Survey: How Americans View Christian Groups, Muslims

Americans generally have a positive outlook on some Christian groups, a new survey revealed, while their view on Mormons and Muslims are less favorable.

The North American Mission Board's Center for Missional Research polled 1,210 American adults across the country and found the Catholic Church with the highest favorable view among Americans.

Behind the Catholic Church were Southern Baptists and United Methodists with around 57 percent of adults favorably viewing the two groups. Around 66 percent held a positive view of Catholics.

Favorable views fell well below 50 percent of respondents for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Muslims with 32 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Unfavorable views also ranged similarly with 33 percent for Mormons and around 31 percent for Muslims.

Unfavorable impressions ranged low for the other three Christian groups. Just under 20 percent had unfavorable views of the Catholic Church, around 17 percent were unfavorable of Southern Baptists, and only 10 percent for United Methodists.

The NAMB reported "good news" that Southern Baptists made the best impression where they are most present – the South. Two out of three respondents in the South had favorable views of Southern Baptists and one out of two in the East and West regions.

Regional differences, the report pointed out, could be explained by the religious preference of respondents with Protestants constituting a larger proportion of respondents in the South and Central Great Lakes regions. Catholics were rated more favorable in the East and West where their presence among respondents is proportionally greater.

Broken down to age groups, the survey found that unfavorable views of Southern Baptists were highest among the youngest respondents (ages 18 to 24). Favorable views were highest among those aged 55 to 69. A high percentage of the 25 to 34 age group revealed they were not familiar with the denomination.

Unfamiliarity was highest for Muslims and Mormons, respectively.

Americans were also polled on what impact of knowing a church is Southern Baptist would have on their decision to visit or join the church. Results indicated that 31 percent said it would positively impact their decision. One in four respondents said it would have a negative impact. And 36 percent said it would not have an impact either way.

The high unfavorable views seen among younger aged adults resonated with the statistics on the impact of the Southern Baptist identity. The 18 to 24 age group was the only group with negative responses outnumbering positives.

The NAMB concluded that what people think about the churches is not the most important thing; "the gospel is."

At the same time, the report should also "give us pause when our denominational label causes some to not hear the gospel in our churches," according to Ed Stetzer, senior director of NAMB's Center for Missional Research and Richie Stanley, director of research at the CMR.

"The scope of this study stopped short of asking why there are unfavorable impressions of Southern Baptists. Are we seen as intolerant because we believe that God's best for marriage is one man, one woman, and one lifetime? Are we seen as harsh because we see God's word as inerrant? Or, are there valid reasons why they have negative perceptions of our churches? The answer is probably a mixture of those and other factors."