Once considered the “denomination” of Scriptural truth-bearers, Evangelical Christians might be in jeopardy of losing their theological reputation.
In what researchers described as a “shocking” find, a new report from the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University indicated just over half of all U.S. pastors of Evangelical churches (51%) have a biblical worldview.
This study, released Tuesday, builds on an earlier report from CRC’s “American Worldview Inventory 2022,” which showed that just 37% of Christian pastors bring a biblical worldview with them to their pulpits.
Launched as an annual tracking study in 2020, the American Worldview Inventory is a survey that evaluates the worldview of American adults. It is based on 54 worldview-related questions that measure both beliefs and behavior within eight categories of worldview application: purpose and calling; family and value of life; God, creation and history; faith practices; sin, salvation and relationship with God; human character and nature; lifestyle, behavior and relationships; and Bible, truth and morals.
The nationwide study of about 1,000 Christian pastors conducted between February and March found that 57% of pastors leading nondenominational and independent churches held a biblical worldview, which researchers called “Biblical Theism.” Nondenominational and independent churches were even more likely to subscribe to a biblical worldview than leaders of Evangelical churches, 51% of whom abide by biblical theism in their daily lives.
Perhaps most surprisingly, just 48% of pastors of Baptist churches, widely viewed as the most enthusiastic about embracing the Bible as the Word of God, held a biblical worldview. Pastors of Southern Baptist churches, by contrast, were far more likely (78%) to have consistently biblical beliefs.
Much smaller shares of pastors belonging to other denominational categories possessed a biblical worldview, according to the report. Just over a third of charismatic or Pentecostal church pastors — 37% — hold a biblical worldview, slightly higher than pastors from mainline Protestant churches (32%) and those aligned with “holiness theology” (28%), which is generally aligned with Pentecostal teachings but promises believers can reach a “sinless state” following their conversion.
Pastors associated with “Traditionally Black Protestant” churches and Catholic priests were found least likely to hold to biblical theism, with the incidence of biblical worldview measured in single digits. Nine percent of pastors leading traditionally black churches had a biblical worldview, along with 6% of Catholic priests.
“The old labels attached to families of churches are not as useful as they were in the past,” said lead researcher George Barna, director of research for the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, in a statement. “The best example is the term ‘Evangelical,’ which has traditionally connoted churches where the Bible is revered and is taught as God’s reliable and relevant word for our lives.”
“With barely half of Evangelical pastors possessing a biblical worldview — and that number continuing to decline — attending what may be considered an ‘Evangelical’ church no longer ensures a pastoral staff that has a high view of the scriptures.”
The research also examined the worldviews of pastors based on the size of the congregation they serve. In churches with an average of 100 or fewer adults attending weekend services, 41% of the pastors were designated as “Integrated Disciples,” meaning that they have a biblical worldview that has been successfully translated into their daily behavior.
Larger fellowships with 101 to 250 adults fared even better, with 45% of their pastors holding a biblical worldview. However, just 14% of pastors leading mid-sized churches of between 250 and 600 people possessed a biblical worldview, while 15% of pastors of congregations with more than 600 adults were considered integrated disciples.
“You cannot give what you do not have, so it is plausible that pastors of some large churches attract people by teaching a cultural standard rather than a biblical standard,” Barna explained. “There are obviously some great Bible teaching churches and pastors among the nation’s largest congregations, but the data suggest it is more common to find pastors with a biblical worldview in smaller churches.”
Beyond fellowship size, the incidence of a biblical worldview also varied based on the race and ethnicity of the congregation served.
The survey found that a majority of U.S. Christian congregations (67%) are white-dominant, followed by 10% that are black-dominant, 4% that are primarily Hispanic and 3% with another minority group comprising the majority. Another 16% are mixed ethnicity congregations.
Among those mixed fellowships, 7% are primarily whites and blacks, 5% mainly consist of whites and Hispanics, 3% are mainly whites and Asians and the remaining 1% have various other combinations.
Describing the findings as “not as expected,” the report found that 42% of pastors leading all or mostly white churches had a biblical worldview. By contrast, 34% of pastors in mixed congregations composed primarily of whites and Hispanics possessed a biblical worldview, followed by 31% of those leading churches attended by multiple ethnic groups, 27% of pastors of mainly black churches, 23% for churches where the body is a mixture of either whites and blacks or whites and Asians and just 7% of pastors shepherding mostly Hispanic churches.
Another study released last month showed that more pastors now say they considered quitting their jobs compared to a year ago, citing stress, loneliness, political divisions and other concerns like their church being in decline as reasons why they want to take a different path. The share of pastors who have seriously considered quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year increased from 29% in 2021 to 42% in March of this year.