Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Are Christians Really….? 5

posted by Scot McKnight

BREWright.jpgWhere do Evangelical and Protestant church members come from? Are they born into their group or do they convert into this group?

This is the question Brad Wright asks and probes in the 4th chap of his excellent new book, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

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Here are some basic numbers, and the numbers are what percent are born into that group:
Prots 82
RCC 89
EOrth 77
Jewish 85
Muslim 60
Buddhist 27
Hindu 90
Mormon 73
JW 32
Which is a way of indicating how evangelistic groups are. But this isn’t the whole story, and Brad Wright’s study has some interesting facts about Evangelicals.


50% of Evangelicals were raised Evangelical. 30% were raised in Mainline or historically Black traditions; 10% were raised RCC. 6% were raised outside of Christianity completely and 2% were raised in another religion. 

Conversions count for a relatively small percentage of evangelicals.
So what about retention rates?
Prots 80%
RCC 68%
EOrtho 72%
Mormons 71%
Unaffiliated retain only about 45% of its own.
Brad’s study shows about 74% of Evangelical youth remain Evangelical. 7% join another denomination, mostly Mainline. 3% join another religion. 16% disaffiliated altogether.


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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 6:59 am


BEYOND AFFILIAION- It’s important to keep in mind that these stats have to do with affiliation with a label (which is not unimportant). You’d have to drill down deeper to look at changes in behavior and beliefs over time. Are some groups more likely to retain non-practicing members who never attend any church?
TIME- The data Wright uses is good, but it’s not longitudinal. The survey Wright uses trusts that people remember affiliation they had a long time ago. The best quality national longitudinal dataset that can get at changes in affiliation, belief, and behavior over time is the National Survey of Youth and Religion (up to people in their 20s). Results were reported in Christian Smith’s book: SOULS IN TRANSITION.



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 7:00 am


…is the Mormon retention rate a typo…? I thought the LDS was one of the best at retaining members.



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 7:02 am


Does Wright explain why the “Prots” have a higher retention rate than Evangelicals?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2010 at 7:51 am


Jason, bing, bing, bing … the first three comments are yours. 72% is the number for Mormons. That number did not surprise me. No, he does not explain the Evangelical retention rate. Two points: it was based on 409 Evangelicals. Second, he says this number would indicate Evangelicalism is not on the verge of collapse.



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 8:06 am


Scot… Why did the not-that-high Mormon retention not surprise you?
Oh, yes. Evangelicalism is far from on the verge of collapse…it’s holding it’s own fairly well (at least in terms of affiliation). Social scientists have been showing this for decades (Dean Kelley’s book WHY CONSERVATIVE CHURCHES ARE GROWING [1972] was probably the first impetus). The Christian public seems to get their info on “religious trends” from all over the place, so some of the findings in Wright’s book (such as this finding about Evangelical retention) may be news to them.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2010 at 8:27 am


Jason, maybe because I’ve read a few things over the years, known a few Mormons who think about such topics, and my son played one baseball season in Boise where I played golf a few times with Mormons … and each of these sources led me to think their retention rates are not as high as some would think. Part of this is what they call “Jack Mormons.”
What did you think of Greeley-Hout’s thesis that growth has more to do with birth rates?



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 8:44 am


Oh yes, Hout, Greely and others basically showed that by far the largest amount of growth in conservative Protestantism (as a proportion of Protestantism) is accounted for by higher birth rates. Better retention in comparison to Mainliners accounted for only a small amount of the change.
But this fertility advantage may be fading. These days it sure does seem like many evangelicals are having fewer kids (probably as a result of more dual career families, higher educational attainment, and delayed marriage). So this suggests that Evangelicals are moving into a stage of managing decline, probably not unlike Mainliners in some ways (Michael Emerson has an essay about this).
If you separate out Pentecostals, Pentecostals probably still have really strong fertility. I’d imagine Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have sustained high fertility.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2010 at 8:55 am


But Greeley-Hout undermine the whole thesis of Kelley, no?



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 9:22 am


Not really… One of the measures that went into Hout and Greeley’s construction of their “conservative Protestant” variable was conservative view of the Bible. This Bible variable is also one of the variables used by the “strictness” theorists who are in the tradition of Kelley.
Recent work shows that higher self-evaluated religiosity (which cuts across denominational groups) is associated with higher fertility (See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2723861/)
So what seems most likely is:
Strictness -> intense religiosity -> birth/family patterns -> group growth



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ron

posted July 12, 2010 at 9:37 am


When people are asked for their religious preference (different than allegiance) they have to claim something – since I was born into a “______” (fill the blank with version of Christianity) family I must be that because I am not a Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist. The person goes back to his or her default mode.
Just my thought this morning.



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Kenny Johnson

posted July 12, 2010 at 10:21 am


So are the Buddhists really good evangelists?



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 10:35 am


The percentage of Americans that are Buddhist is minuscule. But of Buddhists in America, the proportion that are converts is high. There is a trickle of Jewish, Mainline, Catholic, and Unaffiliated Americans toward Buddhism. Buddhist converts are usually highly educated whites.



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pam w

posted July 12, 2010 at 11:31 am


In my circles of corporate leaders focused on ‘business for good’ and economic, social, environmental sustainability, I am surrounded by Buddhist converts (born and raised in Christian homes). We as evangelicals have been the best evangelists for Buddhism with these folks. They went searching for a deeper, contemplative discipline that integrated with everyday life. Their commitment to social, economic and environmental justice was shunned in the Christian church, and they did not understand that when they read Jesus. Most of them would not call Buddhism a religion though. They would say a wisdom tradition, of way of life that brings life and light to others. Intersting, huh?



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fish

posted July 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm


I have considered Buddhism myself. I find the lack of morality — ie faith, not works — in Christianity hard to reconcile with a religion.
When I see Christians lining up to support occupying other countries, finding ways to punish “illegals,” fighting public health care and just generally using money as the surrogate guide toward what God wants, I wonder if I really want to be a Christian.
I know all Christians aren’t like that but the fact remains that the basic belief set of Christianity allows you to do just about anything to your neighbor and still remain on good terms with God. I find “what goes around comes around” a much more just way of approaching life.



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Joshua Wooden

posted July 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm


Fish @14: Isn’t “you reap what you sow” as good a principle as “what goes around comes around”? Moreover, I’m not convinced that Buddhism is as Monolithic as it is presented in the popular mindset. It’s always more complicated- they are still human, and people can champion any belief, ideology or worldview to justify actions that are, at heart, incompatible with those beliefs.
I’m on your side about the issues you mentioned.



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Kenny Johnson

posted July 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm


@fish
I don’t believe that’s true (the beliefs not the actions). Some examples from scripture:
Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
1 John 3:6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Matthew 7:19-21 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.



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DRT

posted July 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm


I have to support pam and fish. I found that the best implementation of christianity was buddhism. But in recent years I have some optimism that we can get the Christian churches to follow christianity again.



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Matt

posted July 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm


Jason- thanks for the additional input.
What about Ron’s comment that a simple measure of affiliation may not be meaningful, inasmuch as there may be declining levels of active involvement?
I ask this because my personal observation has been that x’s and y’s are not hanging around in the churches with which I’m familiar.



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EricG

posted July 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm


Jason — what you say in #7 is very interesting, and different from what I had heard elsewhere (say, from Rodney Stark, who gives a different explanation). Are you saying that birth rates are the primary difference that explains the decline in mainline denoms as compared to the growth rates in evangelical denoms? If true, that seems significant.



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pam w

posted July 12, 2010 at 8:15 pm


@fish
I know all Christians aren’t like that but the fact remains that the basic belief set of Christianity allows you to do just about anything to your neighbor and still remain on good terms with God. I find “what goes around comes around” a much more just way of approaching life.
Though it seems by our behavior in this culture that this is the basic belief set of Christianity, Jesus called us to a very different way of life. It’s our representation that is the problem, not the beautiful life, resurrection and call to follow the Living God. His call to the upside down Kingdom is very much about the things you list.
My interaction with Buddhists after seminary was so good for my soul because they were (oddly) more focused on some of the teachings of Jesus than we were in the church. They were seeking a way of life that transformed their everyday actions and being. Jesus calls us to that. We have become complacent because we see out culture as Christian. My Buddhist friends are seeking Jesus I believe. We need to manifest His Love and presence in a deeper way.
I could go on, but I wanted to be sure to clarify my comments were about the perception and manifestation of Buddhism/Christianity in our culture rather than comparing the actual belief systems. This data is about how the traditions play our in the US culture.
captcha: oddball the – if been called that before!



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Jason Lee

posted July 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm


ericg:
It’s all from Hout and Greely’s 2002 ASR article “the demographic imperative….”
yes fertility is the main reason.
a much smaller factor (but still a factor) is that mainliners lose more to the unaffiliated category.
it also used to be that conservative prots would switch to the mainline…but conservatives are keeping more.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted July 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm


Jason and Eric #21
Can’t put my finger on it at the moment but a book I read about the Presbyterian Church, USA, written in the ’90s supports the impact of the fertility rate differences. I’ve heard this bandied about at the Presbyterian Center as well. I think it is a frequently overlooked factor but I’m not certain of its magnitude related to other variables.



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EricG

posted July 12, 2010 at 11:03 pm


Thanks Jason and Michael. I looked at part of the article Jason mentioned, and they say that something like 75 percent of the effect is due to differences in birth rates. I plan to read more of it – seems interesting. Not what I would have expected.



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