(Article first published as Poll: Confidence in the Church/Organized Religion Declining on Technorati)
Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions survey for this year was conducted 7-10 June 2012, and the results were published last Wednesday. Gallup has been conducting this kind of survey since 1973, and annually since 1993. Participants were asked to tell how much confidence they had—great deal/quite a lot, some, or very little/none—in the list of institutions presented. Based on the results, the biggest declines in confidence were for television news, the public schools, and organized religions.I want to zero in on the results of the survey pertaining to confidence in the church/organized religion. According to the survey results, confidence in the church/organized religion declined 4% this year relative to last year. Also, for the sixteen institutions addressed in this year’s survey, the results were compared to their historical averages as well. For instance, for the church/organized religion, while 44% expressed confidence in this institution for this current year, that was 12 percentage points below the historical average of 56%. Similarly, public schools, Congress (no surprise here), and television news are all currently at least 10% below their historical average ratings.
According to Gallup, “The declining confidence seems to be a part of a broader pattern, rather than a product of isolated issues facing individual institutions.” The implication is that once the economy improves and Americans begin to feel better about the state of the United States, their confidence in the major institutions will improve.For the church I think it’s more complicated than that.
Speaking from a Christian perspective, I believe there are at least two general reasons why there may be a drop in confidence in the church. One has to do with the mission and message of the church. Again, from a Christian perspective, the church’s mission is to bring people into a personal and growing relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and to provide practical answers to the tough questions in life. For those who attend Christian local churches and who feel the church has failed to deliver on this primary mission, they have legitimate grounds for losing confidence in the church.The second reason has to do with people’s expectations of the local church. For instance, some people expect the local church to be more active than they currently are in meeting the temporal needs of the needy during tough economic times. Also, I have seen several surveys that suggest growing dissatisfaction with the local church because many people expect the church to be more accommodating to same-sex marriage, abortion, sex before marriage and the like.
The point is that we have to be careful in what we read into the results of any survey. The question posed in the recent Gallup poll required a subjective answer, and that’s what participants gave. But the truth is that the reason some people may have lost confidence in the church/organized religion has to do with an individual’s idea of the church’s mission versus the church’s understanding of her God-given-mission, and these two can be worlds apart.Copyright © 2012 by Frank King. All rights reserved.