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Soul-Searching Survey • Monday February 17, 2003

Knight Ridder Newspapers, Feb. 15, 2003

Pastors and church leaders may view the following statements from pollster George Gallup Jr. as either depressing, encouraging or challenging:

  • Americans are experiencing an intense search and hunger for the spiritual and an unprecedented desire for religious and spiritual growth.
  • Many Americans seem not to know what they believe or why.
  • And many hold traditional and nontraditional beliefs at the same time.
  • Religious faith is broad but not deep, with many Americans holding strong beliefs, but seeing little impact that religious faith has on individual lives and society.
  • God is popular but is not first in many people’s lives. “Belief in God” does not necessarily translate into “trust in God.”

In the opinion of pollster Gallup, some churches will do a reality check on the needs — physical and spiritual — of their members and their surrounding community. These are the ones that will grasp their mission and thrive, while others will be left behind and bewildered.

Gallup, chairman of the George H. Gallup International Institute, and D. Michael Lindsay, speaker and consultant to the Institute for Religion and Culture, explore the state of churches today in picking and choosing among beliefs and practices of various faith traditions.”

Much of this is due to a lack of religious education and awareness of their own traditions.

Gallup and Lindsay provide step-by-step instructions on how to collect data, draft a questionnaire, reduce error, process the questionnaire, analyze the data, report the results and, finally, mobilize for action.

The Rev. Chris Cook wanted to learn his Baptist congregation’s views on the strengths and weaknesses of the church and direction for future ministry.

“I think surveys are helpful,” he said. “It gives leadership a picture of the congregation’s feelings, attitudes, thoughts and perceptions about what’s important. From a leader’s perception, it gave me an opportunity to know how to lead the church.”

The congregation, which averages 200 on Sunday mornings, had held contemporary and traditional services for several years. As a result of the survey, it has consolidated the two into one blended service.

“One problem was that the quality of worship was not where it should be,” Cook said. “We were spreading our staff too thin with two services.

“We also discovered that relationships are very important, and we felt that we could better serve ourselves by coming together. We also will encourage intergenerational small groups and bring factions of the church together.”

What won’t come directly from surveys is the answer to the question, “What does God want you to do as a church leader?” said the Rev. Jim Cirillo.

“If what comes out of a survey is different from what you feel God wants, you may have to start with small groups and do consensus building, explaining what you feel God is telling them to do,” he said.

Although churches are facing a lot of challenges, they are up to the task, Lindsay said.

“I am optimistic that the church is the single greatest change agent to make a difference to transform itself and the world,” he said.

“Americans are very interested in spiritual issues, more than the past 100 years. Terrific things are going on in America’s churches.”

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