Skip to comments.Christians shunning labels
Posted on 09/11/2006 7:53:25 AM PDT by WestTexasWend
-Baylor survey finds millions of Americans don't identify strongly with one denomination-
Bill Daniel says he would "never in a million years" identify himself as a Baptist. The 50-year-old CEO and his wife attend Lake Hills Church, a fast-growing, high-energy congregation in West Austin focused on evangelism and a strong relationship with Christ.
But even though Lake Hills has a nondenominational feel, it's technically a Southern Baptist church a detail Daniel didn't notice until about a year after he started worshipping there.
"I wouldn't say I'm a Southern Baptist," he said. "I would say I'm a Christian."
Daniel is among the millions of American Christians who don't identify with a denomination even when their church is affiliated with one, new research shows.
People like Daniel and a younger generation of Christians are abandoning denominational labels, a trend that has not been accounted for in recent surveys on faith, according to a group of researchers at Baylor University who on Monday released "American Piety in the 21st Century," a three-month survey on religion in the United States.
Pollsters in the past tended to track religiously affiliated people by denomination, meaning as many as 10 million people have not been counted, the researchers said.
Faculty members in Baylor's sociology department and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion wrote the survey, conducted last winter by the Gallup Organization, and are touting the results as groundbreaking. Gallup did not identify Baylor, a Baptist school, as the sponsor when it distributed the questionnaire.
"It's more comprehensive than any other survey that's been done," said Paul Froese, assistant professor of sociology and research fellow with the institute. He added that the survey, which focused solely on religion and asked more extensive questions than previous studies, paints a complex and intricate portrait of American religion that will reinforce and challenge widely held beliefs.
The undercounting of Christians who do not affiliate with a denomination or who do so only nominally was one of the biggest surprises for researchers. They said the data showed that many of the respondents who did not identify with a denomination actually attend an evangelical church and that these so-called evangelical Christians make up a third of the U.S. population.
The researchers will release more statistics next year after they analyze more data gleaned from the 350-question survey. The first installment shows results based on 77 questions, which range from whether God favors the U.S. in world affairs to belief in the existence of Bigfoot and other supernatural phenomena. The survey also reveals varying perspectives on God, the war on terrorism, religious literature and the paranormal.
At a time when religion has had a polarizing effect in the country, particularly during the 2004 presidential election, researchers said they hope people will see that America's faithful are not necessarily predictable. And they certainly aren't fading away.
Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology and a research fellow with the institute, believes results from past surveys such as the long-running General Social Survey, conducted by University of Chicago researchers since 1972 and used by social scientists all over the world, do not give the most accurate picture because of the way the questions were framed.
A 2004 General Social Survey reported 14 percent of Americans have no religion, whereas Baylor's study found barely one in 10 Americans has no affiliation with a religious group. The Baylor team went beyond denominational ties and asked the name and location of the each survey taker's place of worship.
The survey found that some people indicated no denomination or religious affiliation at first, but when prompted, went on to list a church they attended regularly.
"Denominations just don't mean the same thing to people that they did in the past. People don't think of themselves as a good Southern Baptist. They think of themselves as a good member of their congregation," Dougherty said.
Austin has numerous churches that downplay denomination, including Riverbend, a West Austin church with 4,500 members, and Austin Stone Community Church, with a congregation of 2,000, mostly college students and young adults. Both are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Matt Carter, pastor of Austin Stone Community Church, dropped Baptist from the church name because, even though he admired the denomination's commitment to mission work, he knew it would be a stumbling block for some. "Generally, I find students and young adults who want to be identified with Jesus and not necessarily with a particular denomination," he said.
Lake Hills pastor Mac Richard has observed the same trend among his church members. "They just want to be known as a Christ follower," he said. "They like the inclusiveness that that carries with it rather than the exclusivity of dogmatic denominationalism."
Richard said most denominational officials don't object to omitting the Baptist name because they realize churches can reach more people without it. Some people have had negative experiences in Baptist churches; others may think they need to be a Baptist in order to attend.
"One of the primary barriers to people particularly to the Christian faith is this misperception of exclusivity," Richard said. "So anything that reduces that, they're drawn to."
The Southern Baptist Convention still receives money from Lake Hills to support mission work in the U.S. and abroad. And Richard stressed that the church still holds the "non-negotiables" of Christian theology such as the belief that Jesus was fully divine and fully human.
By the time Daniel discovered the Baptist link, he had already decided Lake Hills was the church for him. He said he stopped worrying about denomination years ago. Raised an Episcopalian, Daniel says he flirted with atheism before forming a personal relationship with Jesus in his late 20s.
"(Denomination) was completely unimportant to me from that point forward," he said.
What matters to Daniel now and to Carter and Richard is creating a church where there are no barriers. "We want people to come to the church because they want to see what it's about," he said.
Major survey findings
* Barely 1 of 10 Americans has no affiliation with a congregation, denomination or other religious group.
* Less than 5 percent of the U.S. population claims a faith outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream.
* A third of Americans, about 100 million people, are evangelical Protestant by affiliation.
Evangelical Protestant: 33.6%
Mainline Protestant: 22.1%
Black Protestant: 5%
Methodology: The study, using both telephone and self-administered mailed surveys, was conducted by the Gallup Organization from Oct. 8, 2005 to Dec. 12, 2005. Gallup recruited 3,702 potential respondents through a nationwide random-digit dialing telephone survey; 1, 721 returned completed surveys. The mail survey consisted of a 16-page booklet. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Evangelical Protestant: Emphasizes the authority of the Bible, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, personal piety and the need to share the "good news" of Jesus Christ with others. Includes Assemblies of God, Christian Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Pentecostal, Presbyterian Church in America, Seventh-day Adventist and Southern Baptist.
Black Protestant: A strand of American Protestantism born out of the African American experience. Includes African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal.
Mainline Protestant: Historic Protestant denominations that are more accommodating of mainstream culture. Includes American Baptist, Episcopal/Anglican, Evangelican Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Quaker, United Methodist and United Church of Christ.
Catholic: Roman Catholic and National Catholic churches that stress papal authority and apostolic succession.
Jewish: Religious organizations tied to conservative, orthodox or reform Judaism.
Other: A collection of non-Christian and smaller Christian groups that do not fit another category. Includes Buddhist, Christian Science, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), Hindu, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslim, Orthodox and Unitarian Universalist.
Unaffiliated: People without a religious preference, denomination or place of worship.
I have no problem with "Evangelical Protestant" since Jesus said "Go and be fishers of men" and I am not Catholic.
I think it is the concept of identifying with a specific religious corporationn that gives people a problem.
After all, there are churches (that place you go to worship with neighbors and friends and people who share your faith in Jesus Christ) and then there are religions (those organizations that raise funds to ensure their leaders are able to afford mansions, limosines, TV studios, Radio Stations, Fast Food Restaurants, Theme Parks, etc)
Scratch out your "then there and you nailed it, brother!
Giving to God and His Work, then reaping the rewards, opens eyes fast and folks will beat a path to your church to find out how to know this Great God, Jesus!
MOST OF OUR FLOCK IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST FIRST.
AS MORE OF OUR OLDER SAINTS ARE CALLED HOME I THINK WE WILL DROP THE BAPTIST MONIKER.
I AGREE IN THE TRADITIONAL SENSE OF WALKING IN THE DOOR,THOUGH AS THE LORD DEVELOPS OUR RADIO AND WEB MINISTRY,ALL WILL KNOW THE SPIRITUAL FOOD BEING SERVED BEFORE THEY COME AND WORSHIP WITH THE FLOCK.
LOOKING FORWARD TO YOUR VISIT WHEN YOU CROSS THE BIG POND!
Putting aside my own ecclesiology for a moment, if one has the view that denominations are just peculiar ways of being Christian--all just different manifestations of the same Body of Christ, (similar to what we see in the Catholic Church with different rites or different religious orders), then what harm in identifying openly with them? What's the difference from (on our side of the Tiber) a Benedictine being proud to be a Benedictine and not a Franciscan or a Jesuit?
Good, because I'm baffled by this myself! ;-)