Churchgoers split on visibility of their faith

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Spiritual topics aren't a part of regular conversations with fellow believers for many Protestant churchgoers, but most seem at least somewhat confident others know they're a Christian.

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The 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from LifeWay Research found those who regularly attend Protestant churches are split on how visible and pervasive their faith is in daily life.

The study identifies living an unashamed life as one of eight signposts that consistently show up in the lives of growing Christians.

"In an increasingly secular culture, fewer people assume you are a Christian," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, based in Nashville. "Disciples now must decide if their identity in Christ is important enough to them to bring up in conversations."

Spiritual conversations

Overall, 39 percent of Protestant churchgoers disagree with the statement: "Spiritual matters do not tend to come up as a normal part of my daily conversations with other Christians"; 35 percent agree and 26 percent aren't sure.

Fifteen percent strongly assert that matters of faith are a part of their regular conversations with fellow believers.

Females (17 percent) are more likely than males (11 percent) to strongly indicate regularly having such conversations, and Hispanics (19 percent) and African Americans (18 percent) are more likely than whites (13 percent) to strongly affirm that matters of faith come up in their daily conversations with other Christians.

Evangelical Protestants (17 percent) and black Protestants (15 percent) also are more likely than mainline Protestants (7 percent) to have such daily conversations.

The youngest adult churchgoers (18-34) are least likely to strongly indicate spiritual matters are topics of daily conversations with other Christians (9 percent).

"It is striking that so many Protestant churchgoers don't talk to each other about the very thing that is supposed to unite them," McConnell said. "And the younger generation either did not observe it growing up or it was not done in a way they want to emulate."

Visible faith

Most Protestant churchgoers say others know they are Christians, but fewer are very confident in that perception.

Nearly two-thirds of Christians (62 percent) disagree with the statement: "Many people who know me are not aware I am a Christian" (with 36 percent of those strongly disagreeing). Overall, 20 percent agree and 18 percent neither agree nor disagree.

Women are more confident that others know of their faith, with more than 2 in 5 females (42 percent) strongly affirming that perception compared to 27 percent of males.

African Americans (44 percent) are the ethnicity most likely to express strong confidence in others knowing of their faith, with black Protestants (41 percent) and evangelical Protestants (37 percent) also more likely than mainline Protestants (26 percent) to say so.

"Far more people identify as a Christian on a survey than they do among their acquaintances," McConnell said. "One in 5 churchgoers is missing the truth found in Matthew 10:32 that acknowledging Jesus before men is tied to whether Jesus will acknowledge us before His Father."

Pervasive faith

Most Protestant churchgoers believe God is relevant to every part of their life and identity.

Two-thirds (66 percent) disagree with the statement: "Many aspects of who I am have nothing to do with God" (with 44 percent of those strongly disagreeing). Overall, 16 percent agree and 18 percent aren't sure.

Half of female churchgoers (51 percent) strongly disagree that many aspects of who they are have nothing to do with God compared to 35 percent of males.

African American churchgoers (56 percent) and churchgoers living in the South (49 percent) are among the most likely to strongly disagree.

Black Protestants (54 percent) and evangelical Protestants (46 percent) are more likely to strongly disagree than mainline Protestants (29 percent). Younger churchgoers (18-34) are the least likely to strongly disagree (34 percent).

"While most churchgoers avoid compartmentalizing their faith, it can be challenging to walk with God in every area of life," McConnell said. "The majority of churchgoers indicate there are more aspects of who they are that can be better connected to God."

Living an unashamed life is one of eight signposts measured in the Discipleship Pathway Assessment and addressed in LifeWay's Bible Studies for Life curriculum. For more information about the survey, visit DiscipleshipPathwayAssessment.com.

Methodology

The online survey of 2,500 Protestant churchgoers was conducted Jan. 14–29, 2019. Respondents were screened to include those who identified as Protestant or non-denominational and attend religious services at least once a month. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, income and denominational affiliation. The completed sample is 2,500 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 2.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on the study, visit LifeWayResearch.com.
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