June 22, 2011

Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

Evangelical Beliefs and Practices

Who are evangelical Christians? What do they believe? And what do they see as the boundaries of their faith? The survey contains several questions that probe how participants in the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization identify themselves religiously, in what faith they were raised and what spiritual experiences they have had. It finds broad agreement among these Christian leaders on some beliefs and practices that are essential to being “a good evangelical.” Virtually all the leaders surveyed, for example, say evangelicals must follow the teachings of Christ in their personal and family life. But the survey also finds areas of substantial disagreement, including over biblical literalism and the consumption of alcohol.

A. Religious Identities

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The “born-again” experience is a defining characteristic of the evangelical movement, and one that is reported by nearly all of the leaders surveyed. More than nine-in-ten (93%) say they have been born-again, in most cases at a relatively young age. The average is 17, with nearly all of the leaders (86%) saying they were born-again before the age of 30. Two-thirds (67%) say the experience occurred before they turned 20. Even among those who were not raised as evangelical Christians, the average reported age of a born-again experience is 20. Among those who were raised as evangelicals, it is 14.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of the leaders (90%) identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But a substantial minority also describe themselves as Pente-costal (25%) or charismatic (31%) Christians. Younger evangelical leaders are more likely to identify as Pentecostal Christians. Among those under age 40, for example, 31% say they are Pentecostals, as do 29% of those in their 40s, compared with 22% of those in their fifties and 16% of those age 60 or older. Younger leaders are also more likely to identify as charismatic Christians (35% of those under 40, compared with 23% of those 60 and older).

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As previous studies have emphasized, Pentecostalism is especially common in the Global South, and in this survey, leaders in the Global South are indeed more likely to say they are Pentecostals (33%) than leaders in the Global North (14%).9 Leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly likely to identify with Pentecostalism (42%). When it comes to identifying as a charismatic Christian, however, there is little difference between leaders from the Global North (30%) and the Global South (32%). Leaders from Europe (37%) and sub-Saharan-Africa (38%) are equally likely to say they think of themselves as charismatic Christians.

For the purposes of this report, those who identify themselves as either charismatic or Pentecostal Christians on these questions are grouped together and referred to as renewalist Christians, or simply renewalists. Four-in-ten leaders at the Congress are included in this umbrella category. By contrast, only 11% of the leaders say they think of themselves as fundamentalist Christians.

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Half of the leaders surveyed say they were raised as evangelical Protestants, and an additional 17% were raised as non-evangelical Protestants. Roughly one-in-eight (13%) were raised Catholic, and 5% say they were raised without any particular religion. Very few grew up as Muslims (3%), Buddhists (2%), Orthodox Christians (2%) or in a traditional, animist or new age religion (2%). Leaders age 60 or older are most likely to say they were raised as Protestants (80%). Among those raised outside of Protestantism, differences in childhood religion tend to reflect the predominant religion of the region in which they live.

B. What Does it Mean to be an Evangelical?

With near unanimity, the Lausanne leaders see two practices as essential to being a good evangelical Christian. Virtually all of the leaders surveyed (97%) say it is necessary to follow the teachings of Christ in one’s personal and family life. Nearly as many (94%) say that working to lead others to Christ is part of being a good evangelical.

Smaller but still substantial majorities of leaders also agree on several other essential behaviors. About three-quarters (73%) say working to help the poor and needy is essential for being a good evangelical Christian; 24% say this is important but not essential. There is widespread agreement about this activity among leaders from all regions of the world. Fully 74% of leaders from the Global North say helping the poor and needy is essential, as do 72% of leaders from the Global South.

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Tithing – or giving at least a tenth of one’s income to the church – is deemed essential for being a good evangelical Christian by 58% of the leaders; 32% say tithing is important but not essential, and 8% consider tithing either not too important or not at all important. Leaders from Europe are less likely than those in other regions to say tithing is essential for being a good evangelical. About a third of European leaders (36%) say tithing is essential, compared with 59% of North American leaders and 66% of leaders in the Global South.

Overall, a solid majority says that it is essential for evangelicals to take a public stand on social and political issues when those issues conflict with moral and biblical principles; 56% call this essential, while 37% say it is important but not essential, and 5% say it is either not too important or not at all important. In addition, about half of the leaders (49%) say that it is essential to take a public stand on social and political issues that could limit the freedom of evangelicals to practice their faith; 39% say this is important but not essential, and 9% say it is either not too or not at all important.

About one-third (36%) say working to protect the natural environment is essential for being a good evangelical, while close to half (47%) say that protecting the environment is important but not essential, and 16% say it is either not too or not at all important. Leaders living in Hindu-majority countries, namely India and Nepal, are more likely than others (57% vs. 34%) to say that protecting the environment is essential for being a good evangelical.

There is strong consensus among the leaders on the compatibility of some religious beliefs and practices with evangelicalism. More than nine-in-ten see no problem, for example, with believing that miracles can take place today (94%) or believing in divine healing (93%).

There is also solid agreement among the Lausanne leaders on some beliefs and practices that are not compatible with being a good evangelical, such as mixing Christianity with elements of other faiths, sometimes called syncretism. More than nine-in-ten of the leaders surveyed say that engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice (92%), believing in astrology (97%) and believing in reincarnation (96%) are incompatible with being a good evangelical. Nearly all the leaders surveyed (95%) also say that believing Jesus Christ is not the only path to salvation is incompatible with being a good evangelical Christian.

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Among the Lausanne leaders, 70% say that speaking in tongues is compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. But a sizeable minority (26%) considers this practice, which is commonly associated with Pentecostalism, to be incompatible. Among renewalist leaders, 84% say speaking in tongues is compatible with being a good evangelical Christian, compared with 64% of non-renewalists.

The item on which the leaders are most evenly split is the question of whether consuming alcohol is compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. Roughly half (52%) of the evangelical leaders say drinking alcohol is not compatible with being a good evangelical, while 42% say it is compatible, and 6% are not sure or do not answer.

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Beliefs about this issue are related to the regional backgrounds of the respondents. A majority (73%) of the leaders from the Global North consider alcohol consumption to be compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. By contrast, a similarly large majority of the leaders from the Global South (75%) say alcohol consumption is not compatible with being a good evangelical. Leaders from sub-Saharan Africa are especially likely to say this; fully 78% say consuming alcohol is not compatible with being a good evangelical.

These regional differences may also reflect the influence of other religious and cultural traditions in certain areas of the world. More than eight-in-ten (83%) leaders living in Hindu-majority countries say consuming alcohol is incompatible with being a good evangelical; 78% of those living in Muslim-majority countries take the same position, as do 67% of those living in Buddhist-majority countries.

C. Beliefs

Nearly all of the Lausanne leaders (96%) believe that Christianity is the one, true faith leading to eternal life. Only 1% say that many religions can lead to eternal life.

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This near unanimity contrasts sharply with the answers given by rank-and-file evangelicals on surveys in the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. are divided on whether “my religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life,” with 51% saying it is the sole path to eternal life and 45% saying many religions can lead to eternal life.10 Opinions among evangelical Protestants in 15 countries across sub-Saharan Africa vary widely on this question. The percentage of self-identified evangelical Protestants saying “my religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life” ranges from a low of 25% in Cameroon to a high of 86% in Ethiopia.11

Nearly all of the Lausanne Congress participants (98%) believe that the Bible is the Word of God. However, there is an almost even split between those who believe that everything in the Bible should be taken literally (50%) and those who do not (48%). Global South leaders are more likely than those from the Global North to say that the Bible should be taken literally, word for word (58% vs. 40%).

U.S. leaders participating in the Congress are evenly split between those who take everything in the Bible literally and those who do not (48% to 49%, respectively). As a point of comparison, evangelical Protestants in the U.S. are more likely to say they read the Bible literally; two-thirds (68%) take this view, while about one-quarter (27%) say that the Bible is the Word of God but that not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word.12

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By a wide margin, the evangelical leaders surveyed reject the idea that human beings and other living things have evolved over time due solely to natural processes. Nearly half (47%) believe that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, while 41% believe that a supreme being guided the evolutionary process. Only 3% say that humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection.

Leaders from the Global North are more likely than those from the Global South to say that the evolution of living things, guided by a supreme being, has taken place. Half of the leaders from the Global North (50%) take this position (including 49% of U.S. leaders), as do 34% among Global South leaders. Leaders from the Global South are more likely than those from the Global North to say that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form (54% vs. 39%).

A slight majority of leaders (52%) believe that Christ will either probably (44%) or definitely (8%) return in their lifetimes.  Six-in-ten leaders (61%) also say they believe in the Rapture of the Church — the teaching that believers will be instantly caught up with Christ before the Great Tribulation, leaving non-believers behind to suffer on Earth.

When it comes to these beliefs about eschatology or the End Times, regional differences once again are notable. Two-thirds of Global South leaders (67%) say Christ definitely or probably will return in their lifetimes, compared with a third of Global North leaders (34%). Renewalist leaders are also more likely than non-renewalists to believe that Christ is likely to return in their lifetimes (60% vs. 47%). Among leaders from the Global South, 73% say they believe in the Rapture, compared with 44% of Global North leaders. But majorities of those surveyed from all regions except Europe believe in the rapture of the Church; evangelical leaders from sub-Saharan Africa are especially likely to believe in the Rapture (82%).

D. Practices

The global evangelical leaders tend to be frequent church-goers. The vast majority (89%) say they participate in religious services at least once a week, with two-thirds (68%) saying they attend more than once a week.

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The evangelical leaders are also quite likely to say they participate in prayer or scripture study groups on a weekly basis (75%). By comparison, they listen to religious radio or watch religious TV programs less often; about a third (37%) do so weekly, and 29% do so seldom or never.
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Leaders from the Global South are more likely than those from the Global North to participate in prayer or study groups and to tune in to religious media. For example, about half of the leaders from the Global South (47%) watch or listen to religious media programs weekly, compared with about one-quarter of the leaders from the Global North (23%). Renewalist leaders are also more likely to engage in these activities.

Nearly all the evangelical leaders surveyed (94%) say they have received a direct answer to a specific prayer request at some point in the past.

E. Renewalist Experiences

High numbers of the leaders surveyed also report having experienced or witnessed practices that are often associated with renewalist groups. For example, roughly half or more of the evangelical leaders report having spoken or prayed in tongues (47%), experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person (57%), received a direct revelation from God (61%) or personally witnessed or experienced a faith healing (76%). A smaller but still significant number (40%) have given or interpreted prophecy.

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Not surprisingly, renewalist leaders (that is, those who identify as either Pentecostal or charismatic) are more likely than other leaders to report having these experiences. More than three-quarters of renewalists say they have witnessed or experienced a divine healing (91%), a direct revelation (80%), an exorcism (78%) and speaking in tongues (81%). And two-thirds of the self-identified renewalists surveyed (67%) have given or interpreted prophecy. While non-renewalist leaders are less likely to say they have experienced each of these things, large numbers still claim some of them.

In particular, two-thirds (66%) of the leaders who do not identify as Pentecostal or charismatic say they have witnessed or experienced a divine healing, and more than four-in-ten have received a direct revelation from God (48%) or witnessed or experienced an exorcism (43%).

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Some of these experiences appear to be more common in the Global South, where renewalist identification is higher. But even accounting for identification as a renewalist Christian, leaders from the Global South are significantly more likely than those from the Global North to say they have witnessed or experienced the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person. They are also more likely to say they have experienced or witnessed a divine healing. And while renewalist identification is most important in understanding differences in rates of speaking in tongues, there is also a geographic difference among non-renewalist leaders on this item, with those from the South twice as likely as those from the North to have participated.

When it comes to the prosperity gospel – an issue that generates considerable controversy among Christians globally – the Lausanne leaders express a clear consensus. An overwhelming majority rejects the idea that God will grant wealth and good health to all believers who have deep faith. Only 7% of the leaders surveyed endorse the prosperity gospel, while 90% say that God does not always give wealth and good health to believers with deep faith. There is strong consensus on this point among renewalists and non-renewalists alike.


Footnotes:

9 See, for example, the Pew Forum’s 2006 report, Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals. (return to text)

10 See the Pew Research Center, Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life, 2008. (return to text)

11 For more details see the Pew Forum’s 2010 report, Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2010. (return to text)

12 See Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, 2010. (return to text)

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