Church Trends and Statistics

Pastors addressing sexual and domestic violence

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the growing number of sexual misconduct accusations in churches across the world, LifeWay Research recently conducted a study — sponsored by IMA World Health and Sojourners — about the reasons pastors address sexual and domestic violence from the pulpit.

The study is a follow up to a similar survey in 2014, according to Bob Smietana, the former senior writer for the Facts & Trends section at LifeWay.

In the LifeWay article that shares the study findings, Smietana spoke with Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, who said this movement appears to have captured the pastors’ attention.

“Pastors are starting to talk about issues like sexual harassment and domestic abuse more than in the past,” McConnell said. “They don’t always know how to respond — but fewer see them as taboo subjects.”

For the study, LifeWay Research conducted a phone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors earlier this year, then compared the results to those of the 2014 survey. Researchers also asked additional questions specifically about the #MeToo movement and the #ChurchToo movement, which focuses specifically on sexual harassment and abuse in the church, Smietana wrote.

The results of this year’s study revealed much about who is most aware of these movements, what action and confusion they lead to, the status surrounding these “taboo” topics, and what steps pastors take in response.

There are numerous figures discussed in the article, which includes a PDF download of the study’s research. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Among Protestant pastors who speak about domestic or sexual violence at least once a year or more, only 46 percent said they have been trained in domestic violence issues.
  • 18 percent said it is a problem in their own congregation.
  • One in eight Protestant senior pastors say a church staff member has sexually harassed a member of the congregation at some point in the church’s history.
    • 3 percent didn’t know if someone on their church staff has sexually harassed a congregation member.
  • One in six pastors say a staff member has been harassed in a church setting.
    • 2 percent didn’t know if a staff member has experienced sexual harassment in a church setting.
  • While 85 percent of pastors said they have heard of the #MeToo movement, only 16 percent said they have heard of the #ChurchToo movement.
  • 76 percent of pastors said they know someone who has been sexually harassed.
  • 19 percent of pastors said their church does not have a policy for sexual harassment allegations against staff.
  • 2 percent didn’t know if their church had a policy for these allegations.
  • One in five pastors said they have personally experienced domestic or sexual violence.
  • 41 percent of Protestant senior pastors who have heard of #MeToo said they are more inclined to preach about sexual and domestic violence in response to the movement.
  • 40 percent of those who have heard of #MeToo said they understand issues of sexual and domestic violence better because of the movement.
    • 39 percent said they now have more questions.
  • 32 percent of pastors who have heard of #MeToo movement said their congregation is more confused about sexual and domestic violence.
    • 62 percent said their congregation has more empathy for victims.
    • 58 percent said their congregation is more aware of how common sexual and domestic violence is.
    • 14 percent said their congregation has become more callous toward the issue.

Smietana also spoke with Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojouners, who said that the upward trend of pastor awareness of this issue is encouraging, but the Christian community still falls short in some ways.

“If we believe that how we treat the most vulnerable is how we treat Christ, we must be in deep solidarity with the women and men who experience domestic or sexual abuse at some point in their lives,” Wallis said. “If we believe we are all created in the image of God, we cannot tolerate that only half of pastors feel prepared to respond to domestic and sexual violence situations.”

Faith, Morality, and Gen Z

Earlier this year, Barna released “Gen Z,” a book that details the culture, beliefs, and motivations that are shaping what it refers to as “the next, next generation.”

The research, in partnership with Impact 360 Institute, consists of two nationally representative studies of teens, according to Barna. The studies were conducted using online consumer panels, one in November 2016, and one in July 2017. The panels included a combined 1,997 U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 18.

“Gen Z” is available for purchase on Barna’s website, but here are some findings revealed in the free sample article posted to Barna in early October:

Morality can be a gray area. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the Gen Z panelists strongly agreed with this statement about morality: “What is morally right and wrong changes over time based on society.” In addition, 21 percent strongly agreed that each individual is his or her own moral authority. The article notes that this is perhaps “a hint of a broader public acceptance that morality can be fluid.”

Gen Z is more progressive on moral issues. When asked about lying, abortion, pre-marital sex and homosexual behavior, the percentage of Gen Z participants who strongly agreed that these things are morally wrong was generally lower than participants from earlier generations, with one exception. Only 19 percent of Millennial participants strongly agreed that sex before marriage is morally wrong, compared to 21 percent of the Gen Z participants. Also, more Gen Z panelists (37 percent) than Millennial panelists (37 percent) strongly agreed that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman

Gen Z’s beliefs are influenced by diversity. According to the article, Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history and, as a result, “are generally opposed to challenging others’ beliefs, likely driven by a desire to avoid offense or to acknowledge the value of other perspectives.” The study compared this tendency between different categories of the Gen Z participants: engaged Christians, churched Christians, unchurched Christians, other faith, and no faith.

The researchers defined engaged Christians as participants who identified as Christian, have attended church within the past six months, and strongly agree with each of the following statements:

  • “The Bible is the inspired word of God and contains truth about the world.”
  • “I have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today.”
  • “I engage with my church in more ways than just attending services.”
  • “I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death.”

Churched Christians were defined as panelists who identified as Christian and have attended church within the past six months, but did not qualify as an engaged Christian under the above definition. Unchurched Christians were defined as those who identified as Christian but have not attended church within the past six months. Other faith participants identified with a religion other than Christianity, and no faith participants were defined as those who identified as agnostic, atheist, or “none of the above.”

Researchers in the study found that engaged Christian teens are twice as likely as their peers to reject the idea that the truth of their beliefs equates with how appealing (or unappealing) those beliefs are to others. Nearly two thirds of the engaged Christian Gen Z panelists (65 percent) strongly disagreed that “if your beliefs offend someone or hurt their feelings, it is probably wrong,” compared to the other categories of Gen Z participants, who ranged from 32 percent to 37 percent in those who strongly disagreed with this statement.

Spreading the word: Christians on discussing their faith

In partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, a global faith-based media company that broadcasts weekly, Barna recently released “Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age,” a report that explores the evolving methods of Christians who engage with others to share their faith.

In July 2017, researchers conducted an online survey of 1,714 U.S. adults —comprised of an over-sample of 535 Millennials and 689 practicing Christians — who were recruited from a national consumer panel. The Barna researchers defined practicing Christians as survey respondents who identified as Christian, have attended church within the past month, and strongly agreed that their faith is very important in their life today.

Based on the responses of the survey participants, two categories were created: eager conversationalists and reluctant conversationalists. Eager conversationalists were defined as people who have had 10 or more spiritual conversations in the past year, and reluctant conversationalists were defined as people who have had nine or fewer spiritual conversations in that same period.  More than a quarter of the Christian respondents (27 percent) qualified as eager conversationalists. The remaining three quarters were considered reluctant.

In August, Barna released a free sample article from this report that focused on reasons some Christians are reluctant to discuss their faith. There were numerous reasons offered for their reluctance, but most of them tended to fall into two broad categories: avoidance and ambivalence. The most frequent response for avoidance — and for all Christians who fell in the reluctant conversationalist category — was, “Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments.” The responses that fell into the ambivalence category tended to come from non-Christians, the most frequent one being, “I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics.”

On the other side of the larger study, Barna released another free sample article for “Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age” that explores the common traits and motivations of the eager conversationalists — people who frequently discuss their faith.

To get the full scope of the study with all the nuances behind these findings, “Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age” is available for purchase on Barna’s website at

Here is the main finding revealed in the most recent free sample article that discusses eager conversationalists, posted to Barna in September:

There is a set of traits that distinguish eager conversationalists from their reluctant counterparts, according to the article. These traits fall into five broad categories:

  • “Good spiritual practices” like prayer, reading the Bible, and attending church.
  • “Belief in salvation through Jesus alone,” which includes a strong belief that everyone needs to have their sins forgiven (90 percent) or that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and trust in Jesus as their savior (64 percent).
  • “A sense of personal responsibility” to share their faith with non-believers.
  • “Confidence coupled with positive experiences” like feeling peace and gladness after sharing their faith.
  • “Intentionality and readiness” when interactions like spiritual conversations come up unexpectedly.

For more about what drives this group of Christians, Barna included an infographic in the article, which can be viewed at


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