The Global Anabaptist Profile (GAP) is a multi-nation research project led by John Roth (Goshen College) and Conrad Kanagy (Elizabethtown College) on behalf of Mennonite World Conference. The Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (ISGA) at Goshen College. sponsored the project. The results of the project were shared at a consultation of research associates held at the Young Center of Elizabethtown College at the end of July 2015. This project involves several components including a shared survey that was completed by members of twenty-four different Anabaptist groups throughout the world. The Brethren in Christ Churches in Canada, Malawi, the United States, and Zimbabwe were included among the twenty-four groups surveyed. (See Appendix A for a complete listing of participating groups.)
This report presents the survey data for the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. The survey itself was developed over a period of a year (2013) through consultations among the research associates for each participating group. I guided the survey as research associate for the Brethren in Christ portion of the study. Details regarding the survey structure and data gathering were developed in consultation with denominational leaders (Warren Hoffman and Alan Robinson) during 2013 and 2014.
In January 2014 the survey was circulated to a sample of the members of the Brethren in Christ churches in the United States (note that Brethren in Christ Church Canada—or BIC Canada—is also a part of the GAP project but with a separate research associate and survey). The Brethren in Christ GAP (GAP-BIC) survey was conducted online with the use of SurveyMonkey. In contrast, most of the other denominations involved in the GAP project administered surveys in group meetings at churches. For these groups, denominational researchers were given a list of churches that provided the basis for a sample. These lists were prepared by project coordinators (Roth/Kanagy).
The use of SurveyMonkey had a number of advantages but it also created some problems with sampling. The Brethren in Christ denominational offices had several email lists organized according to their purposes (e.g., lists of pastors, churches, recipients of denominational publications, etc.). It was not possible to sample these lists by church membership. As a result, I decided to use all available personal email addresses from denominational sources. The intention was to cast the net as widely as possible to create the highest response rate possible. Another goal was to gather responses from Brethren in Christ people across all regional conferences.
The GAP-BIC survey was prepared in December 2013 and launched on Survey Monkey early in January 2014. Bridget Nace was the key staff person at the denominational office responsible for preparing and monitoring the online surveys. The link for the survey was sent out on several occasions between early January and early February. Respondents were allowed to complete the survey between January and March 2014. The final number of surveys received was 989. This was close to the goal of obtaining a sample of 1000 surveys. In the discussion that follows reference will be to these 989 surveys that constitute the GAP-BIC survey.
Demographics – Sample
When we look at the data in Table 1, we can see some important characteristics of the GAP-BIC sample. The respondents to this survey were middle age on average (mean age = 54.5 years) and had been members of the Brethren in Christ Church for approximately twenty-five years. The balance between men and women was similar with a slightly higher number of male respondents. The sample was somewhat more rural than urban and a majority had either a college or graduate degree (69.2 percent). Only about a third grew up with one or both parents who were Brethren in Christ (32.3 percent). More than eight in ten reported being married. Finally, looking at the roles that people in the sample had held in their church (Question 6) the sample had a fair number who had served or were serving as pastors (17.3 percent).
Potential Problems with the Sample
As noted above, this survey was administered via an online service (SurveyMonkey). This approach has increasingly been used by the denomination in recent years. This is made possible because most members of Brethren in Christ churches have access to computers and the internet. However, it is likely that using this approach introduces a bias into the sample. Those Brethren in Christ members who either are not computer savvy or have limited access to the internet would be less likely to respond. Thus, we must be cautious and assume that this sample may be somewhat more affluent, educated, and technologically oriented than the actual Brethren in Christ population in the U.S.
Another problem is that the denominational address lists have been oriented toward churches, pastors, and other leaders. As a result, there is a bias in the sample toward over-sampling pastors and church leaders. For example, it is highly unlikely that 17.3 percent of all Brethren in Christ folks have served as pastors. Likewise, it is probably unlikely that one third of all Brethren in Christ people hold graduate degrees (33.3 percent). These demographics reflect the fact that pastors and church leaders were disproportionately likely to respond to the online survey. If this analysis is accurate, then a key question is whether or not the results of this survey are really indicative of the Brethren in Christ population at large.
Since I believe this is an important issue, several analyses were conducted to determine if the higher response rates from pastors and church leaders had introduced serious biases into the results. In order to address this concern, responses to all the questions were subdivided and compared between clergy and laity. The resulting analysis showed very little, if any, differences between clergy and laity on the questions. In other words, clergy and laity were on the same page. If any slight differences were observed, they tended in the direction of the clergy being more Anabaptist and more conservative theologically. These differences were still very minor.
Table 7 shows the sample broken down by regional conference. This is important because the intention was to have the sample reflect the same profile as the regional conference breakdown for the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. The table shows the percent for each conference and the actual percent based on denominational records.
Table 7 also reveals another problem with the GAP-BIC sample. Several conferences are over represented (Atlantic and Susquehanna) and one is seriously under represented (Southeast). The latter fact is understandable in that the Southeast conference has a significant number of Spanish-speaking congregations and the online survey was available only in English. I was aware that this survey would likely be representative of only English-speaking Brethren in Christ church members. The lack of data on Spanish language churches and church members is a need that ought to be addressed in the future.
If one sets aside the issue of Southeast conference under-representation, then the remaining conferences more nearly fit the actual demographic profile of the denomination. The top three conferences both in the sample and in actuality are Atlantic, Susquehanna, and Allegheny. The fact that the Atlantic and Susquehanna conferences are over-represented also helps to explain some of the other demographic factors. These conferences are likely to reflect higher levels of education and larger concentrations of pastors and church leaders. They also may have more people who are oriented to technology and the use of online surveys. Many churches in these conferences make significant use of email and internet technology thus predisposing their members to be more likely to respond to an online survey.
Concluding Observation – Sample
Survey research is always subject to critiques based on the samples that are used. In the case of the GAP-BIC survey it is my view that the sample, while flawed, does give us good and useful data on the Brethren in Christ Church in in the U.S. in 2014. The last major survey of the denomination was conducted in 2006 (The Church Member Profile). The data from that survey gives us some basis for comparing the two samples. For many of the basic demographic variables there are strong similarities between the two samples (e.g., age, gender, occupation, residence, and being “cradle Brethren in Christ”—that is, born into a Brethren in Christ family). This gives us some confidence that the sample does represent the English-speaking members of Brethren in Christ churches in the U.S.
The Global Anabaptist Profile includes a number of items that can be considered “Religious Beliefs.” These would be theological beliefs regarding Jesus, the Bible, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, etc. Table 2 summarizes these questions.
With regard to beliefs about Jesus, Brethren in Christ respondents see Jesus primarily as the “one who forgives my sins” (70.7 percent) and “the one whose resurrection gave victory over death” (69.6 percent). Jesus is also seen as “the only way to God” (77.6 percent). This item (Question 8) also tests views about the status of those who have not heard about Jesus. A minority of Brethren in Christ people believes that “Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, but God may save people who don’t know Jesus” (20.7 percent). A related question (Question 10) also explores the question of the status of those apart from Christ. Respondents are asked their views regarding this statement: “Jesus is the only way to God and those without faith in Jesus will not be saved.” Some 81 percent believe this statement to be true while the remainder are either not sure (12.9 percent) or disagree with the statement (6.4 percent). Another way of getting at the question of the status of those apart from Christ is to ask whether or not adherents of other religions (e.g., Islam, Buddhism, etc.) worship the same God as Christians. Only about 17 percent think this is true while most believe that these faiths do not worship the same God. Brethren in Christ people clearly do not adopt a universalistic view of salvation. About 93.3 percent believe that it is very important to be saved or born again but that comes through the work of Jesus Christ and not in any other way.
GAP also explores several aspects of respondents’ views of the Bible. Question 15 looks at whether or not the Bible is inspired and whether or not it should be taken literally (i.e., this item has two parts). The majority of the sample (82.3 percent) believe that the Bible is both the “inspired Word of God” and a book that needs to be “interpreted in context.” Only 15 percent say the Bible is to be taken literally word for word. Another question regarding the Bible is what parts of the Bible are considered the most relevant to the reader. A majority (61.3 percent) say the New Testament is the most relevant part for them while another 38 percent say that both the Old and New Testament are relevant parts of the Bible. Finally, when asked about their preferences within the New Testament, the most common response (46 percent) was to say that all the parts of the New Testament had influenced them equally. This preference was followed by those who were influenced most by the Gospels (31.6 percent), the book of Revelation (19.2 percent), the book of Acts (2.1 percent) and the letters of Paul (1.1 percent).
The role of the Holy Spirit is also examined. Brethren in Christ respondents were asked to choose which of several statements regarding the Holy Spirit best described their views of the connection between the Holy Spirit and the church or faith community. A majority chose the statement that the “Spirit speaks to individuals directly, and also through the church” (71 percent). Other statements were: The Spirit speaks directly to individuals in a personal way (24.9 percent); the Spirit speaks primarily through the faith community (3.6 percent); and the Spirit is another name for human insight or inspiration (0.5 percent).
Additional questions explored topics such as holiness, the balance between belief and behavior, and beliefs regarding the health and wealth gospel. With regard to beliefs about holiness, respondents were given options that included defining holiness as sinless perfection (“Holiness means living a life free of sin”) but only 11.3 percent adopted this belief. Instead, the most common responses were to say that holiness “involves surrendering one’s life fully to God (82.6 percent) and that holiness “refers to choices we make regarding how we live our lives” (52.4 percent). When presented with this choice: “Does salvation depend more on what a person believes or on how a person lives?” the majority said that salvation depends equally on what a person believes and how one lives (62.7 percent). Finally, when asked if the Bible promises that followers of Christ will be more blessed and have better health than non-Christians, the vast majority of Brethren in Christ people said no. Only 7 percent embraced this view of the Christian life.
The Global Anabaptist Profile examines a number of topics that could be considered aspects of Congregational Life (Table 3). These include membership, roles within the church, level of involvement including attendance and giving, programs of the church, and opinions regarding various ordinances of the church.
The Brethren in Christ respondents in the GAP study average about twenty-five years of membership in a Brethren in Christ church. The majority report that they did not grow up with parents who were members of a Brethren in Christ church (67.7 percent). A minority had one or both parents who were members of a Brethren in Christ church (32.3 percent). They report a strong level of church attendance with over 90 percent attending church at least once a week. They also are committed to making contributions to their church and other causes in that over 80 percent give 10 percent or more of their income in contributions. Most respondents have served in one or more capacities in the church with the most common roles being a Sunday School teacher (65.5 percent), church board or leadership team member (58.6 percent), director of a program (32.8 percent), and deacon or elder (28.1 percent). Clearly this sample represents disproportionally leaders and the most active people in their congregations (see previous comments on the sample).
When asked about customs surrounding baptism, respondents report that the most common form is baptism by immersion (97.7 percent). Adult baptism is required of those who were baptized only as infants (58.6 percent) but it may be in a denomination other than Brethren in Christ. Approximately 80 percent of the churches require some sort of instructional class prior to someone being baptized. Communion is practiced on average about seven times a year with the most common pattern being a quarterly practice of communion (35 percent). Communion was viewed as “open” with most (89.8 percent) saying that “anyone who has accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord” can participate in the communion service. Music in worship included songs sung by other Christians in our country (90.8 percent) and songs written by people in the congregation (35.5 percent). Respondents reported that their congregation offered teaching in regard to violence (81.4 percent), sharing with those in need (99.8 percent), and the history of Anabaptism (62.9 percent). Their experience in their home congregations included interacting with people of different races and ethnicities (90.7 percent), people of different nationalities (83.4 percent), members who are in the military (86.2 percent), and those who work for the government (90.6 percent).
Several questions focused on the role of women. When asked if their congregation allowed men and women equal ministry roles, 84.5 percent said that was true. When asked more specifically what activities would be acceptable for women in their congregations they responded this way:
- Preach sermons (79.6 percent)
- Plan and lead worship (93.3 percent)
- Provide pastoral counseling and care (88.4 percent)
- Teach adults (96.3 percent)
- Teach children (98.9 percent)
A small minority (0.3 percent) said that none of the above activities was acceptable for women to perform in the church.
Finally, several questions attempted to measure the overall health of the congregation. About one in five (21.2 percent) of respondents noted that their congregation had “experienced a great deal of conflict recently.” On the other hand, eight in ten (78.7 percent) believed that their congregation had a “clear sense of mission and vision” as they moved forward. Strong majorities believed that their church encouraged cross-cultural missions (92.1 percent) and collaborated with other congregations (80.2 percent).
No doubt the most revealing information about congregational life comes from the answers to an open-ended question that simply asked: “What do you value most about your church?” For a discussion of this and another open-ended question, see the last section of this report.
The Larger Church
Under the topic of the Larger Church are items that explore how connected Brethren in Christ people feel with regard to other bodies of believers (Table 4). The Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. is part of the Mennonite World Conference. Respondents were asked if they had ever heard of the Mennonite World Conference and 70.9 percent indicated that they had. It should be noted that this relatively high response rate may have been influenced by publicity surrounding the Mennonite World Conference Assembly 2015 in Pennsylvania. Question 41 asked several sub-questions about the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Brethren in Christ people were very much aware of MCC (84.6 percent) and indicated that in six out of ten congregations MCC was actually part of the congregation’s ministry (61.6 percent). Only about 18 percent said that their church does not work with MCC.
Several items sought to gather information on views related to the connections between the local congregation and the national body—the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. The direct question was: “How important is it to you that your local congregation is part of the larger BIC church?” More than three fourths of respondents (84.7 percent) said that they thought it was either fairly important (40.5 percent) or very important (44.2 percent) to be part of the national body. Only 15.3 percent thought it was either not important at all or not very important. Nevertheless, it was clear from Question 39 that the strongest connection was with the local congregation. Note the following percentages of people saying that they have “very strong” connections with these possible groups:
- My local congregation 83.0 percent very strong
- Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. 41.7 percent very strong
- Mennonite World Conference 7.2 percent very strong
- The broader global Christian church 40.1 percent very strong
Finally, because in recent years there has been some discussion across the denomination about the role of the national office/body versus local congregations, a specific question for Brethren in Christ respondents only was created to tap the ideas regarding local autonomy and denominational oversight. Here are the options and the percentage of those who chose that option:
|Question 54 – Which statement below best represents the way you would like the BIC denomination to relate to your local congregation?||Percent choosing this answer|
|a. The denomination should have important oversight of local congregations including ownership of churches, credentialing and placement of pastors.||20.1|
|b. The denomination should have oversight of local congregations including credentialing of pastors but not ownership of churches.||31.5|
|c. The denomination should have an increasingly smaller role and more responsibility should be taken by local congregations and regional conferences including credentialing of pastors and ownership of churches.||13.9|
|d. The denomination should provide support to local congregations through sharing resources and cooperative ministries but should give autonomy to churches in property ownership/selection of pastors.||34.5|
These results seem to indicate a fairly even split among the options with about half of the respondents wanting more autonomy for local congregations in the credentialing and selection of pastors (choices C and D – 48.4 percent) while a slight majority (choices A and B) supported a continuing denominational role in the selection and credentialing of pastors (51.6 percent). Options B, C and D allow for ownership of church buildings by the local congregation and 89.9 percent of the respondents chose these options. It is quite likely that many of those completing the survey were somewhat unclear on denominational policies with regard to pastoral selection and ownership of church buildings.
Faith and Social Issues
The Global Anabaptist Profile measures attitudes and opinions concerning a number of social issues (Table 5). These issues vary from attitudes regarding believing in good luck and littering to opinions about euthanasia and abortion. Question 14 presents nineteen behaviors and asks respondents to indicate whether or not they see the behavior as never acceptable, sometimes acceptable, or always acceptable (see Table 5). Of the behaviors listed, here are the five seen as most acceptable and the five seen as least acceptable:
- Always observing the Sabbath
- Use of alcohol
- Marriage to a non-Christian
- Use of drugs
- Premarital sex
- Homosexual relations
Certain sexual behaviors continue to be viewed as serious and unacceptable. On the other hand, issues in the past that were viewed in a more negative light are now seen as less problematic although still subject to some questions (e.g., dancing, divorce, use of alcohol).
Another item (Question 21) looked at issues dealing with war and interaction with the political realm. Here are the seven statements and the percentage of those “agreeing” with the statement:
- It is okay for Christians to fight in a war 43.7 percent
- Christians should participate in politics 84.1 percent
- The government should use the death penalty for crimes 32.3 percent
- It is all right for a Christian to file a lawsuit 54.0 percent
- It is okay for Christians to run for political office 88.2 percent
- It is okay for Christians to vote in government elections 96.9 percent
- It is okay for Christians to participate in public protests 77.9 percent
Clearly, Brethren in Christ people are comfortable with political activity although there are still questions about participation in war and the use of the death penalty.
Several additional questions canvas opinions about relationships with the government and involvement in the military. Question 24 probes the hypothetical response one might make if the government “required you to serve in the military.” The majority (51.7 percent) said they would opt for alternate service while 25.7 percent said they would consider non-combatant military service. Only 15.6 percent chose the option of regular military service while a small group (7.0 percent) said they would “refuse to participate in the military in any way.” Question 58 posed the general question of “how you think Christians should relate to government.” The most popular response was to “try to influence the government to do what is right” (45.1 percent) while the least popular response was to “avoid government and politics as much as possible” (2.0 percent). The middle ground was to “actively participate in government to improve it” (36.6 percent) or “cooperate as needed but do not get too involved” (16.4 percent).
Finally, several other questions looked at certain social issues relating to the family and meeting social needs. When asked what was the best way to handle marital conflicts (between husbands and wives), respondents completely rejected physical force, and instead recommended prayer (77.0 percent), seeking help from the church or pastor (63.1 percent), and professional counseling (49.8 percent). With regard to disciplining children, Brethren in Christ respondents approved of spanking or corporal punishment (48.0 percent) but much preferred non-physical methods of punishment (83.6 percent). They also saw professional counseling (19.3 percent) and help from church or pastor (24.3 percent) as other options. When asked why the church should engage in social ministries such as dealing with hunger and other needs, the most common response was that it is appropriate because “Jesus commands it of his disciples” (45.1 percent). Other reasons were “it is part of helping realize God’s kingdom here on earth” (27.2 percent) and “it is part of the church’s commitment to the Gospel” (27.5 percent). The help that is extended by the church should go to “anyone in need, regardless of whether they are a Christian or not” (78.9 percent). A minority suggested that such help should go “first to members of the church, and then to others including non-Christians” (21.1 percent). Everyone rejected the idea of limiting such aid only to members of the church (0.0 percent).
Table 6 includes four questions about types of religious experience (other items under Congregational Life and Religious Beliefs might also fit this category). Respondents were asked what year they became a Christian. They indicated they had been a Christian for an average of forty-one years. Subtracting this figure from the average age of the sample reveals that the average age for becoming a Christian was thirteen. Thus, this group of Brethren in Christ people, on average, has identified as Christian for a number of years.
Question 2 explores the ordinance of baptism. About half of the group was baptized in a Brethren in Christ church (50.7 percent) while the rest were baptized in another church (48.5 percent). Another question asked about personal experiences with manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Here are the options in order of the most common responses:
- Have not experienced any of these gifts of the Holy Spirit (54.1 percent)
- Had a miraculous experience such as being healed from an illness or injury (25.8 percent)
- Shared prophetic words (20.9 percent)
- Have spoken in tongues (13.7 percent)
- Practiced the gift of healing (13.3 percent)
- Have been delivered from demonic oppression or cast out demons (6.9 percent)
Finally, a block of six items (Question 35) probes certain behaviors that might be part of a person’s Christian experience. Here are the six activities and what percent said they engaged in this behavior at least “once a month.”
- Speak about my faith to people outside my church and family 1 percent
- Lead others to faith in Christ 1 percent
- Help my congregation in serving our local community 7 percent
- Help my congregation in evangelistic activities 7 percent
- Invite non-Christian friends to church 9 percent
- Socialize with non-Christians in my work and neighborhood 9 percent
What do you value most about your church?
The GAP-BIC for the church in the U.S. included two open- ended questions where respondents could write in their ideas regarding the question. The first question asked: What do you value most about your church? (Question 42). The answers revealed a number of different things that people valued about their church. The answers were analyzed according to procedures of content analysis. As a result, a number of themes were identified. Below are the answers to this question organized according to the top themes, ranked from most important to less important with a representative quote from the surveys:
Community Theme: sense of belonging, being like a family, caring for one another, relationships, being like a “village”; fellowship
“The fellowship we experience as a community of believers and the outpouring of love in our context of life and ministry.”
Teaching Theme: good, biblical preaching and teaching
“Its clear biblical teaching and the outstanding unity of the staff.”
People Theme: the nature of the people in the church; they are friendly, loving, caring, selfless, genuine, honest, kind, open, etc. [Note: there is some overlap with community theme; distinguished by nature of people apart from being together in community.]
“The people are warm and accepting, and are there for one another in crises.”
Program Theme: reference to one or more programs of the church; the most common reference is to worship, then music, and other things such as children/youth, cell groups, etc.
“Youth groups for my children; small groups/support groups; corporate worship”
Service Theme: responses that mention the fact that the church is actively involved in the community offering help and care for the wider community in which the church is located; the idea of being outward focused
“Efforts to genuinely serve the local community outside of the congregation”
Leadership Theme: comments regarding the positive nature of the leaders of the church (primarily the pastor but also other leaders)
“Leadership preaches the Word and challenges me to be a true follower of Christ.”
Diversity Theme: people spoke about the how their church welcomes people who are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, social class, and religious beliefs [tied with the Beliefs Theme next]
“I value our congregation’s diversity – of age, race, cultural background, and experiences.”
Beliefs Theme: this theme refers to any statements that mention some aspect of the beliefs that are characteristic of the congregation including such things as emphasizing the Bible, honoring Brethren in Christ beliefs including Anabaptism, Pietism and Wesleyanism
“… the perspectives on peacemaking and social justice in the context of living a Christ-centered life…”
Outreach Theme: statements for this theme include reference to a desire to share the gospel and reach out to people both at home and away (e.g., missions)
“The growth and desire to lead more to Christ. A large commitment to the missionary field…”
Passion Theme: people noted a value placed on a church where people are “passionate” about following Jesus
“The passion they have for the way of Jesus.”
Gifts Theme: some respondents said they value their church as a place where they can “exercise” their own gifts of ministry
“Many opportunities to find your niche in worshipping, studying, serving, missions.”
Virtually all the Brethren in Christ respondents wrote an answer to this question. We have, thus, over nine hundred statements regarding what Brethren in Christ people value most about their church. The very positive responses to this question are encouraging in that they document many healthy congregations in the Brethren in Christ Church.
What are the important issues facing BIC congregations today?
The second open-ended question asked respondents to list one or two of the important issues facing Brethren in Christ churches in 2014. The actual wording of the question was: “As you think about important issues facing BIC congregations today, what issues concern you the most?”
The answers to this question were also subjected to content analysis. Below are the top issues listed in order of importance with a representative quote from the surveys.
Most important issues
Homosexuality and Gay Marriage
“The growing acceptance of homosexuality”
“Homosexuals in church”
“Excluding gay and lesbian people”
Maintaining BIC Identity
“New people don’t know church history”
“Holding on to Anabaptist distinctives”
“Effective evangelism/church growth”
“Sharing the gospel”
Keeping Our Youth
“Loss of young people 18-30 falling out of church”
“Lack of active, young church members”
“Lack of ability to bring young adults into church body”
Being Relevant to the Culture
“Being relevant in a changing world”
“Pressure to compromise to appear relevant”
Valuing the Bible as Our Authority
“Staying true to God’s word”
“Rejecting historicity of the Old Testament”
Of Lesser Importance
Cultural Issues (e.g., divorce, etc.)
“Very high divorce rate”
“Abortion, fatherless children and orphan care”
Loss of Members/Need to Grow
“Will our congregation survive?”
Maintaining Holy Lifestyle
“We are losing our holiness doctrine and lifestyle”
“Lack of biblical living”
“Continuing to increase support of world missions”
“The denomination is economically nonviable”
A similar question was asked in the Church Member Profile (2006) and it is possible to compare the responses from these two surveys. Below is a chart that lists the top issues or concerns in 2014 compared with 2006.
GAP 2014 CMP 2006
Homosexuality and Gay Marriage Cultural Issues (e.g., divorce, abortion, etc.)
Maintaining BIC Identity Homosexuality and Gay Marriage
Evangelism/Reaching Out Loss of Members/Need to Grow
Keeping Our Youth Evangelism/Reaching Out
Being Relevant to the Culture Keeping Our Youth
Valuing the Bible as Our Authority Maintaining Holy Lifestyle
Cultural Issues (e.g., divorce, etc.) Being Relevant to the Culture
Loss of Members/Need to Grow Valuing the Bible as Our Authority
Maintaining Holy Lifestyle Maintaining BIC Identity
World Missions World Missions
Stewardship/Funding Issues Stewardship/Funding Issues
It is interesting to observe some of the changes in eight years (from 2006 to 2014). Homosexuality and same-sex marriage now top the list while these were slightly less important in 2006. Recent cultural events (e.g., court cases) help to explain this change. Another issue that has risen in importance is Maintaining BIC Identity. In 2006 this was farther down the list. There may be some possible explanations regarding this shift, including discussions about a denominational name change and the separation into the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. and BIC Canada. On the other hand, Cultural Issues (e.g., divorce, abortion) and Loss of Members/Need to Grow seem somewhat less salient now. Finally, some issues seem to be at the same level (World Missions; Stewardship/Funding Issues).
Comparison with earlier studies
The Global Anabaptist Profile survey questions were developed by representatives from the participating groups and countries. However, some items were adopted from earlier surveys including the 2006 Church Member Profile study. Since the Brethren in Christ churches in the U.S. were part of that earlier study, it is possible to observe some similarities and differences between the results of both surveys. In this case, we can compare data on the Brethren in Christ from 2006 with data from 2014 – an eight-year interval. The GAP has approximately twenty questions that are comparable with the CMP. Eleven of these questions show essentially no change in eight years. Below are the similarities between the two studies:
- Sample (“cradle BIC,” age, residence, marital status)
- Level of church attendance
- Views on divorce, premarital sex, gambling, dancing, pornography, and abortion
- Reasons for peacemaking
- Approval of participating in politics, filing lawsuits, running for political office, and voting
- Patterns regarding the ordinance of baptism, and understandings concerning who can participate in communion
- Practice of inviting non-Christian friends to church
On the other hand, there were eleven comparable questions that indicate some change between E2006 and 2014. Below are the differences between the two studies (each statement refers to the how the 2014 survey differs from the earlier 2006 survey):
- Sample (more clergy; fewer laity)
- More acceptance of the idea of God saving people who don’t know Jesus; slightly less belief in Jesus as the only way to God
- Changes in social/cultural/lifestyle issues:
- Less concern over alcohol
- More concern over marriage between Christian and non-Christian
- Less concern over the use of tobacco
- Less concern over homosexual relations
- More concern over immodest clothes
- More concern over drugs
- In regard to the New Testament: less emphasis on the letters of Paul; more emphasis on the book of Revelation
- More emphasis on the Holy Spirit speaking through the church
- More experience with “manifestations of the Holy Spirit”
- Less support for the death penalty
- Less likely to opt for regular military service; more likely to opt for alternative service
- Increase in people who say they give 10 percent or more of their income
- Increase in people who say they speak more about their faith; more witnessing
It should be noted that these differences or changes from 2006 to 2014 are relatively modest with most being on the order of 10 percent with just a few exceptions.
At this point in time, comparative data from the other Anabaptist groups who were part of the Global Anabaptist Profile are not publicly available. When the data are available, it will be interesting to see where the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. stands in comparison to those groups in both North America and other parts of the world. The data in this study reveals some of the beliefs and attitudes of Brethren in Christ people. It is likely that there are many positive things we can celebrate about our denomination as well as some concerns that may help shape the decisions we make about the future.
 Editors’ note: We hope to publish the results of the other Brethren in Christ surveys, along with a comparative analysis, in a future edition of Brethren in Christ History and Life.
 Generally, when compared, the differences between clergy and laity on all the questions were one percent or less.
 Information on the 2006 Church Member Profile is available in a number of places. See Ronald Burwell and John Yeatts,”The Church’s Role in Christian Experience: Results from the Church Membership Profile 2006,” Brethren in Christ History and Life, 32 (no. 1), April 2009: 151-171; and on the website of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S.
Author: Ronald Burwell
Ronald Burwell is professor of sociology emeritus at Messiah College. He and his wife are members of the Grantham (PA) Brethren in Christ Church.