Majority of US churchgoers believe public perception of Christians declining, research reveals

By Chris Eyte |
Debby Hudson / Unsplash

Most churchgoers believe that the wider public’s perceptions of Christians in the U.S is declining, according to a major study collecting the views of more than 1,000 American Protestant believers. 

Lifeway Research released results from the study conducted last September yesterday (June 25), with figures showing that 69 percent of people attending church believe that public perspectives of believers in the U.S. are getting worse.

This is despite the fact that more than half (53 percent) of U.S. Protestant church goers believe that Americans currently have a positive perception of Christians. 

“The percentage of churchgoers who believe most Americans view Christians positively is remarkably close to a recent national poll indicating 53% of Americans view Christianity favorably,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Though a majority agree, fewer than one in six churchgoers is strongly convinced most Americans view Christians positively.”

The demographics differ within those agreeing that most Americans have a positive perception of Christians. Men (56%) are more likely than women (49%) to have this view. Ethnicities also differ with both African Americans (66%) and Hispanics (65%) more favorable to this perception than whites (48%) and other racial groups (44%). 

Church denominations also show different results for the same question with restorationist movement churchgoers (61%) and Baptists (57%) more agreeable than non-denominational church members (45%). Evangelicals (49%) are less likely than non-evangelicals (57%) to agree on this point.

The headline figure of 69 percent believing the public perception of Christians is worsening in the U.S., equal to seven out of every 10 churchgoers, also breaks down further with some demographic groups having a more negative view than others.

Those under the ‘other ethnicities” group (84%) are the most likely to see people’s perceptions of Christians in the U.S. as getting worse. On a racial basis, whites (71%) are more likely to agree with this notion than Hispanics (61%) or African Americans (60%).

Baptists (73%) and non-denominational churchgoers (73%) are more likely than Lutherans (61%) to agree that public perceptions of Christians are declining. Evangelicals with this view are 73 percent compared to non-evangelicals at 61 percent. 

Responsibility for the alleged decline in public perception of Christians in the U.S. has been blamed on Christians themselves and “the rest of America”, according to Lifeway Research's findings. 

“Surely the small growth in other religions in the U.S. and large numbers of Americans that once called themselves Christians, but no longer do, impacted churchgoer perceptions,” said McConnell. “Not all who left the faith have ill feelings toward Christianity, but indifference is definitely a worse perception than once identifying as one.”

Some 66 percent of churchgoers (two out of three) say fewer Americans believing in God is the cause for public perception of Christians worsening. An alarming point arguably is that 45 percent see Christians “not acting any different than those who aren’t Christians.” This correlates to Americans rejecting the Christian faith for claiming to be the only way to God (40%) and Christians often looking down on those who aren’t Christians (38%).

“Many churchgoers admit Christians are getting in the way of the message of Jesus Christ,” said McConnell. “But if the only reason Christians are not accepted is because people reject the message of Jesus Christ, Christians have already chosen whose approval they desire.”