16 Things We Learned About Evangelicals in 2016

evangelical definition worship service

By Aaron Earls

While the election and its aftermath dominated much of the national attention on evangelicals in 2016, other research projects gave a fuller picture of the American religious group today.

Here are 16 things we learned about evangelicals in 2016:

1. Evangelicals are more diverse than you may think. When using the LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals theological definition of the term “evangelical,” the group demonstrates similar levels of ethnic diversity as the rest of the country.

ethnic makeup evangelical American

2. They share their faith. More than a quarter of religiously affiliated Americans (26 percent) say they share their faith weekly. Among evangelicals, however, that number rises to more than a third (35 percent). That’s more than any other faith group except black Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

More than half (56 percent) of evangelicals say they share their faith at least once a month. And evangelicals in the millennial, Generation X, and boomer generations are slightly more likely to share their faith than those over 65.

3. Evangelicals are a little fuzzy on basic Christian doctrine. Seven in 10 evangelicals (71 percent) said Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. More than half (56 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being.

4. Many are sure about the end times, however. More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) evangelical pastors believe in a pretribulation rapture. That’s more than Protestant pastors in general—36 percent of whom believe Christians disappear before the start of the apocalypse.

5. They have a different understanding of what a Christian should look like. Evangelicals are more likely than mainline Protestants, black Protestants, or Catholics to say the following are essential to being a Christian: believing in God, praying, reading the Bible, attending services, being honest, forgiving others, spending time with family, being grateful, and dressing modestly.

6. Most evangelicals have looked for a new church in their life. Evangelicals (67 percent) are most likely to have looked for a new church at some point in their lives. Catholics (41 percent) and the “nones”—the religiously unaffiliated—(29 percent) are least likely.

7. They say they pray about big decisions and regularly thank God. Seventy percent of evangelicals and 78 percent of black Protestants say they rely on prayer when making a major life decision. Only 39 percent of Catholics and 38 percent of mainline Protestants say the same.

Almost all highly religious evangelicals (93 percent) thanked God for something this past week. Highly religious individuals are defined as those who say they pray every day and attend religious services each week.

8. Most would rather talk about God than politics. Six in 10 Americans are more comfortable talking about politics than their spiritual beliefs. By contrast, evangelical Christians prefer talking about God over politics by a 2-to-1 margin.

Only 33 percent of Americans say they talk about religion with non-family members at least once a month. But the majority of evangelicals say they have religious conversations with people outside their family, either every week (33 percent) or once or twice a month (22 percent).

9. Many believe things are getting harder for them. A growing share of evangelicals (41 percent) say it has become more difficult to be an evangelical Christian in the U.S. in recent years; just 34 percent answered the question the same way in 2014.

Only about 1 in 10 evangelicals now say it has become easier for their community in the U.S., while nearly half (47 percent) say it has not changed very much.

10. Evangelicals have views different from most Americans on LGBT issues. More than half of people with evangelical beliefs (54 percent) say it’s wrong to identify with a gender different from their sex at birth.

Only about a quarter of Catholics (26 percent), a third of those in non-Christian faiths such as Judaism or Islam (35 percent), and a fifth of the nonreligious (20 percent) share that view.

Most likely because of their established views on marriage, only 6 percent of evangelical pastors have been asked to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

11. They are pro-life at the beginning and end of life. Only 7 percent of white evangelicals view having an abortion as morally acceptable. More than 3 in 4 (76 percent) say it is morally wrong. Almost 9 in 10 church-attending evangelicals (89 percent) see it as morally wrong.

Those with evangelical beliefs are one of the few groups in America who remain opposed to physician-assisted suicide.

assisted suicide moral

12. Evangelicals think sports gambling should be illegal, but aren’t sure if it’s immoralAlmost 6 in 10 with evangelical beliefs (58 percent) say sports betting should not be legalized throughout the country, and 57 percent believe daily fantasy sports should be illegal.

Only 36 percent of Christians, however, believe betting on sports is morally wrong. Those with evangelical beliefs and those who frequently attend religious services are the most likely to have qualms, but fewer than half (47 percent) of those groups say sports wagers are morally wrong.

13. They are hesitant about technology to enhance human abilities. White evangelical Protestants are more likely than Americans overall (64 percent vs. 49 percent) to say using synthetic blood to give healthy people greater speed, strength and stamina would be crossing a line and “meddling with nature.”

There is a similar divide among those who believe gene editing for babies crosses an ethical line—61 percent of white evangelicals vs. 46 percent of all Americans.

14. They say they are attending church more. Three in 4 evangelicals say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. That’s the most of any religious group and well above the 51 percent of all Americans who say they attend regularly.

More than 3 in 10 evangelicals (31 percent) say they have always attended regularly, similar to the 34 percent of historically black Protestants and the 32 percent of Catholics who say the same.

However, 44 percent of evangelicals say they are attending regularly now when previously they did not. No other group is that high.

15. Evangelicals hear about political issues at church, but don’t want endorsements from the pulpit. Half (49 percent) of American evangelicals said they heard a pastor speak on religious liberty. Slightly less than half (46 percent) heard about homosexuality at church.

Still fewer (37 percent) heard about abortion. Few evangelicals say they heard about immigration (17 percent), environmental issues (12 percent), or economic inequality (9 percent).

Only a quarter of evangelicals (25 percent) believe it’s appropriate for a pastor to endorse a political candidate from the pulpit. Slightly more (29 percent) say endorsements from churches are appropriate.

16. Globally, evangelicals are the second fastest growing Christian group. Evangelicals (2.12 percent) and Pentecostals (2.22 percent) are outpacing other branches of Christianity. By 2050, those two groups combined (1.67 billion) will outnumber Catholics (1.61 billion).

Sources: LifeWay Research, Pew Research, Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gorden-Conwell Theological Seminary


AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@LifeWay.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.

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