Reformed Resurgence

A new study from the Barna Group explores the growth of “New Calvinism” and finds that despite the growing networks and associations of Reformed and Calvinisitic churches, the same percentage of pastors today identify their churches as “Calvinist or Reformed” as ten years ago.

For the past decade, the Barna Group has been tracking the percentage of Protestant pastors who identify their church as “Calvinist or Reformed.” Currently, about three out of every 10 Protestant leaders say this phrase accurately describes their church (31%). This proportion is statistically unchanged from a decade ago (32%). In fact, an examination of a series of studies among active clergy during the past decade indicates that the proportion that embraces the Reformed label has remained flat over the last 10 years.

Pastors who embrace the term “Wesleyan or Arminian” currently account for 32% of the Protestant church landscape – the same as those who claim to be Reformed. The proportion of Wesleyan/Arminian pastors is down slightly from 37% in 2000. There has been less consistency related to this label during the past decade, with the tracking figures ranging from a low of 26% to a high of 37%.

Their study also showed that pastors 65 years and older were least likely to describe themselves with Reformed (26%) or Arminian (27%) labels, while the Boomer Generation were evenly split between the theological systems (34% Reformed, 33% Arminian). Among the youngest generation of pastors surveyed, 29% described themselves as Reformed, and 34% as Wesleyan.

Regionally, Reformed churches were most common in the Northeast, while least common in the Midwest. Wesleyan/Arminian congregations were equally likely to appear in each of the four regions.

Here’s the conclusion David Kinnaman, director of the study, came to. “[T]here is no discernable [sic] evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade. Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events, and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most of today’s church leaders.”

Here is my thought. Most evangelicals underestimate the number of churches and the diversity of churches in the United States. For example, there are 10,000 ELCA (mainline Lutheran) churches in the United States, and they are part of any Protestant sample.

The fact that 7000 Calvinists can meet in Louisville, and many of those same Calvinists show up at many other conferences, does not make as big a dent in the 300,000+ churches in the United States.

All that to say, I think there IS a resurgence of Calvinism, but since it is younger and a subset of a very large pool of pastors (for polling purposes), it is not evident via the research.

Head over to the Barna Group to read the article, and come back here to discuss. What do you think of the research? Does it reflect what you are finding in your context?

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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