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Updated: 17 hours 15 min ago

Pastors More Hesitant to Preach on Race

Wed, 13/01/2021 - 4:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pastors seem more reluctant to address issues of race in their congregations today than four years ago.

According to a LifeWay Research study, 74% of pastors agree their congregation would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation, with 32% strongly agreeing. In 2016, however, 90% of pastors believed their congregation would be open to a sermon on the topic, with 57% strongly agreeing.

Today, 17% of pastors say their church would not want to hear about racial reconciliation, up from 7% in 2016.

“While most pastors’ teaching is not limited to things their congregation wants to hear, it is helpful to know the reaction pastors anticipate from their congregation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Instead of a majority strongly agreeing, now only a third of pastors have no hesitation that their congregation would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation.”

African American pastors (93%) are more likely than white pastors (73%) or pastors of other ethnicities (74%) to say their church would be open to a sermon on racial reconciliation.

Pastors of churches with 250 or more in attendance (83%) are the most likely church size to say their congregation would welcome such a sermon.

Denominationally, Methodists (83%), Presbyterian/Reformed (79%), Pentecostals (78%) and Baptists (74%) are more likely than pastors of Lutheran churches (59%) to believe their congregation would like to hear a sermon on the topic.

Sermon feedback

More than 8 in 10 pastors (83%) say they’ve preached on racial reconciliation in the past two years, including 70% who say they have not received any negative feedback because of those sermons and 12% who have been criticized.

Close to 1 in 6 pastors (16%) admit they have not addressed racial reconciliation from the pulpit in the past two years.

Compared to 2016, however, more pastors say they have received negative feedback, and more have ignored the topic in their sermons.

Four years ago, 5% said they were criticized for a sermon on racial reconciliation compared to 12% today. One in 10 pastors (10%) said they had not preached on the topic in the last two years in 2016, while 16% say that is the case now.

“The typical pastor is addressing racial reconciliation from the pulpit and without pushback from their congregation,” said McConnell. “However, the noticeable increase in pastors avoiding the topic and receiving criticism could signal there are new dynamics emerging.”

White pastors (17%) and pastors of other ethnicities (18%) are more than twice as likely as African American pastors (6%) to say they have not addressed racial reconciliation from the pulpit in the past two years.

White pastors (14%) are also more likely than pastors of other ethnicities (3%) to say they have received negative feedback from sermons on the topic.

Pastors 65 and older (20%) are more likely than pastors 45 to 54 (13%) to say they’ve not talked about the topic from the pulpit in the past two years. Younger pastors (18 to 44) are the most likely to say they’ve had negative feedback from preaching a sermon related to race (21%).

Lutheran pastors (27%) are twice as likely as Baptist (13%), Presbyterian/Reformed (13%) and Pentecostal pastors (12%) to say they have not addressed the issue in a sermon in the past two years.

Sermon requests

Around 1 in 5 pastors (21%) say leaders in their church have directly urged them to preach on racial reconciliation, while 77% have not heard such requests.

In 2016, a quarter of pastors (26%) said they had been asked for sermons on the topic, and 73% said they had not.

“There are many possible reasons fewer churchgoers are asking for sermons on racial reconciliation,” said McConnell. “However, you cannot say that fewer Americans are talking and thinking about race today compared to four years ago.”

White pastors (79%) and pastors of other ethnicities (77%) are more likely than African American pastors (56%) to say they have not heard such requests.

Evangelical pastors (81%) are more likely than their mainline counterparts (63%) to say no leaders in their church have asked them to preach on racial reconciliation.

Pastors in the South (79%) are more likely than pastors in the West (70%) to say they haven’t heard such congregational urging.

Lutheran (90%) and Baptist pastors (86%) are more likely than Pentecostal (77%), Restoration movement (70%), Presbyterian/Reformed (68%) and Methodist pastors (63%) to say they have not had leaders ask for a sermon on that topic.

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The mixed mode survey of 1,007 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 2 – Oct. 1, 2020 using both phone and online interviews. For the phone surveys, the calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. For the online surveys, invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel followed by three reminders. This probability sample of Protestant churches was created by phone recruiting by LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. Pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys make up this LifeWay Research Pastor Panel.

Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,007 surveys (502 by phone, 505 online). The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are also made to a telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors using random sampling conducted Aug. 22 – Sept. 16, 2016.

Download the research

 

The post Pastors More Hesitant to Preach on Race appeared first on LifeWay Research.

COVID-19 Bringing Christmas Changes to Many Americans

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 4:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Almost all Americans celebrate Christmas, but most say COVID-19 will cause some changes to their usual holiday habits.

A new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found 93% of American adults say they celebrate Christmas. That number is essentially unchanged from a decade ago when 91% said the same in a 2010 LifeWay Research survey.

While Catholics (98%) and Protestants (95%) are more likely to honor Christmas, even religiously unaffiliated Americans (88%) and those of other religions (81%) say they celebrate on December 25.

“Christmas has significant religious meaning to Christians as it celebrates the birth of Jesus who opens the means of a relationship with God for believers,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But those outside the faith don’t ‘become Christians’ for the day when they enjoy many of the cultural traditions attached to Christmas.”

Women are slightly more likely than men to avoid being a Grinch this year and celebrate the holiday (94% to 91%). Americans aged 65 and older are the least likely to say they are in the Christmas spirit this year (87%).

Regionally, those in the Midwest (95%) and West (95%) are more likely than those in the South (90%) to say they celebrate Christmas.

A COVID-19 Christmas

Despite widespread Christmas celebrations, the pandemic is changing the way people celebrate the holidays. Two in 3 (65%) Americans noted at least one change they plan to make this year due to COVID-19.

“Some Americans are reacting to the effects of COVID-19 by doubling down with plans to celebrate more,” said McConnell. “Other Americans will scale back their traditions likely due to safety, finances or their state of mind.”

With health and safety recommendations limiting contact with others in effect across much of the country, 35% of Americans say they expect to spend less time visiting with family at Christmas this year.

Around half (47%) say their plans remain the same, while 13% plan to visit family more due to COVID. Few (5%) say such family visits aren’t typically part of their Christmas celebrations.

Those more likely to be in high-risk health categories are also more likely to say they’ll be spending less time visiting their family. Americans aged 50 to 64 (43%) and those 65 and older (38%) are more likely to avoid such visits than young adults aged 18 to 34 (28%).

Possibly due to the reduction in travel or the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, 1 in 5 Americans (20%) say they expect less gift giving this Christmas. Two-thirds (67%) say it will stay the same, 9% say they’ll give more gifts this year, and 4% say they don’t usually give gifts for Christmas.

In addition to the cultural Christmas traditions, many say COVID-19 will have an impact on their spiritual holiday observance in 2020.

A quarter of Americans (25%) say the pandemic makes them less likely to attend a Christmas church service this year. Around 1 in 10 (11%) say COVID-19 makes them more likely, 37% say the same as usual, and 27% say their Christmas celebrations usually don’t involve churchgoing.

Young adults, those aged 18 to 34, are the most likely to say COVID-19 has made them more likely to attend a Christmas church service (15%).

Among American adults who typically go to church during Christmas, 50% say they are as likely to go as any other year, 15% say they are more likely to attend, and 35% of typical Christmas churchgoers are less likely to go this year.

While churches may be less crowded this Christmas, Americans may be more reflective on the spiritual significance of the holiday.

Around 3 in 5 adults (59%) say their spiritual reflections this year will stay the same, but 19% say they expect it to increase. Fewer say such reflections are not part of their typical celebration (12%) or that they’ll have less spiritual reflection this year than normal (9%).

Even among the religiously unaffiliated, 10% say the pandemic has made them more likely to spend time in spiritual reflection during the holidays this year.

African Americans are the most likely to say COVID-19 has led them to be more spiritually reflective this Christmas (31%).

“Almost 9 in 10 Americans typically do some spiritual reflection at Christmas,” said McConnell. “Personal time considering why God would come in the flesh isn’t affected by health or financial concerns, so it’s not surprising that about twice as many Americans will do more of this than less for Christmas this year.”

Americans with evangelical beliefs are among the groups most likely to say COVID-19 is leading them to do even more this holiday season.

Evangelicals by belief are more likely than Americans without those beliefs to say they are going to visit family more (18% to 12%), give more gifts (15% to 7%), and have spiritual reflections (39% to 14%). Those with evangelical beliefs are also more likely than others to say COVID has made them more likely to attend church services this Christmas (23% to 8%).

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The online survey of 1,200 Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23, 2020 using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The sample includes an over-sample of Americans with evangelical beliefs providing additional reliability for breakouts of this group. Totals for all Americans reduce these responses to their correct proportion through weighting.

The completed sample is 1,200 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.2%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are made to a probability-based survey of 1,000 Americans Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2016.

Evangelical beliefs are defined using the National Association of Evangelicals and LifeWay Research evangelical beliefs research definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements are categorized as having evangelical beliefs:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Download the research

 

The post COVID-19 Bringing Christmas Changes to Many Americans appeared first on LifeWay Research.

Americans Most Thankful for and to Family This Thanksgiving

Wed, 18/11/2020 - 4:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Even though the pandemic may change Thanksgiving celebrations this year, Americans still express thankfulness for their family and friends.

According to a survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, more than 4 in 5 Americans (84%) say they are thankful for their family.

Sizable majorities also note being thankful for health (69%), friends (63%) and memories (63%).

Around half point to personal freedom (53%) and stability (47%). More than 2 in 5 are thankful for fun experiences (45%) and opportunities (42%).

A third of Americans will spend Thanksgiving being grateful for their achievements (33%), while 1 in 5 (21%) express thankfulness for their wealth.

The average person chose five things on the list for which they are thankful.

“In a year that has been difficult for most, Americans still express a lot of thanks,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “This year of loss and division does not mean people have an absence of good things for which to be grateful.”

Compared to a 2016 LifeWay Research survey, fewer Americans expressed thankfulness for almost all of the options.

Four years ago, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent social distancing guidelines and regulations, more Americans said they were thankful for health (77% to 69% in 2020) and personal freedom (72% to 53%).

Other choices that also saw significant decreases from 2016 to 2020 include friends (71% to 63%), opportunities (59% to 42%), fun experiences (53% to 45%), achievements (51% to 33%) and wealth (32% to 21%).

Compared to other Americans, those with evangelical beliefs are more likely to say they are thankful for family (90% to 82%), health (80% to 66%), personal freedoms (69% to 50%), memories (68% to 61%), stability (56% to 45%), opportunities (56% to 38%) and achievements (38% to 31%).

Thankful to whom?

When Americans give thanks on the last Thursday of November, most say they express their gratitude toward their family and God.

Around 2 in 3 say they typically give thanks to family (68%) and God (67%), while 42% say they are grateful to their friends.

Fewer say they are thankful to themselves (16%) and fate (10%). Even fewer say they don’t give thanks (4%).

“Giving someone else thanks is not a given on Thanksgiving,” said McConnell. “But four times as many people give thanks to family or God than choose to thank themselves.”

This year, both family and friends saw 11-point jumps from 2016 when 57% were thankful to family and 31% to friends.

Thankfulness to myself (8% in 2016 to 16%) and fate (4% to 10%) also grew substantially in the past four years.

The percentage of those who say they are thankful to God in 2020 (67%) is similar to that of 2016 (63%).

Among self-identified Christians, those who attend worship services weekly are the most likely to express thanksgiving toward God this time of year (94%).

Those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than other Americans to say they are thankful to God (96% to 60%).

Protestants (83%) are more likely than Catholics (72%) and those belonging to other religions (62%). A third of religiously unaffiliated Americans (32%) are grateful to God on Thanksgiving.

Younger Americans are more likely to say they are thankful to themselves than older Americans.

A quarter of those aged 18 to 34 (24%) and 19% of 35- to 49-year-olds say they thank themselves on Thanksgiving, compared to 9% of those aged 50 to 64 and 6% of Americans 65 and older.

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The online survey of 1,200 Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23, 2020 using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The sample includes an over-sample of Americans with evangelical beliefs providing additional reliability for breakouts of this group. Totals for all Americans reduce these responses to their correct proportion through weighting.

The completed sample is 1,200 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.2%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are made to a probability-based survey of 1,000 Americans Sept. 28-Oct. 1, 2016.

Evangelical beliefs are defined using the National Association of Evangelicals and LifeWay Research evangelical beliefs research definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements are categorized as having evangelical beliefs:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Download the research

The post Americans Most Thankful for and to Family This Thanksgiving appeared first on LifeWay Research.

Half of Pastors See Negative Economic Impact for Church

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 4:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After a few years of economic optimism, pastors say the 2020 economy is hurting their congregation.

According to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, almost half of U.S. Protestant pastors (48%) say the current economy is negatively impacting their church, including 5% who say the impact is very negative.

Around 1 in 6 (15%) believe the economy has had a positive effect, including 4% saying it is having a very positive impact. More than a third of pastors (35%) say there’s been no impact.

Even with a 12-point jump from 2018 to 2019 (14% to 26%), perceptions of negative impact had been trending downward since 2010 when 80% of Protestant pastors said the economy was harming their church.

The 2020 negative numbers are the highest since January 2016, when 51% of pastors said the economy was hurting their church.

“The recovery from the last recession was slow for many churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Even in a good economy, it can be easy to focus on external factors that are hurting your church’s finances. Clearly, many pastors are seeing the recession in 2020 impacting their church.”

Giving levels

Most Protestant pastors say giving has been at or below 2019 levels, as well as at or below their budget for this year. Around a third report giving levels lower than last year and lower than their current budget.

For close to half of churches (45%), giving in 2020 has been about what was budgeted. A third (33%) say it is lower than budgeted, while 21% say giving has been higher.

When compared to 2019, 35% say giving has dropped this year, 32% say it is the same, and 29% say it is above last year’s levels.

Those numbers accelerate a downward giving trend that began last year.

In 2018, LifeWay Research found 42% of pastors said their offerings were up, 37% said giving was the same, and 15% said it was below 2017.

Those number worsened slightly in 2019 when LifeWay Research found 37% said giving was up, 37% said it was the same, and 21% said it was below 2018 levels.

“2018 looks like as good as it gets for positive economic impacts for churches,” said McConnell. “People quickly got used to improved take-home pay from tax changes and were seeing flat wages meaning 2019 was more difficult for churchgoers to maintain 2018 giving. Now in 2020, a recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has set a third of churches behind their 2019 giving.”

When asked about the specific percentage change from 2019 to 2020, 8% of Protestant pastors say their giving is down by 25% or more, 18% say it dropped between 10% and 24%, and 7% say it was a small drop of 1% to 9%.

Of those who say their giving increased in 2020, most say it went up a small amount. Around 1 in 8 pastors (12%) say giving was up by less than 10%, while 13% say giving was up between 10% and 24%. Few (3%) say giving at their church increased by 25% or more this year.

Negative impact felt more strongly by some

Some churches are faring worse in giving than others in 2020. Minority led, mainline and smaller congregations are more likely to say they’ve felt the brunt of the declining economy.

African American pastors are the most likely to say the economy is having a very negative impact on their church (20%).

African American pastors are also more likely to say their giving is lower than budgeted (48%) and below 2019 levels (50%) than white pastors, among whom 31% report giving below budget and 34% who say offerings are down from last year.

Evangelical pastors are more likely than their mainline counterparts to say giving in 2020 is higher than budgeted (23% to 14%). Similarly, evangelical pastors are more likely than mainline pastors to say giving is above 2019’s offerings (32% to 19%).

Pastors of churches with worship service attendance of 250 or more are more likely than pastors of churches with fewer than 50 people to say their giving is up from 2019 (32% to 23%)

“The economic impact of COVID-19 has been very uneven, and that includes churches,” said McConnell. “The types of churches that are most likely to be struggling financially are also the most likely to have not gathered in person in September. The exception is larger churches, but they were most likely to have less than 30% of their pre-COVID attendance in person.”

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The mixed mode survey of 1,007 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 2 – Oct. 1, 2020 using both phone and online interviews. Phone: The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Online: Invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel followed by three reminders. This probability sample of Protestant churches was created by phone recruiting by LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. Pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys make up this LifeWay Research Pastor Panel.

Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,007 surveys (502 by phone, 505 online). The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

Comparisons are also made to the following telephone surveys using random sampling:

  • 1,002 pastors conducted Nov. 5-12, 2009
  • 1,000 pastors conducted March 1-9, 2010
  • 1,000 pastors conducted Oct. 7-14, 2010
  • 1,002 pastors conducted Jan. 17-27, 2011
  • 1,000 pastors conducted May 18-25, 2011
  • 1,000 pastors conducted May 23-31, 2012
  • 1,000 pastors conducted Sept. 11-18, 2014
  • 1,000 pastors conducted Jan. 8-22, 2016
  • 1,000 pastors conducted Aug. 29 – Sept. 11, 2018
  • 1,000 pastors conducted Aug. 30 – Sept. 24, 2019

Pastors Sept 2020 Economy-offerings Report

The post Half of Pastors See Negative Economic Impact for Church appeared first on LifeWay Research.

More Pastors Endorsing Candidates Apart From Church Role

Wed, 28/10/2020 - 3:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Few pastors make political endorsements from the pulpit, but a growing number publicly back candidates when they step away from their church role.

Among U.S. Protestant pastors, 1% say they have publicly endorsed a candidate for public office during a church service this year, while 98% have not, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Those numbers are unchanged from a 2016 LifeWay Research study.

Around a third of pastors (32%), however, say they have personally endorsed political candidates this year outside of their church role. That marks a 10-point jump from 2016 when 22% of Protestant pastors made an endorsement.

While the percentage of pastors endorsing politicians has increased in the last four years, most still avoid publicly backing specific candidates, even apart from their role in church. In 2020, 65% say they have not endorsed a politician. Three-quarters (77%) said the same in 2016.

“Pastors are more decided on who they are voting for in 2020, so it’s not surprising that more pastors have shared their opinions with others personally,” said Scott McConnell executive director of LifeWay Research. “The candidates endorsed by pastors may be local, state or national. But those who do so in an official church capacity are a rare exception.”

While the endorsements could have been for a candidate of any political office, pastors who say they are voting for Donald Trump are more likely to say they have made a political endorsement outside of church (45%).

Pastors voting for Joe Biden (34%) and those undecided (10%) are less likely to have personally endorsed a politician away from their church role.

In one area of political activism, Biden-voting pastors are more likely to participate—registering voters.

Around a quarter of Protestant pastors (26%) say their church has worked to get people registered to vote in this year’s election. Pastors voting for Biden are more likely to say they have done this than pastors voting for Trump (34% to 22%).

American views on church and pastor endorsements

Few want churches making official political endorsements or pastors doing so during a church service, but Americans are split on the appropriateness of pastors endorsing a candidate outside of their congregational duties.

Around 3 in 10 American adults (29%) say they are fine with churches making public endorsements of politicians. More than half (57%) are opposed.

Close to half (45%) believe churches that publicly endorse candidates for public office should lose their tax exemption. Three in 10 (32%) disagree.

A quarter of Americans (24%) believe it is appropriate for churches to use their resources to campaign for candidates. Almost two-thirds (63%) are opposed.

Support for churches using their resources during campaigns has grown slightly in the past 12 years. In 2008, 13% saw it as appropriate, while 17% did so in 2015, according to two previous LifeWay Research surveys conducted by phone.

“Americans prefer for churches to remain religious sanctuaries rather than political rallies,” said McConnell. “While church support for politicians is seen as improper by most, Americans are less supportive of legal ramifications for such acts.”

One in 4 American adults (24%) believe it is appropriate for a pastor to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service. Six in 10 (61%) disagree, with 47% saying they strongly disagree.

Yet opposition to pastoral endorsements during services has steadily declined since 2008. Twelve years ago, 86% expressed opposition, while 79% did so in 2015, according to the previous LifeWay Research studies.

The public is more divided over the appropriateness of pastors endorsing politicians away from their church role.

More than 2 in 5 Americans (43%) see no problems with pastoral endorsements as long as they are outside their church role, while slightly fewer (39%) say such a move is inappropriate. One in 5 (19%) aren’t sure.

“It may be hard for some Americans to ever see a pastor as being outside of their church role,” said McConnell. “While every American is entitled to their political opinion, some people struggle to separate such personal comments from a pastor’s religious office. Opposition to politically inclined pastors is not surprising considering 24% of Americans say all Christians should be silent on politics.”

Americans with evangelical beliefs and those who regularly attend church tend to be among those more supportive of mixing church and politics.

When asked about churches endorsing candidates, those with evangelical beliefs are more likely to be supportive (41%) than those without such beliefs (26%). Catholics (36%) are also more likely to allow church endorsements than Protestants (29%) and those who are religiously unaffiliated (19%).

Christians who attend a church worship service once a month or more are also more likely to see such endorsements as appropriate (38%) than all other Americans (24%).

Regular Christian churchgoers and those with evangelical beliefs are also more likely than their counterparts to see nothing wrong with pastors endorsing a candidate during a church service, pastors making an endorsement outside their church role, and churches using their resources to campaign for candidates.

African Americans are more likely to believe it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates (38%) than whites (28%) or other ethnicities (24%).

Party divides

As with pastors supporting the president’s reelection, Americans voting for Trump are more likely than others to see nothing wrong with pastoral and church involvement in political races. The same is true for Republicans compared to Democrats.

Two in 5 Trump voters (39%) believe churches who publicly endorse candidates are acting appropriately, compared to 27% of those planning to vote for Biden and 18% of undecided voters.

Half of Americans voting for Trump (52%) see no problem with pastors endorsing candidates away from the church. Two in 5 Biden voters (40%) and 36% of undecided voters agree.

Meanwhile, those supporting Biden are more likely to believe churches who publicly endorse candidates should lose their tax-exempt status (58%) than Trump voters (39%) or undecided voters (32%).

“When it comes to churches and clergy, the political activities that most concern Americans are also the least practiced,” said McConnell. “But there is not complete agreement across different groups about what is right.”

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology
The online survey of 1,200 Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23, 2020 using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The sample includes an over-sample of Americans with evangelical beliefs providing additional reliability for breakouts of this group. Totals for all Americans reduce these responses to their correct proportion through weighting.

The completed sample is 1,200 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.2%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Data is also shown from phone surveys (random digit dial) conducted by LifeWay Research Sept. 14-28, 2015 and June 12-14, 2008 of 1,000 Americans.

Evangelical beliefs are defined using the National Association of Evangelicals and LifeWay Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four of the following statements are categorized as having evangelical beliefs:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Download the research (pastors)
Download the research (Americans)

The post More Pastors Endorsing Candidates Apart From Church Role appeared first on LifeWay Research.

Few Churches Back to Pre-COVID Attendance Levels

Wed, 21/10/2020 - 3:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The vast majority of U.S. Protestant churches say they are holding in-person services, but churchgoers have yet to attend in the numbers they did before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

According to the latest survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, 87% of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say their church met in person in September, while 13% did not hold physical gatherings.

Since the beginning of March, LifeWay Research has been tracking how COVID-19 is affecting churches. While few Protestant churches gathered physically in April, most began meeting in person again by May with more than 7 in 10 pastors saying they did so in July.

“More and more churches across the U.S. have found ways to meet again, but things are not back to normal,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “The impact of regulations, caution and hardships mean more than 1 in 10 churches are still not meeting in person for any type of worship service. Churches are living organisms, and when more than a third of their members are missing, they are not whole.”

A majority of African American Protestant pastors (60%) say their congregations did not meet in person last month.

Mainline pastors (31%) are more likely than evangelical pastors (7%) to say they did not physically gather in September. Denominationally, Methodists (22%) and Presbyterian/Reformed (23%) are more likely to say they did not meet in person than Lutherans (12%), pastors in the Restorationist movement (10%) or Baptists (9%).

Pandemic attendance

Social distancing may be easier in churches, as most pastors say their congregation has less than 70% of their pre-COVID crowds.

One in 10 churches (9%) say their attendance in September was less than 30% of what it was in February before the pandemic spread to the U.S. Another 20% say attendance was between 30% and less than 50% of what it was.

A third of pastors (34%) say it has reached 50% to less than 70% of previous levels. For 1 in 5 (21%) attendance is between 70% to less than 90%.

Few pastors say attendance is close to what it was earlier in the year. One in 10 pastors (11%) say September’s attendance was 90% to 100% of February’s, while 4% say their current attendance is more than what it was pre-COVID.

“In most churches, there is definitely room to spread out,” said McConnell. “It would not be surprising for 30% or more of a congregation to be in a ‘high-risk’ group needing to continue to take precautions. Since some at-risk members are attending, it only highlights further that there are also churchgoers who have resumed other activities without returning to church.”

Prior to the pandemic, 45% of pastors say their typical weekend worship service attendance was less than 100. Now, almost 3 in 4 pastors (72%) find themselves with a worship service crowd below triple digits.

In February, 20% of Protestant churches had crowds topping 250 people. In September, only 6% drew attendance levels that high.

Pastors of churches that were drawing more than 250 in February are the most likely to say their current attendance is less than 30% of what it was earlier this year.

“Since many large churches are not used to functioning with so few people, they may need to reconnect with small churches in their area for ideas. Churches of all sizes have much more in common this year and likely can be learning from each other,” said McConnell.

Long-term consequences

Many pastors may not know the extent to which the pandemic has altered their church for months or years to come, but some say it has already brought long-term changes.

The most common shift pastors had to make due to COVID-19 was delaying a large planned capital expense, with 12% of pastors saying they had to put off a construction project or similar expenditure.

Some churches (8%) say they were forced to delete a ministry. Overall, 2% of pastors say they cut their outreach ministry, 2% got rid of their children’s ministry, 2% stopped Sunday School or small groups, 1% ended student ministry, and 1% deleted other service times like Wednesday and Sunday nights.

Church staff were impacted at some congregations, as 6% of pastors say their church reduced the pay or benefits for staff members, and 6% say they were forced to delete a staff position. African American pastors are the most likely to say they had to cut staff pay or benefits (21%) and delete positions (18%).

Another 6% of pastors say they reduced giving levels to their denomination, while 5% stopped supporting a missionary or outside ministry.

Still, almost 3 in 4 Protestant pastors (73%) say their congregation has avoided any of these long-term issues to this point.

“Most churches have not had to make drastic cuts to their ministry to this point, but the effects of the pandemic are also not over,” said McConnell. “From pastors’ perspectives, some of the suspended ministry activities already feel long term even if they hope to resume those activities soon.”

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The mixed mode survey of

1,007 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 2 – Oct. 1, 2020 using both phone and online interviews. For phone interviews, the calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. For online interviews, invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel followed by three reminders. This probability sample of Protestant churches was created by phone recruiting by LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. Pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys make up this LifeWay Research Pastor Panel.

Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,007 surveys (502 by phone, 505 online). The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

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Half of U.S. Protestant Pastors Back Trump

Wed, 14/10/2020 - 3:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Almost all Protestant pastors plan to participate in the 2020 election, but around a quarter still haven’t decided who will get their presidential vote.

In the latest election survey, Nashville-based LifeWay Research found 98% of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say they plan to vote in the presidential election.

When they cast their ballot, 53% of pastors likely to vote say they plan to do so for Donald Trump. Around 1 in 5 (21%) say they are voting for Joe Biden. A similar percentage (22%) say they are still undecided. About 4% say they are voting for a different candidate.

“Pastors vote like any other American,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “The large number of pastors who are still undecided may reflect difficulty in finding a candidate who aligns with their overall beliefs. Also, some pastors are intensely private about their political preferences and may prefer to respond ‘undecided’ than to even confidentially share their voting intentions.”

Presidential votes

Compared to 2016, the president has much higher levels of support among pastors this year.

In a 2016 LifeWay Research survey, 40% of pastors were undecided midway through September. Around a third supported Trump (32%). Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party nominee, garnered 19%, while Libertarian Gary Johnson had 4%.

For the 2020 election, support for the Democratic and third-party candidates remains similar, but around half of the number of undecided pastors in 2016 now say they will vote for Trump.

“There were a lot of unknowns in 2016, including Trump being an outsider candidate and little sense of how others would respond to supporting his candidacy,” said McConnell. “Pastors know their options for 2020, and a majority are willing to vote for him.”

Among self-identified evangelical pastors, Trump’s support is similar to that of evangelicals across the country. Almost 7 in 10 evangelical pastors (68%) say they plan to vote for the president, compared to 20% of mainline pastors. In a recent LifeWay Research survey, 6 in 10 Americans who hold evangelical beliefs (61%) pick Trump over Biden (29%).

Among African American pastors, 61% choose Biden, while 6% say they plan to vote for Trump. Younger pastors, age 18 to 44, are the least likely age demographic to back the president for reelection (41%).

Denominationally, Pentecostal (70%) and Baptist pastors (67%) are more likely to vote for Trump than pastors in the Restorationist movement (49%), Lutherans (43%), Presbyterian/Reformed (24%) or Methodists (22%).

The same percentage of Protestant pastors in the U.S. and American evangelicals by belief identify as Republican (51%). Around 1 in 6 pastors (16%) say they are a Democrat, while 23% see themselves as an independent.

Both major party presidential candidates retain the support of pastors who identify with their party. More than 4 in 5 Democratic pastors (85%) plan to vote for Biden. Similarly, 81% of Republican pastors support Trump.

Motivating issues

Unlike Americans with evangelical beliefs, Protestant pastors say abortion and religious liberty are two of the most important issues driving their presidential choice this November.

When asked which characteristics of the candidates are important in deciding how to vote, clear majorities of pastors say the candidate’s position on abortion (70%), their ability to protect religious freedom (65%) and their likely Supreme Court nominees (62%) are key factors.

Close to half point to an ability to improve the economy (54%), ability to maintain national security (54%), personal character (53%), their position on immigration (51%), ability to address racial injustice (51%) and their position on the size and role of government (47%).

Around a third (35%) say the candidate’s ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 is important.

Pastors also selected the single issue most important to determining their vote. Only the candidate’s position on abortion (25%), their personal character (22%), ability to protect religious freedom (16%) or likely Supreme Court nominees (10%) are seen as the primary issue by at least 1 in 10 Protestant pastors.

In a recent LifeWay survey of all Americans, voters with evangelical beliefs are most likely to point to an ability to improve the economy (22%) and an ability to slow the spread of COVID (16%) as the primary issue in deciding their presidential vote. Fewer say abortion (11%) or religious freedom (11%) are their primary issue.

“A microcosm of the national debate about COVID-19 has been directed at pastors this year as they have made decisions about necessary precautions for their own church,” said McConnell. “Despite the drastic changes the pandemic has caused to ministry and church practices, most pastors give much higher priority to other national concerns than a candidate’s ability to slow the spread of this virus.”

Evangelical and mainline pastors have different values they believe are important in this election.

Protestant pastors who identify as evangelical are more likely than mainline pastors to see as important in determining their vote: abortion (82% to 38%), protection of religious freedom (72% to 41%), likely Supreme Court nominees (70% to 53%), maintaining national security (58% to 47%) and the size and role of government (52% to 36%).

Mainline pastors, on the other hand, are more likely than their evangelical counterparts to say addressing racial injustice (73% to 44%), the candidate’s personal character (73% to 46%) and slowing the spread of COVID-19 (55% to 28%) are a key part of their presidential choice.

In terms of the most important issue in determining their vote, evangelical pastors are more likely than mainline pastors to say abortion (33% to 5%), while mainline pastors are more likely to point to personal character as the most vital issue in this election. (44% to 14%).

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
The mixed mode survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Sept. 2 to Oct. 1, 2020 using both phone and online interviews. For phone interviews, the calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. For online interviews, invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel followed by three reminders. This probability sample of Protestant churches was created by phone recruiting by LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. Pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys make up this LifeWay Research Pastor Panel.

Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,007 surveys (502 by phone, 505 online). The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

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Most Evangelicals Choose Trump Over Biden, But Clear Divides Exist

Wed, 30/09/2020 - 3:50am

By Aaron Earls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Evangelicals seem ready to cast their ballots in the 2020 election. Nine in 10 evangelicals by belief are registered to vote, and few are undecided about their presidential choice.

A new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research conducted Sept. 9-23 finds President Donald Trump with a sizeable lead over Democratic nominee Joe Biden among likely voters with evangelical beliefs. Deep divides, however, persist among evangelicals across ethnic lines.

Overall, 61% of evangelicals by belief plan to vote for Trump and 29% for Biden. Other candidates garner around 2% combined. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) are undecided.

Evangelicals by belief are also twice as likely to identify as a Republican (51%) than a Democrat (23%). One in 5 (20%) say they are independent.

“Voting for or against an incumbent president is a more certain situation for voters,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Fewer Americans including those with evangelical beliefs are on the fence than at this same point in 2016.”

Presidential preferences

Voting plans for Americans without evangelical beliefs are almost the mirror opposite of their evangelical counterparts, with Biden holding a commanding 56% to 33% lead over Trump.

President Trump’s advantage among evangelicals, however, comes primarily from white evangelicals, among whom he leads Biden 73% to 18%.

African Americans with evangelical beliefs overwhelmingly plan to vote for Biden (69% to 19%). Among American evangelicals of other ethnicities, however, Trump has a 58% to 32% lead.

Compared to a previous LifeWay Research survey conducted in the months leading up to the 2016 election, more white evangelicals say they plan to vote for Trump this time (73% to 65%). However, more also say they plan to vote for Biden than said they planned to vote for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee four years ago, (18% to 10%).

While almost a quarter of white evangelicals were undecided or supporters of a third party in 2016, few say the same in 2020. Only 2% back a third-party candidate this year, compared to 8% four years ago. And while 16% were undecided in 2016, that number fell to 7% this year.

Individuals with evangelical beliefs who identify with the two largest political parties plan to be loyal to their party’s candidate. Among Republicans with evangelical beliefs, 91% say they are voting for Trump. Eight in 10 Democrats with evangelical beliefs (81%) support Biden.

“Different ethnic groups are more attuned to specific failures of our country and of specific candidates,” said McConnell. “One’s ethnicity and political party are more powerful in predicting the vote of someone with evangelical beliefs than their shared religious convictions alone.”

Among likely voters who identify as Christian and attend church at least once a month, support for Trump and Biden is evenly split (46% to 45%). As with evangelicals, ethnic divides are also present among churchgoers.

White churchgoers back Trump 59% to 30%, while African American churchgoers are solidly behind Biden (86% to 9%). The former vice president also has a sizeable—though smaller—lead among Hispanic churchgoers (58% to 36%) and churchgoers of other ethnicities (49% to 36%).

Key election issues

Improving the economy and fighting the pandemic are the top characteristics registered voters say they are looking for in a presidential candidate. Evangelicals agree but are much more likely to also point to abortion and religious liberty as factors.

A majority of registered voters say an ability to improve the economy (72%), slowing the spread of COVID-19 (58%) and maintaining national security (55%) are important factors in deciding their vote.

Close to half say the same about addressing racial injustice (49%), personal character (48%) and the candidate’s position on immigration (48%).

In the survey, which began prior to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, a third (33%) say likely Supreme Court nominees are an important factor. Similar numbers point to the candidate’s ability to protect religious freedom (32%), their position on abortion (31%) and their position on the size and role of government (30%).

Trump voters are more likely than Biden voters to say the economy (82%), national security (67%), immigration (62%), religious freedom (49%), abortion (44%), Supreme Court nominees (42%), and the size and role of government (40%) are important issues in determining their vote.

Biden voters are more likely than Trump voters to point to COVID-19 (75%), racial injustice (68%) and personal character (66%).

When asked the single most important issue in determining their vote, 26% of registered voters point to the economy, 22% say slowing the spread of COVID-19 and 15% say personal character. No other issue garners more than 8%.

Among evangelicals by belief registered to vote, improving the economy (22%) and slowing COVID-19 (16%) remain the top issues, but the candidates’ position on abortion (11%), and ability to protect religious freedom (11%) are more likely to be the top priority compared to those without evangelical beliefs.

Fewer evangelicals (8%) than other Americans (16%) say the personal character of the presidential candidate is the most important issue in deciding their vote.

“Most evangelicals are not single-issue voters,” said McConnell. “Eighty-nine percent of those with evangelical beliefs selected more than one important issue that is influencing their vote. Like other Americans, their top concerns reflect the current recession and pandemic, but more than 1 in 10 with evangelical beliefs will vote for the candidate they think will protect their religious freedom.”

Voting benefits

LifeWay Research also asked registered voters, “Who do you hope your presidential vote benefits the most?” More than a third (35%) say people nationwide who are like them, and 22% say people our country has failed.

Fewer say they hope the ones who benefit the most from their vote are themselves and their family (17%), people nationwide who are different from them (10%) or people in their community or region (7%).

Evangelical voters are more likely than other registered voters to say they hope their vote most benefits people nationwide who are like them (41% to 34%).

Registered voters with evangelical beliefs are also less likely to say they hope their vote most benefits people our country has failed (15% to 24%).

“Few Americans with evangelical beliefs will be casting a ‘Good Samaritan’ vote on election day,” said McConnell. “Instead most will vote to benefit those like them or their own family.”

Those voting for Trump are more likely to say they hope their vote most benefits themselves and their family (21% to 14% of Biden voters) and people nationwide who are like them (43% to 31%).

Biden voters are more likely to say they are casting their vote in hopes that it most benefits people who our country has failed (32% to 10% of Trump voters).

Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Methodology:
A demographically

The online survey of 1,200 Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23, 2020 using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The sample includes an over-sample of Americans with evangelical beliefs providing additional reliability for breakouts of this group. Totals for all Americans reduce these responses to their correct proportion through weighting.

The completed sample is 1,200 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.2%. This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

Comparisons are made to a LifeWay Research survey conducted Sept. 27 – Oct. 1, 2016, with a completed sample of 1,000 surveys and a 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1%.

Likely voters are defined as those registered to vote and plan to vote. Christians are those with a religious preference of Catholic, Protestant, Non-denominational Christian, or Orthodox. Evangelical beliefs are defined using the NAE LifeWay Research evangelical beliefs research definition based on respondents’ level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements are categorized as having evangelical beliefs:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation

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