Ed Stetzer, Wednesday December 7, 2011, http://www.edstetzer.com/
I don't typically blog about SBC-specific issues here on this blog. I save that for my posts at BetweenTheTimes.com. The reasoning for that is quite simple-- I have a broad array of readers and reading what can sometimes be tireless denominational arguing does not serve those readers.
However, this is a blog about research. And today at LifeWay Research we've released new data on the perception of Southern Baptists (and a bunch of other groups) in America. I thought it was worthy of your time regardless of your denominational affiliation.
On to the research (you can find the full article here):
The majority of Americans have a favorable impression of Southern Baptists...However, 40 percent of respondents have an unfavorable view of the denomination, more than a third strongly assume an SBC church is not for them, and the negativity is higher among the unchurched.
Respondents were shown the names of five “denominations or faith groups” and asked to “indicate if your impression is very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or you are not familiar enough to form an opinion.” The study indicates 62 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Methodists compared to 59 percent for Catholics, 53 percent for Southern Baptists, 37 percent for Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and 28 percent for Muslims.
The study sought to determine how the name might impact the interest or connection with a congregation. When asked their level of agreement with the statement, “When I see (fill in denominational affiliation) in the name of a church, I assume it is not for me,” 35 percent “strongly agree” a Southern Baptist church is not for them – higher than for Catholics (33 percent), Baptists (29 percent), Methodists (26 percent), and community or nondenominational churches (20 percent).
Significantly more respondents disagree with this statement for community or nondenominational churches, indicating they are considered as a possible fit compared to other Christian faith groups included in the survey – 58 percent compared to Baptists, 44 percent; Catholics, 43 percent; Methodists, 42 percent; and Southern Baptists, 38 percent.
Respondents were also asked: “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church was Southern Baptist impact your decision positively, negatively or have no impact?” Forty-four percent of Americans indicate that knowing a church is Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church, 36 percent say it would have no impact and 10 percent say it would positively impact their decision.
This data should really not come as a surprise. It's been widely reported that denominational numbers are in decline while non-denominational churches are a growing category in America. So what does this specific data tell us?
Here are some charts that tell the story. Feel free to share them on your blog and opine as you desire. Yes, that includes you Methodists!
My guess is that many people will see the research and it will be a bit of a Rorschach Test—people will see in it what they want to see. However, there are real things to consider there. My hope is that people will consider how best to respond to this research rather than simply restate the view they already have.
Real issues are at work here and they need to be approached with grace and wisdom. I hope all involved desire to ask what is, and what is not, a stumbling block-- that should be the real question. That was the question stated and debated when the issue first was mentioned. And all of us should be committed to remove unnecessary ones so that only the "stumbling block of the cross remains." The issue is complicated, but one question remains paramount-- is the SBC name a stumbling block to those whom SBC churches seek to reach? My guess is that people will debate that over the next few weeks and our hope is that this data will bring more light than heat to that conversation.