Several have asked me about the survey recently conducted for Zondervan and CTI, the publisher of Leadership and Christianity Today. I have been slow to report these data because they have so far released only a short article about it; nothing about the sampling procedures, etc., has been made available even through the usual networks where research professionals share this kind of information. It was conducted by Knowledge Networks (KN), a relatively new polling firm that has championed the use of on line polling. I have nothing to indicate whether KN used on line polling in this survey or the standard random telephone interviews. I did find the notes from a presentation by one of the KN top executives presenting evidence that their on line polls are as accurate as the General Social Survey (GSS), which is the gold standard in survey research.
It is unfortunate that in the article in which CTI made an initial release of this survey, someone decided to use pejorative language in labeling the key segment of the segmentation model. This segment is called "Active Christians," which clearly contrasts with the "Professing Christians" who believe much the same as the first group, but are weak on behavior, especially involvement in church. But when you look at the "Liturgical Christian" segment it becomes clear that this group is just as active as the "Active Christians," and maybe more so in some dimensions of behavior. When you calculate the size of the sub-samples, it becomes apparent that the differences in percentages between the "Active" and "Liturgical" are within the margin of error for those segments and therefore not significantly different. The real difference is that the so-called "Active Christians" are really "Evangelical Christians," while the "Liturgical Christians" are largely Catholics and Lutherans.
The self-centered view of the world revealed in this labeling faux pas raises some interesting questions: Was this study originally intended to gather information for publication, or was it primarily designed as a piece of marketing research? This is clearly a segmentation study and this type of research was invented by market researchers to help businesses define their markets. For both CTI and Zondervan the "Active Christian" segment or Evangelical active church members make up their primary markets. They have made a number of attempts over the years to reach into the "Liturgical" market where Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others have their own publishing enterprises. And, I would assume that, because both are staffed by sincere, mission-driven Christians, they would have missionary reasons of wanting to communicate with the "Professing" and "Private" segments.
Will Zondervan or CTI or NK ever publish the full results of the study? If, as I am guessing, it is primarily market research then we are unlikely to ever see a full release simply because it would reveal too much proprietary information to their competition. In fact, my hunch is that there has been some gnashing of teeth within either or both the CTI and Zondervan organizations about the piece that has been released. You may never see anything about this particular study again.
It is very likely excellent data about the segmentation of Americans who consider themselves to be "Christians." The one in five "Active" or Evangelical Christians comes very close to what other studies have found about the portion of Americans who are Evangelical in theological orientation and actively involved in a congregation. The 16 percent "Liturgical Christians" may understate the number of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc., who are involved in church ... but not by much. There is also good evidence that up to two-thirds of those who call themselves "Christians" either do not participate in church, see religion as largely a private activity or subscribe only in a very general sense that American culture is vaguely Christian.
My first reaction to the 65 percent that this study assigns to these last three segments is that it is over-stated; it takes too much away from the "Liturgical" segment. But it is clear that (1) the clustering formula these researchers are using is not strictly related to church attendance, and (2) it may be that due to the factors described in the recent Barna report, UN-Christian (see the New Books sidebar), as well as the ongoing pace of secularization, the number of people involved in congregations has decreased since the earlier studies were done. This more recent survey may simply reflect that decline.
This segmentation model can be very useful to congregations and local ministries. What segments do you draw new members from? What segments are you attempting to reach out to? Each requires a different strategy, but if you believe that Jesus died for all segments, then there is a clear theological mandate to find those various strategies and implement them.