June 22, 2011

Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

Preface

Although its historical roots are mostly in Northern Europe and North America, evangelical Protestantism is a global phenomenon today. In 1910, by one estimate, there were about 80 million evangelicals, and more than 90% of them lived in Europe and North America. By 2010, the number of evangelicals had risen to at least 260 million, and most lived outside Europe or North America. Indeed, the “Global South” (sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia) is home to more evangelicals today than the “Global North” (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand).1

As the evangelical movement has grown and spread around the globe over the past century, it has become enormously diverse, ranging from Anglicans in Africa, to Baptists in Russia, to independent house churches in China, to Pentecostals in Latin America. And this diversity, in turn, gives rise to numerous questions. How much do evangelicals around the world have in common? What unites them? What divides them? Do leading evangelicals in the Global South see eye-to-eye with those in the Global North on what is essential to their faith, what is important but not essential and what is simply incompatible with evangelical Christianity?

To help answer these kinds of questions, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted a survey of participants in the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. The congress takes its name from a worldwide gathering of evangelical leaders convened by the Rev. Billy Graham in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. The 1974 gathering led to a foundational document called the Lausanne Covenant and a coordinating body known as the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE). The LCWE continues to spearhead the Lausanne Movement, which describes itself as “a worldwide movement that mobilizes evangelical leaders to collaborate for world evangelization.” The movement held a second Lausanne Congress in Manila, Philippines, in 1989. The third congress took place in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.

The organizers of the Cape Town 2010 gathering sought to bring together a geographically representative “global parliament” of evangelical leaders that would reflect the “demographic, cultural, theological and ecclesiastical diversity of the global Church.” The selection of participants was largely decentralized, with the LCWE’s international deputy directors working in each of 12 regions to invite participants in approximate proportion to each country’s share of the global evangelical population.

This selection process resulted in a body that was ethnically and linguistically diverse. At the same time, however, the participants surveyed by the Pew Forum differ in important ways from rank-and-file evangelicals in their home countries. They are predominantly male, middle-aged and college-educated, and nearly three-quarters (74%) are employed by churches or religious organizations. Fully half (51%) are ordained ministers. Hence, the survey results do not necessarily reflect the views ofevangelicals as a whole. Rather, the survey captures the attitudes and experiences of the global group of evangelical leaders who participated in the Lausanne conference,which is the way the results are characterized throughout this report.

One advantage of surveying a leadership group, as opposed to the general public, is that the questions can be more specialized and presume more knowledge among the respondents. The Pew Forum survey asked the Lausanne Congress participants to rate the prospects for evangelical Christianity in their home countries, to express their views on what it means to be an evangelical and to describe their beliefs on a number of theological, social and political issues. We also asked for their perceptions about the relationship between evangelical Protestants and other religious groups, for their assessment of the greatest threats to evangelicalism today and for their views on evangelization, including whom to evangelize and how.

The resulting report offers a detailed portrait of the beliefs and practices of this group of global evangelical leaders. It finds, perhaps not surprisingly, a high degree of consensus on some core theological matters, such as the belief that Christianity is the “one, true faith leading to eternal life” and that the Bible is the word of God. But it also finds a number of subjects on which evangelical leaders are divided, including whether everything in the Bible should be read literally, whether it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person and whether it is acceptable for evangelical Christians to drink alcohol. On many questions, the evangelical leaders’ opinions vary substantially by region, reflecting the differing contexts in which the leaders live and work.

The survey was conducted with the cooperation of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, which sought “an honest appraisal of who we are,” in the words of its executive chairman, the Rev. S. Douglas Birdsall. But the Pew Forum bore all the financial costs, including sending personnel to Cape Town to administer the survey, and had full responsibility for all aspects of the survey’s design, content and analysis. Thus, no part of the survey or this report should be construed as a statement or endorsement from the LCWE.

The Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Previous reports produced under this initiative, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, include The Future of the Global Muslim Population (January 2011), Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa (April 2010), Global Restrictions on Religion (December 2009) and Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals (October 2006).

The project manager for this survey was Cary Funk, an experienced public opinion researcher, associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and consultant to the Pew Research Center. We are immensely grateful for her sure hand through all phases of the survey. The primary researchers were Greg Smith and Allison Pond. The fieldwork, which involved the distribution and collection of electronic as well as paper questionnaires, was carried out by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, led by PSRAI President Mary McIntosh.

For generously sharing their expertise on evangelicals and evangelicalism, we would like to thank Timothy Samuel Shah of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Todd M. Johnson and Bert Hickman of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; and John Green of the University of Akron. Finally, this survey could not have taken place without the steadfast cooperation of LCWE Executive Chairman Doug Birdsall; the Rev. Blair T. Carlson, the LCWE’s congress director for Cape Town 2010; and Kimberly Iannelli, the LCWE’s chief operating officer.

Luis Lugo, Director
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director, Research


Footnotes:

1 See Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross, editors, Atlas of Global Christianity, 1910-2010, Edinburgh University Press, 2010, p. 98. Their 260 million estimate is a relatively conservative count. If the definition of evangelical Protestants is broadened to include all Pentecostal Christians, the worldwide total could be 600 million or more. Return to text

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