035: What Kind of “Christian” Are You?

    If you are among our Christian readers — here is something New and Important that you can do today: Sign up, free of charge, for the new National Christian Poll. CLICK HERE to jump to the site.

    Here’s why this is so important:   
    We are not alone, here at ReadTheSpirit, in our passionate exploration of the transformation in American religious life. Two giants in the field — Christianity Today International and Zondervan — are launching a new polling effort that holds the potential to redefine our national conversation about Christian attitudes.
    This new effort follows on the heels of a year-long research effort by these two publishing goliaths to explore Christianity in America in new ways.
    Here’s the basic problem we’ve all been facing: Pollsters have known for decades that our American population is overwhelmingly “Christian” — at least in the way we identify ourselves to other people. Traditionally, when discussing trends and attitudes, pollsters break up this ocean of people into categories with labels such as “evangelical,” “mainline,” “Catholic” or “Orthodox.”
    Just as we have been reporting here at ReadTheSpirit, these publishing giants realized that the old categories were losing their value. In other words, these traditional categories were actually obscuring important groupings of religious experience that are emerging in the U.S.
   “WE realized that the traditional terms had become a problem,” Eric Reed, Managing Editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, told me via telephone from his office in Illinois this week. “We decided that we needed a whole new framework to do ongoing research into Christian beliefs and behaviors and attitudes.”

    So, based on research over the past year, the co-sponsors of this new effort came up with 5 new labels — and there’s a brand-new story about the 5 groups in the current issue of Leadership. (CLICK HERE to jump to Leadership’s Web site and read the entire article. Eric tells me the article should remain online for about 1 month.)
    But, to help you zero in on the “news” that’s emerging — here’s the key section about the 5 groups that you’ll find in the lengthy article:

    “We have named them Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians. Each group represents about one-fifth of those
identifying themselves as Christian, with Active Christians most likely to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that
affects their beliefs and inspires an active church life; Cultural
Christians are least likely to align their beliefs or
practices with biblical teachings, or attend church. Between the two is
a range of beliefs, commitment levels, and public practice of the faith.”

    Now, as you jump over to Leadership’s site and read the whole article, it’s important to sort out religious perspectives here. If you’re not an evangelical, you’ll notice the article’s perspective right away. The initial reporting on these 5 categories is aimed at an evangelical audience.
    Eric Reed correctly points out that his magazine, Leadership, is defined as an evangelical publication for leaders in evangelical congregations. So, as you read the descriptions of these 5 groups — quite naturally the assumptions about how to approach each group come from an evangelical point of view.
    Eric Reed is a wise and responsible journalist and he is completely “up front” about this issue of balance.
    He put it this way in our conversation: “You have to remember as you read our article on the 5 Kinds of Christians — that our article was taking a great body of data and boiling it down for the use of the readers of our particular magazine. So, our article is partly reporting on the landscape, but it’s also speaking to a particular kind of reader who is a pastor, elder, lay minister and other people who are very active in evangelical churches -– although we know that some of our readers are mainline, Catholic and Orthodox.”
    That’s just as it should be.

    But, Christianity Today and Zondervan are giving all of us a major gift here — a new “listening post,” a new kind of data that they’re preparing, a new set of labels to help us talk with more sophistication about our religious communities in the U.S.
    So — as you read the Leadership coverage of the data — if you’re picking up strong evangelical attitudes toward the data — you’re absolutely right and that’s the stated purpose of Leadership.
    But, whatever your religious label may be — and even if you’re not a Christian at all — take a look at this data. The material is fascinating.
    For Example: How many times have you heard people proclaim that megachurches represent the future of American religious life? Everyone wants to Super-size their churches, right?
    Well, these emerging data stress the opposite. There’s a strong move toward smaller groups — and some of these ‘groups’ don’t even look like ‘congregations.’
    With Eric’s permission, we’re reproducing one of his graphics (at right) about Christian church attendance, segmented by the size of congregations. It may not be what you expect, unless you’ve been watching this data closely yourself.
    There’s a whole lot to glean from this new effort — some of it right there on the surface of the reporting — some of it between the lines. Eric says that his magazine will continue to cover the ongoing polling effort. So, watch Leadership for further reports over the next couple of years.
    “However, the results from the new National Christian Poll also will be reported through Christianity Today International in our 13 magazines and 35 Web sites and many other places, too,” Eric said. “We will be regularly polling on a whole range of topics.”

    Finally, this brings us right back to our starting point.
    Right now, if you are Christian yourself, go over to the National Christian Poll Web site and sign up to be part of their database. It’s free. It’s simple. The sign up involves an email that you’ll receive to confirm your registration — and your password comes back to you in that email.
    Eric describes the effort as designed, poll by poll, so that various cross sections of the people in the database will be surveyed and sorted into the resulting reports.
    It should be an intriguing effort to observe as it unfolds. If you’re part of the database, Eric says, you will get some additional reports on the data, and the ongoing analysis of the data, that won’t be immediately available to the general public.
    Why become a part of this? Well, because most Americans want to see their attitudes reflected in media. For some of our readers, if you are Christian, here’s a direct new way to plug into that process.

  Tell us what you think. Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site.

    And, whatever your faith, don’t miss tomorrow’s story! It’s called:
    036: We Need Holiday Help!

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