Jan 12, 2004

From the Archives

Only Half Of Protestant Pastors Have A Biblical Worldview

In his recently released book and a subsequent research report on worldviews, author and researcher George Barna made waves by citing statistics showing just 9% of all born again adults and just 7% of Protestants possess a biblical worldview. That information pricked people’s curiosity regarding the worldviews of the nation’s religious leaders, prompting Barna Research to conduct a national survey on that topic among Protestant pastors. The numbers are now in – and the outcome may again shock many people.

Based on interviews with 601 Senior Pastors nationwide, representing a random cross-section of Protestant churches, Barna reports that only half of the country’s Protestant pastors – 51% – have a biblical worldview. Defining such a worldview as believing that absolute moral truth exists, that it is based upon the Bible, and having a biblical view on six core beliefs (the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize), the researcher produced data showing that there are significant variations by denominational affiliation and other demographics.

“The most important point,” Barna argued, “is that you can’t give people what you don’t have. The low percentage of Christians who have a biblical worldview is a direct reflection of the fact that half of our primary religious teachers and leaders do not have one. In some denominations, the vast majority of clergy do not have a biblical worldview, and it shows up clearly in the data related to the theological views and moral choices of people who attend those churches.”

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Denominational Distinctions

The survey of pastors included ministers from more than four-dozen denominations, each of which was represented in proportion to the number of churches it has in the U.S. That enabled the researchers to analyze the responses of seven denominational segments more closely. There is considerable variation in the worldviews held.

An example of the gap among churches is reflected in the outcomes related to the nation’s two largest denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church. (Of the nation’s 320,000 Protestant churches, more than 42,000 of them are Southern Baptist and more than 35,000 are United Methodist; these two denominations alone account for roughly one-quarter of all Protestant churches in the U.S.) The Southern Baptists had the highest percentage of pastors with a biblical worldview (71%) while the Methodists were lowest among the seven segments evaluated (27%).

Among the other segments examined, 57% of the pastors of Baptist churches (other than Southern Baptist) had a biblical worldview, as did 51% of non-denominational Protestant pastors, 44% of pastors of charismatic or Pentecostal churches, 35% of pastors of black churches, and 28% of those leading mainline congregations.

Demographic Differences

The survey brought to light some unexpected differences based on pastoral background. The most intriguing of those relates to theological training. Educationally, the pastors least likely to have a biblical worldview are those who are seminary graduates (45%). In contrast, three out of five pastors who have not attended seminary operate with a biblical worldview (59%).

The largest gap related to gender. Whereas 53% of male pastors have a biblical worldview, the same can be said for just 15% of female pastors. Overall, just 6% of all Protestant Senior Pastors are women.

Another huge gap was based on race. White Senior Pastors were nearly twice as likely as black Senior Pastors to have a biblical worldview: 55% versus 30%, respectively.

Age and experience entered the picture. The youngest pastors in the nation (those under age 40) are more likely to have a biblical worldview than are their older peers (56% versus 50%). Similarly, pastors who have five years or less experience in leading churches have a higher rate of biblical worldview possession (58%) than do other pastors.

Even geography is related to worldview. Fewer than half of all Senior Pastors in the Northeast (43%) and Midwest (49%) have a biblical worldview, compared to majorities in the South (57%) and West (58%). In fact, of the nine geographic divisions defined by the Census Bureau, the one with the highest proportion of pastors giving evidence of a biblical worldview was the Pacific division – California, Oregon and Washington. Although the people in those states are among the most liberal in the nation, nearly two-thirds of Protestant pastors there (64%) have such a moral and spiritual compass in place.

A Worldview Is Taught As Well As Caught

Referring to the multi-year research project that formed the foundation of his recent book on the subject of worldview development (Think Like Jesus), Barna suggested that people do not get a biblical worldview simply by regularly attending church. “A biblical worldview must be both taught and caught – that is, it has to be explained and modeled. Clearly, there are huge segments of the Christian body that are missing the benefit of such a comprehensive and consistent expression of biblical truth.
“The research also points out that even in churches where the pastor has a biblical worldview,” he continued, “most of the congregants do not. More than six out of every seven congregants in the typical church do not share the biblical worldview of their pastor even when he or she has one. This intimates that merely preaching good sermons and offering helpful programs does not enable most believers to develop a practical and scriptural theological base to shape their life. Our research among people who have a biblical worldview shows that it is a long-term process that requires a lot of purposeful activity: teaching, prayer, conversation, accountability, and so forth. Based on our correlations of worldview and moral behavior, we can confidently argue that if the 51% of pastors who have a biblical worldview were to strategically and relentlessly assist their congregants in adopting such a way of interpreting and responding to life, the impact on our churches, families and society at-large would be enormous.”

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Research Source and Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 601 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches conducted in November and December 2003. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with that sample is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In addition, telephone surveys were conducted with a national random sample of 2033 adults during September through November 2003. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with that sample is ±2.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of respondents coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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