|U.S. Lacks Notable Christian Leaders|
November 21, 2011
Billy Graham is the name mentioned most often in response to the unaided survey question (a measure often described as “top-of-mind” awareness). One out of five Americans names the nonagenarian evangelist, with 19% of adult residents identifying Mr. Graham as the nation’s most influential Christian leader.
Half as many adults (9%) believe “the Pope” or Pope Benedict to be the most significant Christian leader in the nation. Nearly the same proportion (8%) considers President Barack Obama to hold this prominent role.
One out of 20 U.S. adults (5%) think that Joel Osteen is the most significant Christian leader, more than double the proportion that name Charles Stanley (2%) or Joyce Meyer (2%). A variety of individuals – including pastors, ministry leaders, authors, politicians, and other public figures – are considered the highest ranking Christian leaders by 1% of U.S. adults each. These include: Franklin Graham, George W. Bush, T.D. Jakes, Oprah Winfrey, James Dobson, and Maya Angelou. All other individuals are named by less than 1% of Americans.
Although most Americans can name someone they consider to be a highly influential Christian leader, few leaders have made such an impression on the population. “Looking at the big picture, only a limited number of individuals come to mind when Americans consider leadership of Christians on a national scale,” remarked Hanacek. “However, bear in mind that a different type of measurement such as aided awareness, in which respondents are asked if they ever heard of a specific name, may have yielded different results.”
The research illustrates some challenges and opportunities for Christians in the U.S. Long-time leader Billy Graham has more than twice the top-of-mind awareness of any other individual mentioned – but he is most well-known among older Americans and barely mentioned by the youngest adults in this country. In terms of national Christian leadership, there may well be a gap to be filled. However, it is also likely that leadership may be perceived differently at this time in our society. If the role and relevance of national faith leadership is waning, it suggests an opportunity for more local and regional Christian leaders to emerge – whether in churches, ministries or a variety of other capacities.
“There is an interesting but not surprising commonality among those top Christian leaders in this study,” noted Hanacek. “All of them have a strong media presence – whether through their own active ministry efforts or through various types of media coverage.” Those organizations and individuals who aspire to lead and serve on a broad national scale will clearly need to make effective use of all types of media and communications technologies.
About the Research
"Born again Christians" are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as "born again."
"Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."
“Notional Christians” are defined as individuals who described themselves as Christian but did not meet the born again criteria (outlined above).
About Barna Group
Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.
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