“Some religious bodies have multiple categories of membership, some talk about ‘membership’ but don’t really define what a ‘member’ is, some denominations offer no official membership even as their local churches do, and each group defines ‘membership’ differently…It’s no wonder so many people are confused.”
Cathedral in Europe
(Taken by Deb)
Are you confused about church membership? A recent study conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting indicates that confusion abounds in Christendom regarding this topic. Interestingly (to me), the research was given the following label:
Study shows widespread confusion and ignorance on the subject of official membership in a place of worship
The report begins as follows:
"(Original release date: August 29, 2012) A new study from Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona) shows widespread confusion and ignorance regarding official membership in churches and other local places of worship.
The research was conducted among 441 American adults who attend a local church or place of worship once a month or more. The study asked people whether their place of worship offers “any kind of official membership in the organization, or not.” Among all worship-goers, 48% say such official membership is offered, 33% believe it is not, and 19% are not sure.
While some denominations and individual congregations have no official form of membership, most of the largest religious bodies do. All of the ten largest denominations in the U.S. (as measured by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies) measure some form of official membership: Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Episcopal Church, and National Baptist Convention USA.
Even so, among people who attend one of these top ten denominations, just 44% say their church offers official membership, while 39% believe it does not, and 17% are unsure."
According to the Grey Matter report: "The sample of 441 adults is accurate to within ±4.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. The study was conducted in all 50 states using a demographically representative sample from an online research panel."
I found the statistics at the end of the report quite interesting. They were broken down into two categories:
– Perceptions of whether their church or place of worship offers any kind of official membership…
– Whether they personally have official membership in their church or place of worship…
With regard to the first category (perceptions of whether their church offers official membership) 48% said yes, 33% said no, and 19% were not sure. Protestants were more likely to know whether their church offered official membership than Roman Catholics, and the under 35 category and over 65 group were more likely to know that their church offers membership. A whopping 72% of those with "evangelical beliefs" knew whether their church offered official membership.
Sellers also suggested that many religious groups apparently aren’t doing enough to make membership relevant to people, or to communicate how it is relevant. “Denominational and local church websites often talk about the benefits or importance of membership, but apparently many people just aren’t seeing it as a necessary step in their own spiritual life. Religious groups need to understand why this is, and what can be communicated to people to help explain the relevance of membership.”
The results reported under the second category (whether they personally have official membership in their church) were also fascinating. Of all the worshippers surveyed, 37% were members of the church they attend, 11% responded no/not sure, and 52% indicated that no membership is offered. Roman Catholics were the least likely to have official membership where they worship with 67% of Roman Catholics indicating that no membership was offered. Of those who identified as Protestant, 42% had official membership in their church while 44% indicated that official membership was not offered. Again, those with evangelical beliefs had the highest percentage of those with official church membership, coming in at 61%.
The report concludes with Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, making these observations:
– Many denominations measure their size by official membership, which may not be accurate. Sellers is quoted as follows:
"Even when we look just at the largest Protestant denominations that offer membership, about a third who attend are unaware membership is even an option, and about four out of ten people attending those churches claim not to be members. The question has to be asked – how relevant are membership statistics as a measure of denominational size or reach in today’s world?”
– According to the survey results, many religious groups do not appear to be making membership relevant. In the report Sellers remarks:
“Denominational and local church websites often talk about the benefits or importance of membership, but apparently many people just aren’t seeing it as a necessary step in their own spiritual life. Religious groups need to understand why this is, and what can be communicated to people to help explain the relevance of membership.”
– Membership is seen as "complex and confusing" based on analysis of communications from the various churches. Ron Sellers concludes:
“Some religious bodies have multiple categories of membership, some talk about ‘membership’ but don’t really define what a ‘member’ is, some denominations offer no official membership even as their local churches do, and each group defines ‘membership’ differently. It’s no wonder so many people are confused.”
Here are several questions I have regarding this survey:
– Who commissioned this research?
– Who plans to use it?
– The report states: "Grey Matter has extensive experience in research related to faith and spirituality." Is the faith community an important source of revenue for this research/consulting firm?
In our upcoming post I will segue into Membership Covenants and attempt to connect their increased use to the results of this survey.
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 8:1-9:35 Matthew 19:13-30 Psalm 24:1-10 Proverbs 6:1-5