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The Gap, Part Deux PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 14 August 2009 06:21
There has been some interesting comments below on the post "Negotiating the Gap" but one in particular cried out for a specific response. I had started this before I found out last night that Fr. Mike's dad has taken a turn for the worse and I had to fly to Omaha today. So this is less comprehensive that it should and could be but I thought I'd start with what I had.

Peter Nixon wrote: " there are a LOT of assumptions there that I have issues with (e.g. the idea that one is more likely to find disciples at evangelical churches".

My response:


After 21 years as a Catholic, having worked directly with 40,000 Catholics in nearly 100 dioceses on 5 continents, with hundreds of clergy and thousands of pastoral leaders of all kinds in hundreds of individual parishes and having personally listened to thousands of regular Joe and Jane Catholics talk about their actual lived relationship with God, I can tell you without a shred of hesitation that you are more likely to find disciples in the average evangelical church than in the average Catholic parish. Hands down. No comparison.

This is NOT because evangelicals are made of different stuff (hardly since large numbers of them were baptized Catholic as babies). It’s that they do behave, communally and institutionally, on all levels as though the intentional discipleship of all should and must be normative or there simply is no point in doing church.

Notice I’m NOT saying that all their members are, in fact, disciples! Evangelicals would be the first to tell you that’s not the case. But I’m saying that universal discipleship is the central, normative goal at the heart of practically all they do. It is the throbbing heart of their culture.

Therefore, they talk constantly about it, pray about it, wrestle with it, agonize over it, structure around it, and program around it. Millions of their best and brightest have spent lifetimes in the study and practice of evangelism and the basic formation of disciples. The completely predictable result is: they are much more likely to have developed local cultures of discipleship than we are.

Mission outward, and making disciples is their passion and genius. They approach the practical art of evangelism and the formation of disciples the way we approach theology and philosophy and liturgy. They give it the absolute best of their energies, resources, creativity, time, and personnel. We don’t. In many ways, we have a better, more nuanced, more sophisticated theology of evangelization than they do, but institutionally and practically, fostering the intentional discipleship of all the baptized is hardly on our mental map. It’s that simple.

For example, there are 283 Master’s level degrees in missions, evangelism, or cross-cultural studies in the US alone. (And many hundreds of similar programs all over the world.) 5 are Catholic, 2 are Orthodox, there is a sprinkling of main-line Protestants and the rest are evangelical. The same percentages are true of the 76 doctoral programs in missions or evangelism in the US. 2 are Catholic, 1 is Orthodox. Catholics have one pontifical degree program in evangelization in the world – at Sacred Heart in Detroit where I taught last month.

26% of American adults identify as evangelicals. 24% as Catholics. Our numbers are nearly identical but they have nearly 50 times as many graduate programs in mission and evangelization as we do. Think of the incredible amount of academic, institutional, cultural, and financial support that it takes for the evangelical community to support 270 graduate level academic programs with one basic focus. A community that does that sort of thing is a community who is very serious about that sort of thing. Why should we be surprised that they are manifestly better than we are at the thing they spend most of their time and energy doing - and we ignore?

Last year, when the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey came out, I did an comparison of the responses of Catholics and evangelicals across the board. I’ve never talked about it publically because simply the results were pretty stunning and I knew that few Catholics can bear to take in the whole picture. But this discussion seems like a good time to revisit the topic.

In practically every area related to personal faith and practice that Pew studied, evangelicals trounced us convincingly: including belief in God, the involvement of men in congregations (and women and in every age bracket as well), the religious practice of young adults, looking to religious teaching for guidance when making a moral decision, and opposition to abortion. They even came out ahead in areas that we are famous for. Here are a few selected results (to keep this post within reason)

Q: Does God exist?

Absolutely certain 72%
Fairly certain 21%

Absolutely certain 90%
Fairly certain 8%

Q: Religion important in life?

Very 56%
Some 34%
Not 9%

Men 48%
Women 63%
18-29 45%
30-49 54%
50-64 57%
65+ 72%

Very 79%
Some 17%
Not 3%

Men 74%
Women 83%

18-29 71%
30-49 77%
50-64 81%
65+ 86%

Q: View God as personal God with whom you can have a relationship?



Q: View God as impersonal force?



Q: Attend services at least once a week?

All 42%

Men 36%
Women 45%

18-29 34%
30-49 36%
50-64 42%
65+ 62%

All 58%

Men 54%
Women 62%

18-29 54%
30-49 57%
50-64 59%
65 + 65%

Note: The biggest attendance generation gap for all US religious groups is among Catholics: 62% of those 65 and older attend Mass at least once a week, only 34% of Catholics under 30 do so.

Q: Formal Membership in Religious Congregation? (registered)

Yes 67%
No 32%

Yes 74%
No 26%

Q: Pray and Meditate Each Week?

Pray 79%
Meditate 36%

Pray 92%
Meditate 46%

Q: Scripture Reading Outside Services?

Weekly 21%
Monthly 21%
Seldom/Never 57%

Weekly 60%
Monthly 18%
Seldom/Never 21%

Q: Share Faith or View of God?

Weekly 14%
Monthly 9%
Yearly 13%
Seldom/never 62%

Weekly 34%
Monthly 18%
Yearly 16%
Seldom/never 29%

Q: Receive Answers to Prayer?

1x/more/week 15%
1,2x/month 11%
Several times/yr 20%
Seldom/never 31%

1x/more/week 29%
1,2x/month 17%
Several times/year 22%
Seldom/never 16%

Q: Source of guidance regarding moral decisions/right and wrong

Religious teaching 22%
Philosophy/Reason 10%
Practical Experience/
Common Sense 57%

Scientific Knowledge 7%
Don’t Know 5%

Religious teaching 52%
Philosophy/Reason 4%
Practical Experience/
Common Sense 39%

Scientific Knowledge 2%
Don’t Know 3%

My comments to myself at the time:

For a Christian body that prides itself on a rich and sophisticated teaching Tradition, 22% (for religious teaching) seems really low for Catholics and 30 points below that of evangelicals. Again, the approach of Catholics seems remarkably similar to that of “religious” unaffiliated. Here we see clearly the difference that an emphasis on intentional discipleship and formation makes.

“Practical experience and common sense” of course, is the category most likely to be heavily colored by the popular culture and wisdom of our day which is 35 points higher than religious teaching for Catholics, while for evangelicals, religious teaching is 13 points higher than “practical experience”. The result: Catholics, as whole, are much less likely to have a basis to question and judge the norms of our popular culture and so be counter-cultural while evangelicals are more likely to approach the culture from a independent, even critical stance.

Q: Abortion Wrong?

Abortion 45%

Abortion 61%

Note: These results seem to be directly related to the realities above. Especially noteworthy is the difference on abortion because Catholicism is completely, adamantly, and famously pro-life and the subject has been so highlighted in the past two elections while evangelical teaching and leadership is not unified on the topic.

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