By Aaron Earls
Most Americans believe churches are helping the country move in the right direction, according to Pew Research.
In a July 2021 study, 62% of U.S. adults say they believe churches and religious organizations have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days. Close to a third (35%) say churches have a negative effect.Most Americans (62%) believe churches are helping the country move in the right direction, according to Pew Research. Click To Tweet
Those who see churches as helpful has increased 4-percentage points since prior to the pandemic, when 58% said religious organizations were having a positive impact in August 2019.
More Americans believe churches are contributing to the good of the country than any other institution polled. Clear majorities say K-12 public schools (61%), colleges (57%), and unions (55%) play positive roles. Around half say the same about technology companies (52%) and banks (49%). Fewer see the benefits of the entertainment industry (34%) or large corporations (29%).
Republicans are significantly less likely than Democrats to see most institutions as having a positive effect on the way things are going in the U.S. With banks and large corporations, the two political parties share similar opinions on their helpfulness. Only on churches are Republicans significantly more likely to say the institution is having a positive effect (76% to 52%).
While Democrats have grown in their appreciation for most institutions, including churches, since 2019, Republicans are much less likely now to see banks, large corporations, technology companies, labor unions, and colleges and universities having a positive role.
The current standing of churches in Pew’s findings indicate a potential reversal of a decades long erosion in Americans’ view. Because Pew Research recently changed from phone interviews to an online panel, results prior to August 2019 are not directly comparable. However, they do point to an overall improvement for religious organizations.More Americans believe churches are contributing to the good of the country than any other institution polled, according to Pew Research. Click To Tweet
In 2010, Pew found 63% of Americans believed churches were having a positive effect on the way things were going in the country. Through the next decade, those surveys showed a downward trajectory, bottoming out at 52% who believe churches were having a positive impact in July 2019.
The recent results point to Americans increasingly viewing the church and religious organizations as being beneficial to the direction of our country.
When compared to polling from other organizations, however, the picture for churches becomes more complicated.
In Gallup’s 2021 survey of Americans’ confidence in certain institutions, only 37% expressed “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of trust in churches and religious organizations—near the record low of 36% in 2019.
Gallup first began tracking U.S. adults’ confidence in the church as an institution in 1973. In 1975, a high mark of 68% expressed confidence in the church.As pastors and churches reach out to the community, they may encounter people with conflicted and complicated feelings about religious institutions. Click To Tweet
They also annually track the public trust of pastors and clergy, which has also fallen to a near record low in the most recent survey.
In 2018, pastors reached their lowest mark at 37% who say ministers have high or very high honesty. In 2019, that climbed back up to 40% before dipping back down to 39% in 2020.
As pastors and churches reach out to the community, they may encounter people with conflicted and complicated feelings about religious institutions. In many cases, churches will have to prove their value and concern to those around them.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.