FACTs about Personal Religious Practice
data from the Fact2000 study
Meeting Evangelicals Halfway
by David A. Roozen
One of those end-of-the-millennium polls found that 52 percent of all Americans pray every day and that 56 percent report that someone in their family usually says grace at family meals*. Is it merely a coincidence that the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey found that 51 percent of all U.S. congregations give “a great deal” of emphasis to personal devotional practices in their preaching and teaching and that 54 percent of U.S. congregations give “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of emphasis to family devotions? Or does this provide striking evidence that what we do in our congregations does make a difference?
Assuming the latter, then the FACT survey also suggests that oldline Protestants are less likely than persons from other faith groups to pray every day, are less likely to engage in family devotions, and indeed are less likely to engage in any of the home or personal religious practices mentioned in the FACT study. The results for oldline Protestant congregations for a sampling of four of the items can be seen in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Preaching what they practice: Congregational
Emphasis Given To Various Personal and Home Practices
The FACT data do not provide a basis to test the common wisdom that regular spiritual practices are essential to a vigorous individual faith. But the study does confirm that the more emphasis a congregation gives to the values of home and personal religious practices the higher the congregation’s vitality and the more likely it is to be growing in membership. These results are evident within oldline Protestantism as well as within other faith groups.
In fact, the lack of emphasis on home and personal religious practices appears to be one of the reasons that, overall, oldline congregations are less “vital” and less likely to be growing than evangelical Protestant congregations.
What if oldline Protestant congregations emphasized personal spiritual practices as much as evangelical Protestant congregations? The FACT data allows us to run a statistical simulation that provides a tentative answer. The simulation uses a long-established procedure called “test factor standardization.”
In this simulation, we set emphasis on personal spiritual practices for oldline Protestants equal to evangelical Protestants, while keeping all other factors constant. Result, as shown in Figure 2 below, the percentage of high vitality oldline congregations jumps from 56 to 62 percent. And the percentage of oldline congregations that grow at least one percent a year increases from 45 to 49 percent.
Figure 2:What if the Oldline Emphasized Personal Spiritual
Practices as much as Evangelical Protestant Congregations?
From one perspective, this jump may not seem all that large, but it cuts the oldline-
evangelical vitality and growth gaps in half! Of course, many things contribute to congregational vitality. But the FACT data clearly report that vital congregations not only practice what they preach—they also preach about home and personal religious practice.
*Cited in “75% say God answers prayers,” by Thomas Hargrove and Guido H. Stempel III, distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, December 28, 1999. www.shns.com.
** High Emphasis congregations responded “a great deal” or “quite a bit” to questions about emphasis on each practice.
David Roozen is a professor at Hartford Seminary and director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. With Carl S. Dudley, he directed the Faith Communities Today research.