Survey of Pastors: Dark Days Ahead for Christianity, Religious Freedom

Nov 05, 2002 03:00 AM EST

A new study shows many pastors are not optimistic about the future of Christianity in America.

The nationwide study of Protestant church ministers conducted by Phoenix-based Ellison Research asked pastors to predict how religion in the U.S. will change in the coming decade.

According to the study, a majority of the pastors believe the influence of non-Christian religions and New Age spirituality will increase.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, says most pastors believe the influence of Christianity will continue to decline over the next decade.

"Mainline Protestant pastors -- meaning United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal, etc. -- predicted a decrease in their denomination's attendance," Sellers says. "That, too, is simply a continuation of what we have seen over the past 20 years, as those mainline denominations continue to lose members, attendance, and influence."

The study found that 41% of pastors believe the influence of Christianity in Americans' daily lives will decrease. Sellers says most pastors also believe religious freedom in the United States will decline.

"Some people would say that that is a response to what they perceive as a loss of freedom of religion already, where there are attacks on the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, where there are attacks on having references to God on public property or on coinage and [currency]," he says.

The study, which interviewed 567 church pastors, found that Baptists and Lutherans tend to be pessimistic, while Pentecostal and charismatic ministers were the most optimistic about the next decade.

By Allie Martin