Churchgoers demonstrate deep faith but room to grow
The 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from LifeWay Research found 7 in 10 (72 percent) Protestant churchgoers disagree with the statement: "During difficult circumstances, I sometimes doubt that God loves me and will provide for my life," with 50 percent strongly disagreeing.
Only 5 percent of Protestant churchgoers strongly agree they doubt God's faithfulness in difficult circumstances, while 13 percent somewhat agree and 10 percent neither agree nor disagree.
The study, which was conducted Jan. 14–29, identifies exercising faith as one of eight signposts that consistently show up in the lives of growing Christians.
Black Protestants (56 percent) and evangelical Protestants (51 percent) are more likely to strongly disagree than mainline Protestants (42 percent).
"The Bible says believers should expect various trials," said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. "The question is how does a Christian actually respond. Half of churchgoers indicate that doubts about God sometimes arise for them during tough times."
In addition to trusting God in difficult times, giving freely of one's money and possessions is an indication of exercising faith in God.
Slightly more than a third of Protestant churchgoers strongly agree (36 percent) they make everything they own available to God, while a third somewhat agrees.
Around 1 in 5 neither agrees nor disagrees, while 10 percent disagree they make their possessions available to God.
Researchers found significant statistical differences when it comes to gender, ethnicity, religious tradition and education. Females (39 percent) are more likely than males (32 percent) to strongly agree.
Hispanic (50 percent) and African American (46 percent) Protestant churchgoers are more likely to say they make everything they own available to God compared to 31 percent of both whites and other ethnicities.
Black Protestants (47 percent) and evangelical Protestants (38 percent) are more likely to strongly agree than mainline Protestants (22 percent). And those with a high school diploma or less (45 percent) are more likely to strongly agree their possessions are available for God to use than those with more education.
"Where one finds their financial security is an important part of faith in God," McConnell said. "Overall, most churchgoers give God control of their finances, but two-thirds indicate it is not complete control."
The study also found Protestant churchgoers are fairly certain God can work in and change people's lives. Around 7 in 10 (73 percent) disagree with the statement, "I sometimes doubt that God can change the lives of non-Christians I know," while 50 percent strongly disagree.
Eleven percent neither agree nor disagree, while 17 percent doubt God's ability to change the lives of the non-Christians they know.
Women are more confident God can change the lives of others. Slightly more than half (53 percent) strongly indicate God can change the lives of non-Christians they know compared to 46 percent of males.
African Americans (60 percent) are the ethnicity most likely to strongly assert God can change the lives of non-Christians. Black Protestants (58 percent) and evangelical Protestants (52 percent) are more likely to strongly indicate they trust in God to change lives than mainline Protestants (35 percent).
Those aged 50-64 (55 percent) and 35-49 (52 percent) are more likely to express strong confidence that God can change the lives of non-Christians they know compared to Protestant churchgoers aged 18-34 (42 percent).
"In a post-Christian American culture, churchgoers should have contact with an increasing number of non-Christians," McConnell said. "But if churchgoers don't trust that God can help others experience the same transformation they've experienced, then there is room for increasing faith."
Few Protestant churchgoers doubt God's involvement in their lives when the unexplainable happens, according to the study. Fourteen percent say they "typically doubt God is involved when things happen in their lives they can't explain." Some 7 in 10 disagree (71 percent), with 44 percent strongly disagreeing.
Females are more likely to strongly disagree they doubt God's involvement when the unexplainable happens than males (47 percent vs. 40 percent).
Protestant churchgoers in the South (47 percent) are more likely to strongly disagree than those living in the Northeast (38 percent) and Midwest (40 percent).
"One of Jesus' most frequent rebukes of his followers was how small their faith was," McConnell said. "It's not that churchgoers have no faith, but many have room for growth."
Exercising Faith is one of eight signposts measured in the Discipleship Pathway Assessment and addressed in LifeWay's Bible Studies for Life curriculum. For more information, visit DiscipleshipPathwayAssessment.com.
The online survey of 2,500 Protestant churchgoers was conducted Jan. 14–29. 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 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.