It is vitally important for us as a movement to understand what is happening in our fellowship. We live in a time where information travels quickly and sometimes, it seems, misinformation and speculation, travel even more quickly! Reality may not be as engaging as speculation but it is more helpful and beneficial to the body of Christ to speak from what information we do have rather than guess.

This report is intended to be a snapshot in time. It is an attempt to allow people to be well informed on the facts of what is actually happening in Churches of Christ when it comes to changes in women’s roles. This is also the first of several studies we are going to do at Wineskins as we continue to address important topics and help have a conversation about what is going on in Churches of Christ.

There were a few reasons I decided to dive into this topic including its relevance to our fellowship today and the lack of hard data that has resulted in people speculating and treating that speculation as fact. I don’t know about you but I like to speak from knowledge rather than from rumor and assumption.

So I set out to get some data on what Churches of Christ are actually doing in regard to women’s roles in order to take a snapshot in the history of Churches of Christ at this moment in time. This is not the end all, be all study on this issue. As the study progressed more and more issues of interest arose that could be tackled in a future study. As with any study, this has its limitations and should not made to say something it doesn’t. My goal in this was to be an observer, recorder and a reporter more than anything else. So in what follows I am going to give you the information I found out in the process as objectively as I can, trying to help you understand what you are reading along the way. Stats can be confusing and the last thing I want to be on this is confusing. If you have any questions, please email me – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com and I will do my best to bring whatever clarity I can. I have committed to these respondents to not give out any congregation or respondent’s individual information so please do not ask for that.

What this report is not intended to be:

  1. It is not prescriptive. This is not a manual on instituting change. It is descriptive, describing what is happening so we can be informed.
  2. It is not theological. You will not find any scripture in this report.
  3. The purpose is not to take a particular position on the issue itself.

I presented this information in two parts at the Pepperdine Lectures a few weeks ago and you can listen to those to get some of this information on itunes University (See #’s 13 & 42 at this link after you listen to N.T. Wright, of course). There were requests for this to be put in some sort of written form because it is a lot to digest in a lecture/discussion setting. So I hope that this information is presented in a helpful way and that it is as easily understood as possible. Statistics can be confusing enough as it is!

Survey data was collected via Survey monkey and results were analyzed via SPSS. Comments have been turned off because this information is meant to be a resource, not a place for discussion on this issue.

Sample

First, who are we looking at here? This survey was not a general study of a random sample of Churches of Christ. This was a study of congregations that have actually implemented some level of change to be more inclusive of women in the life of the congregation. So the numbers you see below are not representative of any given Church of Christ or where we are as a movement as a whole at this point in time. This is representative of churches that are making changes in this area.

In order to take the survey respondents had to meet 3 criteria: 1) be responding regarding a congregation that has made changes, 2) still be in that congregation and 3) had to be a Church of Christ.

It is very important that you understand the sample. Again, this data cannot be generalized to all Churches of Christ.

87 respondents were scaled down to 78 for a variety of reasons. A few weren’t churches of Christ. A few congregations had such a large representation they would skew the results so they were scaled down by randomly selecting those who would remain from those congregations.

47 congregations were represented from 17 states and Canada at an average age of 60 years old. It is estimated that there are roughly 100 Churches of Christ that have made changes in this area. I imagine the number is a bit higher than that.

Respondent Gender: 74% male, 26% female

Role: 56% ministers (as defined by being paid, on staff), 27% elders and 17% members.

Ministers

  • 35% of all respondents were preaching ministers/senior ministers
  • Years ministering in the current congregation ranged from 1-38 years
  • Average current tenure = 10.7 years
  • Average age = 52 years old
  • 77% male
  • 23% female

Elders

  • Average tenure as an elder = 12.6 years
  • 7% female elders
  • 93% male elders

Personal Support: 95% of respondents were personally supportive of the changes. Of the 5% who were not (4 respondents) 3 were female and 1 was male. Remember, these are people in churches after the changes have been made on some level.

So you have a sample from congregations who have made changes in this area that are overwhelmingly supportive of the changes, mostly male and mostly ministers.

For what follows I want to make sure you understand what you are looking at. This information is all self-reported from minister, elders and ministers regarding their assessment of things. So things like level of congregational support is not assessed by gathering a large sample of members from within these churches (future study material for sure), rather these numbers represent the respondents’ perception of these things based on  their knowledge and experience with the congregation since they were there through the changes. An interesting follow up study would be about members actual experience more so than what the elders and ministers believe happened (which is what this survey examined).

Changes Made

What sort of changes were made in these congregations? Listed in order of frequency:

  • Pass communion – 93%
  • Read scripture – 93%
  • Public prayer – 84%
  • Communion meditation – 77%
  • Lead worship – 69%
  • Preach – 50%
  • Elder – 16%

Of these 7 changes, the average number of changes made by the congregations was 4.82. the 2.18 left over was most often accounted for by not having female preachers or women preach in general or female elders.

14% of respondents reported being fully inclusive.
35% of respondents reported including women in every area except preaching and elder.

Future changes?

Do you anticipate future changes or has everything already been implemented? Let’s again, break this down by elders and ministers

Elders

  • 38% – Everything already implemented
  • 48% – Anticipate future change
  • 10% – I don’t know

Ministers

  • 18% Everything implemented
  • 70% – Anticipate future change
  • 11% – I don’t know

Note the differences between thinking implementation is over vs that there is more to do between ministers and elders.

Communication & Implementation

These changes were implemented, on average, 10.24 years ago.

69% made the changes gradually, over time. The other 31% made them all at once (whatever level of change they decided to implement)
There was no statistical difference in outcome based on how the changes were made (gradual vs all at once).

How long did it take to make the changes? Well that depends on who you ask.

  • Elders said 8.8 years on average
  • Ministers said 4.67 years on average

What I realized after getting that number was that this was not an apples to apples comparison because I had minister data for churches I didn’t have elders’ data for and elders’ data for churches I didn’t have minister data on. So I paired down the sample to elders and ministers in the same congregations (excluding churches that I didn’t have both an elder and minister for) and the numbers got more in line.

  • Elders = 5.25 years
  • Ministers = 4.67 years

You see that ministers still report a faster process than elders and that ministers foresee more changes ahead than elders as a whole.

Communication and decision making

84% did a study on some level

  • 72% studied with the whole congregation
  • 15% studied with a select group in the congregation
  • Average length of study was 8 months

Who was involved in making the decision?

  • Elders only – 27%
  • Elders and ministers – 46%
  • Elders, ministers and select members – 11%
  • Congregation as a whole – 13%

Who communicated the decision to the congregation?

  • Elder(s) – 57%
  • Elder(s) and minister – 20%
  • Minister – 15%
  • No communication – 8%

Method of communicating the changes

  • Written announcement/letter – 69%
  • Announcement – 75%
  • Sermon – 55%
  • Bible class – 55%

Duration of the process:

  • As stated above the average length of study was 8 months
  • Average time from first change to the last was 7.7 years.

Reported Goals of the changes

  • 48% – listed faithfulness to scripture
  • 34% – listed using gifts and talents
  • 8% – be more outwardly focused
  • 8% – more fully embody the image of God
  • 3% – enrich our worship

How effective were the changes in meeting that goal? (again, remember this is self-report by those mostly in favor of the changes) – 4.2 on average on a 5 point Likert scale (1 = Completely ineffective & 5 = Completely effective)

Attitude of the congregation at announcement vs today

What was the general attitude of the congregation toward these changes when they were announced vs today?  (asked in 2 questions and then calculated the difference)

——————————–At announcement———-Today——–Change

Overwhelmingly negative ———–4%——————-3%———— (1%)
Negative —————————— 5%——————-0%———— (5%)
Neutral ——————————- 21%—————–13%————-(8%)
Positive —————————— 55%—————–30%————-(25%)
Overwhelmingly positive ———- 10%—————–50%————- 40%

You can see the movement toward respondents rating congregational attitude as higher today than at announcement.

Support by age group

Remember, this is as reported by those who took the survey. A next step would be to gather responses from several thousand church members to gauge their actual level of support rather than “perceived support” from their ministers and elders. That is another study for another day.

[Likert scale: 1 = Completely against, 2 = Against, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Supportive, 5 = Completely supportive]SupportByAge

Teens – 4.62
20s & 30s – 4.62
40s & 50s – 4.16
60s & 70s – 3.73
802 & 90s – 3.47

Keep in mind 3 is neutral. Also keep in mind these are churches that made the changes, not the overall attitude of any given Church of Christ. I want to keep reminding you to remember the sample. That is key to understanding the data you are looking at – self-report by people in Churches of Christ who have made changes in this area.

Outcome

What sort of impact did this have on the congregation? In retrospect, I wish I had tried to gauge more than the typical metrics…again, another study for another day. In this study, I collected data on attendance and giving changes at multiple points in the process (pre-announcement, announcement, and actual implementation of change). The way this data was collected and calculated was, respondents were asked for attendance and contribution figures at these three points in the process. Changes were calculated from that information rather than directly asked for. In other words the questions were worded in how many were in attendance or what the contribution was at various points in the process rather asking them for the change. The change was then calculated based on the numbers they provided.

Attendance

Changes in attendance at announcement

  • 4% – gained members
  • 42% – no change
  • 54% – lost members
  • Average loss at announcement = 7.85%

That 7.85% loss was an average of all churches. Remember, some didn’t lose anyone and others gained. If you select the respondents who reported loss at announcement the loses are higher – 15.45% loss at announcement.

Changes in attendance at implementation

  • 15% – gained members
  • 34% – no change
  • 52% – lost members
  • Average across all churches (those that gained, no change and lost) you have a loss of 8.71%

Again, this is an average loss of all churches. Not all lost members. If you zoom in on congregations who lost members at implementation you find a higher number – 20%.

At announcement and implementation, the odds of holding steady (members gained + no change) are roughly 50/50 (46% & 49% respectively).

Correlations on attendance change at announcement

Attendance change at announcement correlated with…

  • How effective respondents rated the changes meeting their goals (-.399, .009 significance level). Negative correlation means as one goes up the other goes down. The more people they lost, the less effective they felt they met their goals.
  • How changes have been received by the congregation (congregational attitude at implementation) (-.324, .036 significance). The more people you lose, the worse the congregation received the changes. The more you gained, the better the congregation received the changes (again, as reported by mostly ministers and elders of the congregation…this is the perception, not an actual report by the members themselves). Congregational attitude is also positively correlated with years since the changes took place. The more years since the change the more positive the attitude and the less years since the change the less positive the attitude (.314, .014 significance).
  • Age of the congregation (.490, .002 significance). Older churches tended to lose more people and younger churches less.
  • Attendance changes and contribution changes were highly correlated – .790, .000 significance level) as would be expected.

Just as interesting as what is correlated is what is not correlated.

  • Length of study wasn’t correlated with attendance or contribution changes.
  • Length of time to make the changes was not correlated with reported congregational support

Contribution

Change in contribution from before making the changes to today

  • 43% – decrease in contribution
  • 29% – stayed the same
  • 28% – increase in contribution
  • Average change in contribution across all churches = 16% gain. Remember, the average on these churches was the last change was made 10 years ago.
  • Of congregations that lost contribution, the average loss was 24% from the start of the process to today.
  • Contribution per attendee increased after the changes. Which means attendance and contribution were related/correlated but contribution held up better than attendance. Those who remained on average gave more than before the changes were implemented. Contribution/attendee was $34.18 pre-announcement and $36.53 today. That is an increase of 6.88% in contribution/attendee.

This next stat fascinated me – attendance was better correlated with outcomes on congregational attitude and support than contribution was. In other words, losing people was a bigger deal than losing money.

Role of Scripture

To the best of your knowledge how central a role did scripture play in the decision?

  • 90% – Majorly emphasized

When asked what their goal was in making the changes, the number 1 answer was “faithfulness to scripture” (48%) followed by gifts and talents (34%).

Role of scripture correlated with a few things:

  • How positively changes were received by the congregation (more scriptural emphasis = more positive) – .258, .026 significance
  • How effective people thought the changes were – .246, .040 significance
  • General attitude of the congregation as well as the attitude of every individual age group as listed above

Miscellaneous

Has your level of support changed since changes were implemented?

  • 53% – More supportive
  • 39% – Stayed the same
  • 3% – Less supportive

Knowing what you know today, would you have done this if you had a “do over”?

  • 90% – Yes
  • 10% – No

How would you do things differently if you had to do it over again? (open ended question)

  • Nothing = 49%
  • Move faster = 26%
  • Move slower = 1%
  • More communication = 4%
  • Include more of the church = 6%

Has there been a change in volunteerism since the changes rolled out?

  • 68% – Increased participation
  • 28% – No change
  • 4% – Decreased participation

Have you seen a change in the number of visitors?

  • 51% – Increase
  • 45% – No change
  • 4% – Decrease

Have you seen a change in participation by the men?

  • 15% – Increase participation by the men
  • 79% – No change
  • 6% – Decreased participation by the men

Respondent’s age didn’t correlate with any of the outcome variables.

Gender didn’t have a “main effect” in any of the ANOVA (analysis of variance) I ran on the data. This means that gender didn’t seem to skew or affect any of the data, rather men and women reported things very similarly.

The groups that did differ significantly on their responses were those who were personally supportive vs not supportive on the changes. Those who were not supportive tended to report worse congregational outcomes than those who were supportive of the changes. That could be said just as well in the reverse. Those who were supportive of the changes tended to rank outcomes more positively than those who were not (F = 43.059, significance = .000).

The last nugget dug out of this data is just an interesting side note. I ran an ANOVA on role in the congregation to see if preachers and elders report things differently and there was no “main affect” of role in the congregation on the data. That means we have statistical proof that there is no such thing as “preacher count”!