Study: Christians Disengaged from Popular Culture

A new study has revealed that Protestant clergy are well informed about politics but disengaged from the modern culture of music, books and the Internet that more churchgoers are familiar with.

Ellison Research released results in the November/December issue of Facts & Trends magazine to show just how informed Protestant ministers and laity are about today's culture. The majority of both clergy and churchgoers are unfamiliar with popular culture, the study indicated. But overall, pastors are less informed about the culture in which they live than are the people in the pews.

For pastors, politics seems to be their stronghold when it comes to staying informed. The study showed that 36 percent of them are very informed about politics and another 55 percent say they are somewhat informed. Among laity, 29 percent feel very informed about the subject and another 47 percent feel somewhat informed.

Politics is the only area that clergy feel better informed about than the laity.

On ten of the twelve topics, lay people are significantly more informed about the culture than pastors.

One major difference was the Internet, with 43 percent of laity saying they are very informed compared to 20 percent of clergy. The study further showed that 22 percent of clergy are not very informed about the subject compared to only 9 percent among lay people.

More churchgoers also claimed to be very informed about television programs, with 31 percent saying so and 19 percent of clergy indicating their being very informed.

Similar proportions were seen with books, movies, radio and TV talk shows, and music.

"The data shows ministers are, generally speaking, not all that informed about the culture in which they seek to minister. The people in the pews feel much more informed about the Internet, movies, videogames, and other expressions of popular culture than do their pastors," said Ellison Research President Ron Sellers. "People are definitely impacted by the culture they consume - the web sites they visit or the music they listen to, for instance. Pastors need to be informed about what’s out there in order to understand how the culture is influencing the people they are trying to reach.”

Both laity and clergy were similarly informed about sports with 24 percent of clergy and laity claiming to be well informed.

Both, however, revealed their distance from the fashion and video game cultures as well as celebrities.

Sixteen percent of churchgoers said they are very informed about clothing and fashion while 7 percent of pastors said the same. Another 48 percent of churchgoers claimed to be somewhat informed compared to 34 percent of clergy.

Even less lay people and pastors indicated staying up-toth-date on video and computer games, with 16 percent of laity and 5 percent of clergy saying they are very informed about the subject; 34 percent of lay people and 24 percent of pastors said they are somewhat informed. A larger proportion of both groups said they are not very informed.

Very few church people stayed informed about celebrities. Only 10 percent of laity and 4 percent of clergy said they were very informed about celebrities.

Differences were also seen according to age. Younger ministers (under age 45) feel more informed about sports, the Internet, music, clothing and fashion, celebrities, and video and computer games than do older pastors. Additionally, younger churchgoers feel more informed about these areas than older lay people.

There were no differences according to the longevity of church attendance.

"There’s a long-term debate within Christendom about what is an appropriate level of involvement in popular culture," said Ellison Research President Ron Sellers. "Some Christians believe separation from the world is part of godly behavior, while others believe involvement in the world is necessary in order to reach out to the world.

"Either way, one might logically expect church involvement to change how a person looks at culture - either becoming more involved in order to have more effective outreach, or becoming less involved as they seek to lead a less worldly lifestyle. But the data shows no difference in cultural awareness according to how frequently people attend church, how long they’ve been there, or whether they are in a leadership position. This raises the question of how much churches actually impact how people live their daily lives.”

The data was based on two studies on a representative sample of 797 Protestant church ministers and 1,184 adults nationwide who attend Protestant churches at least once a month.

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