May 18, 2016
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The percentage of politically active churches is decreasing, according to a first-of-its-kind national study by Indiana University that also reveals an increase in the percentage of churches engaged in service activity.
This research draws on three waves of data from the National Congregations Study to provide the first national scale study to identify trends among churches addressing social needs.
Between 1998 and 2012, the percentage of churches participating in at least one type of service-related activity increased from 71 percent to 78 percent, while the percentage of churches participating in at least one type of political activity decreased from 43 percent to 35 percent.
This study also examines trends among subpopulations of churches grouped by their religious tradition, ethnoracial composition and ideological orientation. Among most types of churches, participation in service-related activities is substantial and increasing, while political participation is less substantial and decreasing.
Fulton found that the most substantial decrease in political participation has occurred among white evangelical churches. For example, between 1998 and 2012, the percentage of evangelical churches that distributed voter guides decreased from 19 percent to 11 percent, and the percentage promoting opportunities to participate politically decreased from 21 percent to 7 percent.
Meanwhile, the political participation rate among liberal churches has been substantial and increasing. In 2012, 80 percent of liberal churches participated in at least one type of p
olitical activity, making them three times more likely than conservative churches to be politically engaged.
- Fulton’s research was published this month in the journal Religions in the article “Trends in Addressing Social Needs: A Longitudinal Study of Congregation-Based Service Provision and Political Participation.”