US Christians more likely to consider their pastor a ‘friend’: Barna study

Unsplash/Christian Walker
Unsplash/Christian Walker

Christians in the United States are more likely to consider the lead pastor of their church to be a “friend” rather than a “mentor” or “counselor,” according to a new report by the Barna Group.

In a report released Oct. 8 titled, “Do Christians Consider Their Pastors to Be Friends?,” Barna analyzed how self-identified Christians felt about their pastor.

Barna found that 20% of respondents said they spoke to or regularly met with their lead pastor outside of weekly church worship services and events.

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Among those who did so, when asked what they considered the best description of their relationship to their lead pastor, 50% of respondents answered “friend.”

This response was by far the most popular, with second place being “mentor” at 19%. Further, 13% responded with “counselor” and 11% responded with “teacher.”

“Though most congregants surveyed admitted to not interacting with the lead pastor or other church staff outside of church, there is a small, yet significant number of constituents who do—and even regard their pastor as a friend,” noted Barna.

“Exactly half of Christian respondents and churched adults (50% each) call their pastor ‘friend,’ as do 46% of practicing Christians. The lack of difference in percentages across these groups suggests that, while church attendance or faith practice increases the likelihood of getting to meet and know one’s pastor in the first place, friendship might naturally occur once those interactions come about.”

For its report, Barna drew data from surveys of 801 self-identified Christians who live in the U.S., conducted between Nov. 12-19, 2018, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3%.

Another data source was from the report “The State of Pastors” that surveyed 1,025 U.S. adults in April-May 2015, with a rate of error of +/- 2.9%.

Other findings in the report showed that Protestants were more likely than Catholics to interact with their pastor outside of church (48% versus 27%); 28% of respondents said their pastor often attends social or community events; and 64% of overall U.S. adult respondents held a positive view of a pastor they knew.

In July, The Associated Press released a survey which found that about three-quarters of U.S. adults rarely or never consult religious leaders when making decisions.

According to the AP, 49% of respondents said they never consult a faith leader when making a major decision, while 26% said they rarely consult a faith leader. Only 24% reported often or sometimes consulting a faith leader.

Even evangelical Protestants, the group most likely to consult a faith leader, still had 52% of respondents report either rarely or never doing so.

The AP-NORC Center survey drew data from a national poll taken May 17-20 of 1,137 adults and a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points.

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