Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Certainty sells

From an article summarizing a new Canadian study of church attendance:
.... The authors, Drs. David Haskell, Kevin Flatt and Stephanie Burgoyne, used five years' data gathered from 2,255 attendees of Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada parishes across the province of Ontario. ....

Approximately half of the authors' subjects belong to growing parishes within these three mainline denominations, the other half to shrinking ones. Their most striking survey result finds churchgoers at shrinking parishes more doctrinally committed than their ministers. Ministers of shrinking churches are the least likely group to profess faith in the resurrection or in the power of prayer:
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement "Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb" 93% of growing church pastors agreed, 83% of growing church attendees agreed, 67% of declining church attendees agreed, and just 56% of declining church pastors agreed.

When asked if "God performs miracles in answer to prayer" 100% of the growing church pastors agreed, 90% of the growing church attendees agreed, 80% of the declining church attendees agreed, and just 44% of the declining church pastors agreed.
Preaching what the authors call conservative theology—"Protestant Christian beliefs based on a more literal interpretation of the Bible and greater openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world"—necessarily drives devotion, they find. The rewards of a defined faith keep congregants coming back.

"Conservative Protestant doctrine is strongly linked to personal happiness," they find, citing prior research. "Just as a clear map helps us get where we're going faster, groups with a clear, unified mission or purpose tend to out-compete groups with 'foggy' or wide ranging mission and purpose." In matters of the soul, certainty sells.

If evangelicalism in the form of a friendly smile and a "Hey neighbor, have you heard the good news?" gets them through the door, it's doctrine—more than just a sense community—that keeps them inside..... [more]