By Aaron Earls
While issues like religious liberty and celebrity pastors garner significant headlines and social media discussion, they rank toward the bottom of the issues pastors say are major concerns facing the Christian church in the U.S. today.
For almost three-quarters of American pastors (72%), watered down gospel teaching is a significant concern confronting the church today, according to Barna’s State of the Pastor study.
While 78% of non-mainline pastors agree, only 59% of mainline pastors believe that is a major concern.
Culture’s shift to a secular age also concerns a significant number of pastors (66%).
Pastors under the age of 45 are less likely than older pastors to see this as one of the top problems (50% to 73%).
Similarly, the longer a pastor has been in the ministry, the more likely they are to believe culture becoming more secular is a top concern—47% of those with one to nine years of experience, 65% of those who have been in ministry from 10 to 19 years, and 71% of those serving for 20-plus years.
Other issues seen by more than half of American pastors as major concern facing the church in the U.S. include: poor discipleship models (63%), addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity (58%), prosperity gospel teaching (56%), reaching a younger audience (56%), and political polarization (51%).
For those bemoaning poor discipleship in churches, pastor and author Robby Gallaty says, “It all starts with the leadership. If the pastor and church leaders aren’t making disciples, it’s very likely the people won’t either.”
Reaching a younger audience was also one of the top concerns pastors had specifically for their own church.
Political polarization has not only impacted the country, but it has been a factor in young adults leaving the church, according to a 2017 Lifeway Research study.
An additional 2018 Lifeway Research study found political diversity among the pews for evangelicals by belief.
Overall, 48% identify as a Republican, 31% as a Democrat and 21% as an independent or something else beyond the two major political parties.
“Evangelical pastors must recognize that political diversity frequently is present within churches,” says McConnell. “If civility across these differences is not actively fostered, it can hurt the mission of the church. This has already been evident as many young adults point to political differences as a reason they stop attending church.”
Other issues that many pastors see as an area of concern are: negative perceptions of the church (46%), diminished influence of churches in the community (40%), church leader burnout or exhaustion (40%), changing attitudes towards evangelism (38%), hostile culture towards Christianity (36%), addressing scandals in the church or the church abuse crises (35%), a lack of intergenerational relationships within the church (35%), the church’s role in marriage (33%).
Fewer pastors point to increased influence of media (25%), religious liberty (23%), women’s roles in the church (23%), diminished influence of pastors in the community (20%), celebrity pastors pulling people away from the local church (19%), challenges to the traditional church model (e.g. house churches or online churches) (11%), or keeping up with the latest digital and technological trends (7%) as a major concern facing the U.S. church today.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.