from author Eric Shuster
SECTION 2: WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?—A Definition
Chapter 7: It’s Revealing According to the Data
The two part definition of a Christian developed in chapter 6 can be put to the test; however, such a test is not trivial. Measuring belief and practice is complex and thus the caution of Jesus Christ to “Judge not according to the appearance” (John 7:24). Chapter 7 doesn’t seek to judge, but rather to measure how well various Christian denominations are performing in inspiring their members to be strong Believing and Practicing Christians.
To achieve an accurate measurement of effectiveness Shuster analyzes data from three robust landmark quantitative studies conducted in the United States from 2000 to 2008—one from the Barna Group and two from the National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR). All three studies are highly respected and widely sourced in the public domain for religiosity across a large number of behavioral attributes.
Because of alignment issues with the three studies it was necessary to select 12 common attributes from all three. There are four attributes relating to belief (belief in Jesus Christ, God, the importance of faith and the reality of evil) and eight attributes relating to practice (praying, reading the Bible, attending church, attending Sunday School, attending small group activities, volunteering, sharing the gospel and tithing). The Barna study covered adults and the two NSYR studies covered youth and young adults allowing for sound coverage of the full spectrum of denominational adherents. To simplify the analysis the vast number of Christian denominations is consolidated into five categories using the REKTRAD method: Conservative Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Roman Catholics and Mormons (LDS).
This unprecedented exercise has its limitations due to the variation of faith traditions between denominations, the comparability of attributes between studies and the accuracy of applying a quantitative measurement to something that is inherently qualitative. Nonetheless the results were extremely informative:
- · There are more Believing Christians than Practicing Christians across all denominations
- · There is a decrease of belief and practice with age (Mormons being the exception)
- · Conservative Protestants generally performed well across all 12 attributes
- · Mainline Protestants tend to reflect the mainstream of the Christian population (the average)
- · Catholics lag behind all denominations in belief and practice across all age categories
- · Mormons recorded the highest composite scores among all Christian denominations
- · Lots of other surprises and a few jaw droppers
Looking ahead, chapter 13 includes an exclusive exercise a Christian can take that will categorize that Christian into one of five types covered in Section 3 of the book (go to www.findyourchristianity.com to take the survey). Perhaps instead of asking someone “are you Christian,” the more relevant question might be “how strong of a Christian are you?” or “what type of a Christian are you?” Next we will study the critics who desire to make this more complicated for their own benefit.
Where are the Christians? The Unrealized Potential of a Divided Religion
by Eric Shuster
Coming May 2013!