Pew poll results raise concerns for churches

Religion column

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

There is much intriguing data in a comprehensive religion survey released last summer by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

This respected organization made headlines with its finding that unbelief is on the rise throughout the world. In the United States, those who answer “none” when asked to identify their religion stands at around 51 million citizens, or 16.4 percent of our population.

It would be interesting to see a state-by-state and county-by-county breakdown on these figures. I suspect the percentage of south Georgians who are “none of the above” is considerably less than one in six people. (These numbers, of course, beg the question as to whether people who identify with a particular religious tradition actually behave as adherents. A sage pastor once described one of his inactive members: “When he said he was a Methodist he meant this was the church he faithfully avoided.”)

One aspect of the Pew survey that caught my attention dwelt with opinions about the church that respondents could agree or disagree with. Here are the statements and results:

  1. Churches and other religious organizations are too concerned with money and power.

Fifty-one percent of the general public agreed with this statement, as did 70 percent of non-churchgoers. These numbers are not particularly surprising, but 47 percent of churchgoers also agreed with this statement.

  1. Churches and other religious organizations are too involved with politics. Forty-six percent of the general public, 67 percent of unaffiliated persons and 41 percent of church people agree with this statement.
  2. Churches and other religious organizations focus too much on rules. Fifty-one percent of general public, 67 percent of unaffiliated persons and 47 percent of church people agree with this statement.

One would expect non-churchgoers to have a more negative opinion of the church, but has the church strayed perilously close to a fatal tipping point when nearly half of churchgoers believe their church is too legalistic, too involved in politics and too concerned with money and power? This survey would seem to indicate a significant group of church people could become dropouts at any given moment.

One has to take such numbers judiciously. Surveys repeatedly show, for instance, that Congress has a dreadful reputation. But the same people think very highly of their own elected representative; somebody else’s representative is the crook, sluggard or do-nothing.

The Pew Forum might have added the question, “Do you have a low opinion of the church in general, or are you describing your own congregation?” It might have also been instructive for respondents to explain what they meant by “politics.” Most of us don’t have a problem with “politics” when we get our way as a result.

No matter how one tries to interpret the above results, however, the problem looms for religious organizations. Have the tenets of grace, love, mercy, justice and generosity been overcome with bureaucracy, power plays and institutional survival and fund-raising? These serious questions must be addressed by the faithful.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.


Tonto 2 years, 9 months ago

Funny old world. Church folk think their church is too concerned about money...guess they think the power company doesn't charge the church, the Pastor works for free, the flowers on display grew there. I reckon the "cleaning faries" come in at night to clean-up. They like the choir robes and candles...must have been donated. A church's roof never needs fixed, pipes don't go bad and it is just naturally cool in there during the summer (lucky folks). No insurance needed in case some one falls/slips or otherwise hurts themselves on church property cause no one would hold a church liable, right? Missionaries must get government grants...wait; church vs state..probably not. The food we prepare to serve the homeless was dropped off already cooked by concerned folks in the wee hours of the morning. The same folks who decry the church asking for money demand full accountability and all the "buisness' management required to ensure "their" money is spent as they feel it should be.


FryarTuk 2 years, 9 months ago

I wish they had asked the question: should church properties be taxed?


Trustbuster 2 years, 9 months ago

The poll confirms my suspicions about church hierarchical organizations. Too often church organizations become bureaucratized with certain fiefdoms of power. Bureaucracies tend to look out for their own interest at the expense of members.


Doberman 2 years, 9 months ago

At some point, some church committee decided:

  • to buy choir robes, instead of feeding a family for several months.
  • to buy chandeliers, instead of providing job training to the unemployed.
  • to build cathedrals, instead of housing for poverty-stricken senior citizens.
  • to spend money on vanity, instead of helping those they're tasked with helping.

Reread the Bible. When God tasked us with building a church, he wasn't talking about bricks and mortar.


RedEric 2 years, 9 months ago

Christianity is simple and easy to understand. Churches distort that simple beautiful message to their own ends. Churches have killed a lot of people and have amassed huge sums of money and property over the centuries. Churches condemned Romney as a member of a cult and gave us Obama again. I know there are good people in churches and some churches do good things, but we have good examples here in town of the opposite. How can a church preach hate and call themselves Christian? Churches should be taxed. You know that render onto Ceasar thing. Most are commercial enterprises and since they take public money should be audited. Creede, you might want to look outside the church to find true Christianity.


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