge of why they are Catholics, and enhances their ability to share these beliefs in ways other than being a “cradle Catholic.” To have friends with and relate warmly to people of other faiths or belief structures does not require you to drop or amend your personal belief structure. It really means exemplifying basic qualities of being human.

 

Latest Pew Report Shows Christmas Becoming Cultural Only

Last week’s Pew Forum report on Christmas, Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now, (PDF attached) is no longer a shocker but sad nonetheless. Commercial interests and a lackluster church crowd have usurped Christmas allowed it to become more of secular holiday than one of religious significance.

According the report, “Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.”

Key Findings
Christmas and the Holidays: What do you most look forward to?
69% – Time with family and friends
11% – Religious reflection/Church
7% – People are happy, joyful

Christmas and the Holidays: What do you like the least?
33% – Commercialism/Materialism
22% – Money/Too expensive
10% – Shopping/Crowds/Crowded Stores

Many research studies indicate Christian religious affiliation and participation in Christmas is dropping rapidly in the U.S. Worldwide, Christmas observance is rapidly being adopted and growing, even in non-Christian cultures. The Advent Reflections published on this blog during Advent show many religious figures decry the commercialism that has overtaken this season. So far I’ve never heard a single sermon in any church where members were admonished and corrected regarding this usurpation of Christmas. Of course, many of their members are heavily involved in commerce that benefits from Christmas, so it would be akin to shooting oneself in the foot to openly try to reset expectations of what Christmas is about.

In the early church, believers stood out from the existing culture of the day, often paying with their lives for opposing the culture. Tonight marks the end of Advent and celebrations of the Lord’s birth commence at midnight.

My hope is that Christians will rerecognize that Advent and Christmas are rooted in fact, and a sincere belief that mankind’s redemption sprang from events of this night that happened over 2,000 years ago. I long for Emmanuel’s return in God’s time.

Latest Pew Report Shows Christmas Becoming Cultural Only

Last week’s Pew Forum report on Christmas, Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now, (PDF attached) is no longer a shocker but sad nonetheless. Commercial interests and a lackluster church crowd have usurped Christmas allowed it to become more of secular holiday than one of religious significance.

According the report, “Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.”

Key Findings
Christmas and the Holidays: What do you most look forward to?
69% – Time with family and friends
11% – Religious reflection/Church
7% – People are happy, joyful

Christmas and the Holidays: What do you like the least?
33% – Commercialism/Materialism
22% – Money/Too expensive
10% – Shopping/Crowds/Crowded Stores

Many research studies indicate Christian religious affiliation and participation in Christmas is dropping rapidly in the U.S. Worldwide, Christmas observance is rapidly being adopted and growing, even in non-Christian cultures. The Advent Reflections published on this blog during Advent show many religious figures decry the commercialism that has overtaken this season. So far I’ve never heard a single sermon in any church where members were admonished and corrected regarding this usurpation of Christmas. Of course, many of their members are heavily involved in commerce that benefits from Christmas, so it would be akin to shooting oneself in the foot to openly try to reset expectations of what Christmas is about.

In the early church, believers stood out from the existing culture of the day, often paying with their lives for opposing the culture. Tonight marks the end of Advent and celebrations of the Lord’s birth commence at midnight.

My hope is that Christians will rerecognize that Advent and Christmas are rooted in fact, and a sincere belief that mankind’s redemption sprang from events of this night that happened over 2,000 years ago. I long for Emmanuel’s return in God’s time.

Esteem for Clergy Low – Pew Research

Lastest Pew Forum Findings Not Encouraging for Clergy
Recently released Pew Research from the Religion and Public Life Project has disclosed discouraging results for clergy. Survey respondents were asked to rate whether or not ten professions contributed “a lot” to society’s well-being. The professions were Military, Teachers, Medical Doctors, Scientists, Engineers, Clergy, Artists, Journalists, Business Execs, and Lawyers.

The military came out on top with over three-fourths (78%) of U.S. adults saying armed services members contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being. For clergy, only 37% felt clergy makes a big contribution to society. Regular churchgoers are more positive about clergy, but even among weekly church service attenders only 52 % rate clergy as contributing “a lot” to society. 29% rate clergy as making “some” contribution, and 11% say clergy contribute “not very much” or “nothing at all”. Click HERE to view this report on the Pew site.

Gallup Poll Mirrors Pew
A Gallup poll released in November 2012 mirrored Pew results. In it they asked the question of respondents for various career groups,“Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields — very high, high, average, low, or very low?” Clergy was rated as being honest and ethical by only 52% of respondents.

What Do These Results Mean?
In my 5+ years of blogging about churches in Anchorage, and from my first-hand observations of churches and clergy, I believe low clergy contribution ratings may be influenced, in part, by:
• Sermons lacking in biblical educational value, even though studies indicate most church visitors show up at church to find out what a church believes, their doctrine. Often intensive book studies become the focus of sermons instead of clear, understandable, biblical instruction.
• Services jammed with musical entertainment, often longer than the sermon, entry level Christian sermons, lots of fluffy fillers, and little positive Christian education.
• Pastors trying to promote or recapture a new form of worship going back centuries, often filled with mysticism and attempts to recast scripture in new forms.
• Clergy supporting expensive short-term missions while failing to organize and lead members in addressing urgent local needs for our neighbors in need.
• Clergy dabbling in politics, social issues like gay rights, and digging far into social justice issues in an unbalanced manner.
• Huge financial requirements for expensive churches, large staffs to support them, but little-used over the course of a week.
• The pastoral position has become merely a job instead of a passion or calling.

In closing, national commenters point to many churches defecting from their roles in providing quality Christian education in a consistent manner. In reality, part of the blame extends to the family level for this. The church and pastor cannot work miracles where parents have abdicated their role in the home. This of course mirrors what we commonly hear in education. Many parents blame teachers and poor curricula, expecting teachers and schools to do the work they avoid.

Meanwhile seekers in America, overall, are migrating to a “spiritual but not religious” mindset. Often this means assembling a belief system from little pieces of a number of belief systems. A few pastors out there in U.S. Christendom are expertly addressing these issues but most aren’t. These results are especially hurtful for Alaska which ends up at the bottom of Pew Research in membership and attendance per capita vs. the rest of the U.S. I’m eager to hear what my readers think these numbers mean.

Protestantism Declining, Catholicism Steady, and No Religious Affiliation Rising According to Pew Forum Report

Protestantism is on the decline, according to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released in February 2008. In fact, since the 1970’s, Protestant numbers have dramatically slipped from 65% to 51% of total U.S. Population as measured in 2006 by General Social Surveys.

Challenges for Catholics
Catholics, according to the Pew study, are losing members out the back door, but holding steady overall due to the influx of Catholic immigrants, especially from Latin America. The data further show 10% of American’s are now reported as being former Catholics.

Those expressing no religious affiliation have tripled from the 1970’s low of around 5% to over 15% of the U.S. population.

Organized Religions Taking Hit
According to a New York Times article, earlier this year, Americans Change Faiths at Rising Rate, Report Finds, by Neela Banerjee, many Americans are leaving organized religion. According to Professor Steven Prothero, quoted in the article, the winners in this shift are evangelical churches who are leading the move to more personal religion. The losers being impersonal religions.

In this blog I’ve previously observed, via my church visits, challenges various Anchorage area churches are having. It is easy to observe some of the challenges these religious trends create merely by visiting various area churches.

Wait, There’s Hope (coming post)
In a future blog post, I’ll further discuss how some progressive mainline Protestant churches, and upstart evangelicals have discovered a solution to this challenging dilemma. Bolded material in this blog represents, for the most part, clickable links to the source material. I urge blog readers to take a personal at these materials to form your own opinions.