Friday, June 27, 2008

New U.S. Religion Data

I love maps. My office walls are covered in them. And, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a whole mess o' new maps, charts, and graphs related to American religion. For a quick taste, here is a portrait of American Evangelical churches.

There is more here that you probably ever wanted to know about religious demographics in America. You can sort by tradition, gender, income, race, region, and on and on starting on the main page.

My early favorite for weirdest question in the survey: "How often do you receive a definite answer to a specific prayer request -- would you say at least once a week, once or twice a month, several times a year, seldom, or never?"

And, Jehovah's Witness members took home the Golden Clasped Hands Award for praying the most. A whopping 89% said that they "pray daily." Mormons and historically black churches took silver and bronze. Evangelicals finished a disappointing fourth.

Seriously, this is really interesting data full of thought-provoking pieces, cultural insight, and humor. Give it a look.


Anonymous said...

The surprising thing to me, on first glance, is how "liberal" the Orthodox church is, given the recent acquaintance you and I have had with some getting into it. For instance, 72% of Orthodox believe many faiths can lead to eternal life (compared to 57% evangelicals); 29% say Bible was written by men and NOT the Word of God (compared to 7% evangelical); only 71% "certain" of their belief in God (compared to 90% evangelical); 48% of Orthodox believe homosexuality should be "accepted" by society, compared to 26% evangelical.

More disturbing, of course, is the relative size of Christians of all faiths who don't seem all that convinced of their beliefs. It's no wonder (if true, as I've heard) that Islam is spreading like wildfire across the globe while Christianity, overall, remains stagnant.

Kevin B. said...


As an Orthodox, I'd also add that the questions used to elicit the answers are somewhat vague and problematic. What you hear by these stats are very different from what I hear, being an Orthodox Christian and knowing a bit more about what we mean by certain terms.

Not to say that we in Orthodoxy are perfect, by any means. Then again, Orthodox tend not to shoot their wounded like some more fundamentalist Evangelical groups might do. The Corinthian Church of St. Paul's day included a large contingent that thought it okay to "accept" incest; St. Paul did not seem to think that this -- although surprising and disappointing -- ought lead one to go find another church.

I think the bit of "uncertainty" is not an unhealthy thing, though. "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." I find it hard to believe that 98% of Evangelicals are absolutely or almost certain of God's existence. That sounds more like self-deceit, to me, especially if lifestyles are any indicator of true faith.

I understand your concern over lack of conviction. But, is that really that disturbing? Do we really want to be like Islam, where people may be absolutely "certain," but where such a stance means basically a superficial and unexamined "faith"? M. Scott Peck once said that doubt is often the beginning of knowledge. I think honesty is as much a virtue as certainty, if not greater. There is no sense in convincing ourselves of "certainty," when biblically, "faith" is the word. There is a difference. Knowing with the heart is not the same as knowing God with the brain, and while the latter may preclude doubt, the former can embrace it within a healthy faith of growth and life.

Cort said...

Interesting points raised by Justin and interesting reply, Kevin.

Re: Orthodoxy, I think I was most surprised by frequency of church attendance. Based on what I gather from those close to me who have recently joined the OC, I get the impression that tradition, beauty, the Lord's supper, and participation in Scripture and liturgy is highly valued in the OC. Yet, church service attendance is pretty low. In fact, it's the lowest among all Christian categories except "other" and it's tied with mainline Prots (34% reported they attend church at least weekly). That surprised me a bit. And, while I agree about survey questions not always (ever?) getting at exactly what they aim to get at, church attendance seems pretty straightforward. Also, I'm not trying to be legalistic about church-going--I'm just surprised.

But, my very limited experience with OC members are people who I consider extremely devout and serious Christians. That probably explains part of it.

OrthodoxyBG said...

Cort and Justin,

First, let me say that the stats regarding Orthodoxy are troubling. I wish they were not so, and they indicate a need for Orthodoxy to address some problems.

Second, though, is this: these stats are quite misleading when it comes to Orthodoxy (and Catholicism, at least to some degree).

In my experience, a person who attends an Evangelical Church considers themselves Evangelical. If they ever decide to stop going, it is likely that they would no longer view themselves as "Evangelical." I know very few ex-Evangelicals who are now "non-attenders" who would still consider themselves Evangelical.

But, when it comes to Orthodox, if you poll a Greek immigrant who hasn't been to liturgy in 109 years, I guarantee you they will still call themselves "Orthodox." There is a strong cultural tie there that we heritage-less and tradition-less Americans don't seem to understand well. I know people hwo are virtually agnostic in their beliefs, who still consider themselves "Orthodox." I would not argue that this is healthy, only that it is reality, and this would be expected to greatly influence polls and their resultant statistics.

Secondly, I noticed that only 363 Orthodox were polled, while 9472 Evangelicals were queried. I don't if this makes a difference, but most Orthodox churches I know have more than 363 members, even though many haven't been to liturgy in months. Those who haven't are still welcomed when they do come. I wonder how many of those polled are "non-attenders." Let's say that 30% or more are non-attenders; it stands to reason that those are going to give poor input on "what Orthodox believe." Those who rarely attend and are uninvolved in the Church's life are not likely to hold to Orthodox dogma (I suspect you'd find a large percent of "Orthodox" who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, but that this percentage would also represent mostly those who are non-active in Orthodox parish life).

Again, I think that a person who considers themselves "Evangelical" is a person who, by definition, attends church weekly.

It is interesting that the same percentage (4%) of both Orthodox and Evangelicals "never attend services." The obvious conclusion is that FAR MORE Evangelicals never attend services than Orthodox, a point that is obviously meaningless , and only serves to underscore the potential meaninglessness of polls.

I would be very interested to see a poll that only included responses of Evangelicals and Orthodox who attended services regularly and considered themselves active in the life of their respective faiths. As it now stands, I just don't think these comparisons are legitimate (though they do show that we have a lot of backsliding Orthodox).


Travis said...

Regarding those Evangelicals who aren't regular attendees:

I disagree with the assumption that Christians who aren't regular worship service attendees wouldn't consider themselves Evangelical. With the large number of Christians who believe in the Calvinistic idea of once saved/always saved, I think many who are "saved" in an Evangelical church consider themselves saved for life. Very possibly, because of that, they consider themselves "evangelical" for life.

I think your comment about the small sample size is a very noteworthy point.

Cort said...


First, let me say that I never intended to pit Evangs vs. Orthodox. For me, this was interesting insight into what this set of actual people responded to this set of questions. That's all a survey can really claim.

The small number of Orthodox does make these results seem narrow. But, how many Orthodox are in the U.S.? I'd guess the proportional allocation to each denom is roughly the same (or, it should be). Also, this survey was done by Princeton Survey Research Associates and Pew does good work. This is no CNN or FOX News poll. That said, I think the limited scope concerns here are legitimate criticisms as they are for most surveys.

Your point about even virtual agnostics still identifying as "Orthodox" or "Catholic" due to cultural ties is a good one. But, if you limit it to only "good Baptists/Catholic/Orthodox," of course it would change the numbers of the survey for all denoms...greatly. That's one of the larger points of the survey: no denom is composed strictly of "good ______." And when I say "good," I mean sincere, devout, engaged, etc.

I think the idea in your last paragraph is what I took most from this data set: there are a lot of people in all denoms who simply are not that connected/involved/committed to church life. It's not an evang/Orthodox issue, it's a Christianity issue.

Cort said...

One more thing I should have said.

THIS is what surveys provide: a point of discussion. Throw out some broad, not very precise results, and let people with actual experience/insight color in the considerable gaps and attempt to explain the trends.

James Miller said...

I had a thought on attendance. Many Orthodox in this area are orthodox and devout but a two hour drive can be rough every week. I do not attend every Sunday and some maybe once a month due to distance . If I were of another denomination in the evangelical camp I would just go to another church, I don't think this is as true with Orthodox.

"Your point about even virtual agnostics still identifying as "Orthodox" or "Catholic" due to cultural ties is a good one. But, if you limit it to only "good Baptists/Catholic/Orthodox," of course it would change the numbers of the survey for all denoms...greatly.

The point is not to have a good Baptist, Orthodox or such. A baptist who is a virtual agnostic will stop identifying as a Baptist more than likely. This is not the case with more historical and national churches. Anglicanism and Britain is another example.

I think with polling these to groups side by side, as with others listed on that page, terms are not always one to one in all groups.

fun discussion!

Cort said...

That's a great point about "distance," attendance, and Orthodoxy, James. I know it's certainly an issue for the OC folks that I know in BG.

And, I get your point about agnostics not being Bapist. I can't imagine there are many of those, either. :)

I meant that even "fringe" Baptists, those who "good Baptists" would consider marginal or even "out of the church" might very well still ID themselves as Baptist if they trek to the local Wal-Church twice a year for Christmas and Easter. But, devout Baptists certainly would not count them in their camp...or maybe they would?

I guess the difference is that virtually agnostic OC's might GREATLY skew the OC numbers and responses greatly, whereas many "fringe Baptists" likely still line up with devout Baptists on most theological and political issues. I can buy that.

Wonderful insights by all. This really has me thinking a lot today.

Kevin, one more thing I meant to add: "problematic survey" is redundant. :)

Jeanette said...


I never thought you were trying pit one group against another! No worries there. What prompted me to respond was Justin's remark about how "liberal the Orthodox church is." This, simply put, is not accurate (though I can understand Justin making that conclusion based on a first reading of this poll/survey). After floating about in Protestantism for a while and then finding myself deposited on the shores of Greece, I can attest fairly confidently that Orthodoxy is not -- regardless of whatever faults it may have -- "more liberal."

I still think that this isn't just an issue of how engaged people are, or whether we should only poll "good adherents." I think -- and here is where I disagree with Travis' comment -- that an Evangelical who drops out and becomes virtually agnostic or irreligious, is much less likely to identify themselves as an Evangelical as a Greek in the same situation would be to consider themselves Orthodox. I don't think that the practice of the latter is healthy, only that it is a current reality that will potentially greatly affect the results of such surveys.

Cort, glad you posted this. I had seen the Pew results briefly a short time back, but never really looked at it till I saw it on your blog.

Hope you guys are doing well!

Anonymous said...

Hehehehe...he said...Wal-church...hehehe