June 22, 2011

Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders

Global South and Global North

The evangelical leaders attending the Lausanne Congress were asked to assess the past, present and future of evangelical Christianity in their respective countries. Taken as a whole, their responses provide a window on the state of evangelicalism around the world. Leaders from the Global South emerge as much more optimistic than those from the Global North.

A. Views of Each Other

The survey asked about the relative amount of influence and financial support for global Christianity from the West (defined as the U.S. and Europe) and the Global South (defined as Africa, Asia and Latin America). About two-thirds (68%) of all the leaders surveyed say that those from the Global South have “too little influence” on global Christianity today, while 22% say the influence of leaders from the Global South is about right and 7% say these leaders have too much influence.

Leaders from all parts of the world tend to share the view that the South lacks sufficient influence. In fact, leaders from the Global North are even more likely than their counterparts from the Global South to say that evangelical leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America have too little influence on global Christianity (78% vs. 62%).

Views on the influence of leaders from the U.S. and Europe are more mixed; 44% of all respondents say such leaders have too much influence, 32% say their influence is about right and 22% think they have too little influence on global Christianity.

A plurality of leaders from both the Global North and the Global South say that leaders in the West have too much influence. Leaders who are themselves from the Global North are a bit more likely than those from the Global South to say that Western leaders have too much influence on global Christianity (47% vs. 42%).

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When it comes to financial support for global Christianity, evangelicals from both the Global North and the Global South think there is much room for improvement and tend to see their own efforts as wanting. More than half of all respondents (55%) say evangelicals in Africa, Asia and Latin America provide “less than their fair share” of financial support for global Christianity. About three-in-ten (31%) say that Christians in the Global South provide about their fair share of financial support, and 7% say they provide more than their fair share.

Similarly, a 45% plurality says evangelicals in the West provide “less than their fair share” of financial support for global Christianity. About three-in-ten (29%) say that Christians in the West provide about their fair share, and 21% say they provide more than their fair share.

Leaders tend to be more critical of their own regions. Respondents from the Global North are more likely than those from the Global South to say that evangelicals in the West provide less than their fair share of support (51% vs. 40%). Similarly, respondents from the Global South are more likely than those in the Global North to say that evangelicals in Africa, Asia and Latin America provide less than their fair share of financial support (65% vs. 40%).

B. Status of Evangelicalism

A series of three questions probes the evangelical leaders’ assessments of the current state of evangelical Christianity in their country, as well as their optimism or pessimism about the near future.8

On a zero-to-10 scale, with zero being the worst and 10 the best, the evangelical leaders give an average (mean) rating of exactly 5.0 to the current state of evangelical Christianity in their country today. Asked to assess the state of evangelicalism five years ago, the leaders provide an average rating of 4.9, which is little different from the average rating they give the state of evangelicalism at present. The leaders tend to be more positive about the future: They rate the expected state of evangelical Christianity in another five years at 5.7 on average.

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The average ratings, however, mask a fair amount of variation. One-fifth of the leaders (20%) put the current state of evangelicalism in their country at the most positive, top end of the scale (7 to 10), while 21% rate the current situation at the bottom end of the scale (from 0 to 3). About six-in-ten (58%) rate the state of affairs in the middle range (from 4 to 6 on the scale).

Moreover, there are wide regional differences in the leaders’ assessments. Leaders from the Global South are more likely than those in the Global North to see the current state of evangelicalism in their country in positive terms. One quarter of the Global South leaders rate the present at the top end of the scale (7 to 10), compared with just 13% of the Global North leaders who do the same. A majority of both groups, however, rates the present state of evangelical Christianity in the middle range of the scale (a mean of 5.3 for the Global South vs. a mean of 4.7 for the Global North).

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The leaders hold a tempered sense of progress over the past five years. Four-in-ten rate the current state of evangelical Christianity as better than where things stood five years ago. But about a third (32%) consider it worse today, and 27% see it as about the same.

Global South leaders are more likely than those in the Global North to think that evangelicalism has made progress in recent years. A majority of Global North leaders either see no progress for evangelical Christianity over the past five years (34%) or see it as worse today than five years ago (38%).

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On the whole, leaders are more optimistic about the future of evangelicalism. About six-in-ten (59%) leaders expect the future of evangelical Christianity to be better than where things stand today. Leaders from the Global South are especially upbeat about the future; 71% expect progress for evangelical Christianity in the near future, compared with 44% of leaders from the Global North who expect progress to be made over the next five years.

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Leaders from the U.S. stand out from the rest as especially downbeat about the state of evangelical Christianity at home. A 53% majority considers the state of evangelical Christianity today to be worse than it was five years ago. And nearly half of U.S. leaders (48%) are pessimistic about the future of evangelicalism in the U.S.

Overall, opinion about whether evangelicals are increasing or losing influence  is divided, with 51% of the leaders saying that evangelicals are losing influence in their countries and 46% saying that evangelicals are increasing their influence.

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Once again, however, there are wide differences of perspective on this issue. Leaders in the Global South think evangelicals are gaining influence on life in their countries, by a margin of 58% to 39%. By contrast, two-thirds of those in the Global North (66%) say that evangelicals are losing influence, while just 31% think evangelicals are gaining influence. Leaders from the United States are particularly pessimistic; only 17% say evangelicals have an increasing influence on life in the U.S. today, while 82% say evangelicals are losing influence.


Footnotes

8 These questions, adapted from quality-of-life ratings first developed in the mid-20th century by Hadley Cantril and colleagues, use what researchers call a “self-anchoring scale.” Respondents first give a numerical rating of the present state of evangelicalism. Then, having anchored their assessment of evangelicalism in the present, they are asked to rate the past and future in the same way. Respondents are not asked directly whether they think the future (or the past) of evangelicalism is better or worse than the present; they are simply asked to rate three points in time on the same numerical scale. See Hadley Cantril, The Pattern of Human Concerns, Rutgers University Press, 1965. (return to text)

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