SCOTTSDALE, Az. -- The United States is comprised of dozens of population segments that overlap, each of which is influenced by culture differently – and responds uniquely. Understanding how each segment understands, interprets, and responds to cultural stimuli provides organizations, institutions, and even individuals an opportunity to have greater influence for the common good.
Based on a two dimensional nationwide survey of adults conducted by The Presidential Prayer Team, new insights into some of the more traditional population segments of the general public have surfaced. While the survey shows that almost half of Americans in the general public pray on a daily basis (45%) and seven out of ten pray each week, there is indisputably a wide range of prayer engagement. When it comes to praying every day, SAGE Cons (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians) top the list with three-quarters (76%) praying daily and spiritual Skeptics are at the other end of the continuum (just 9% pray daily). The same groups were at the top and bottom of the list in praying at least weekly: 97% of SAGE Cons do so compared to only 18% of Skeptics.
Generations Approach Faith Differently
A half-century ago Baby Boomers shook the foundations of the nation by expressing and energetically pursuing a radically different view of life. They proposed seminal changes to the political, economic, educational, and religious systems of the United States. Over the course of time, the beliefs and behaviors of Boomers shifted substantially – to the point where Boomers these days represent the last line of defense for some of the more traditional social, political, economic, and spiritual views of their forefathers.
Millennials have reinvigorated the spirit of young Boomers, challenging virtually everything in their path. Their quest for a new America is reflected in recent data from the American Worldview Inventory 2020, a nationwide study conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, which has shown that Millennials are the generation least likely to possess a biblical worldview (just 2% have one). They have new ideas about humanity, faith, and purpose. The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT) survey of the general public describes how various elements of the spiritual life of the youngest adult generation differ dramatically from those of older adults.
Here are some of the most noteworthy differences of Millennials in the general public. They are the least likely to:
- believe that God is a personal being
- believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful and just Creator who rules the universe
- claim to have a close, intimate relationship with God
- have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior
- believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God
- believe that the Bible is true, trustworthy, and reliable
- believe that the Bible is the only authoritative word of God
- believe that the Bible is the ultimate and final moral authority
- believe that the Bible is relevant to life these days
- pray to God – on either a daily or weekly basis
- believe that God hears and answers all prayers
- view prayer as a way of communicating with God
- contend that God transforms people's lives through prayer
- consider prayer to be central to having a relationship with God
- believe that prayer is useful to help cope with challenging situations; provide hope during difficult times; reduce personal anxiety; or influence God's actions
The role of prayer in the lives of Millennials in the general public can only be described as minimal. Not only are they the generation least likely to believe in or engage in prayer, but the survey data show that a minority of them embrace a traditional Christian position on prayer. The same can be said about the Millennial relationship with the Bible: they are not simply the age group least likely to believe in it and use it, but a minority proportion of Millennials consider the Bible to be a meaningful tool in their life.
Gender and Prayer
For decades research has shown, based on multiple and diverse indicators, that women have been more spiritually inclined than men. Their beliefs tended to be more biblically-aligned and their religious behavior was more frequent and consistent.
The Presidential Prayer Team survey of the general public indicates that portions of the gender gap are closing.
While there are areas of religious belief and practice in which women continue to outshine men – for instance, they are still more likely to be born again (i.e., 40% of women, 29% of men) – the religious beliefs and behaviors of women are now more similar to those of men than at any time in the past four decades.
There are still some noteworthy differences in place. The Presidential Prayer Team survey of the general public indicated that men were more likely than women to:
- believe that churches are insufficiently focused on teaching the Bible
- contend that the holy books of other religions are just as reliable as the Bible
- say that a person can be moral without following the principles of the Bible
- spend time reading religious books (other than the Bible) during the week
- personally invest their resources in helping needy people
- be more open to sharing their faith in Christ with those who believe differently
The faith dimension in which women seem most distinct from men is prayer. The PPT survey showed that women are somewhat more likely to pray to God on a daily basis (but similar to men if measuring prayer on a weekly basis).
Women are more likely to believe that God hears and answers all prayers, by a 48% to 30% margin. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to believe that while God hears all prayers, He is likely to answer only if the praying individual is deeply committed to God, or to believe that God will implement His will regardless of the prayer (37% versus 27%).
Women more frequently identify with an array of motivations to pray. For instance, they are more likely to say that they pray because prayer helps them cope with challenging situations (61% of women versus 49% of men claimed that motivation); prayer gives them hope of a positive resolution (56% versus 49%, respectively); it is one of their ways of communicating with God (68% versus 59%); it reduces their anxiety or concern (56% versus 42%); it is central to their relationship with God (61% versus 52%); and it is a way they can worship God (61% versus 53%).
In fact, while a majority of women embraced six of the eight prayer motivations evaluated, a majority of men related to just three of those eight possibilities (prayer as facilitating their communication with God, their relationship with him, and their ability to worship Him).
Another significant difference between men and women in prayer motivations is that men are less likely to believe that praying changes them in the process.
How men and women pray also show some distinctions. Men emerged as the gender more likely to pray for the president (50% of men do so each week, compared to 41% of women); other government officials (51% versus 41%, respectively); personnel in the military or armed forces (57% vs. 49%); and for the people with whom they disagree on important social or cultural matters (49% versus 38%). Women were more likely to pray for the country, in general (60% versus 51%) but were consistently less focused on praying for social and political leaders.
Race and Ethnicity Raises Distinctions
Surveys consistently identify blacks as the racial or ethnic segment most locked in to spiritual matters. The PPT survey reflected that pattern, as well. When compared to whites and Hispanics, blacks were the segment most likely to qualify as born again (43%); deeply committed to practicing their religious faith (68%); and having a biblical view of the nature of God. They were also the group most likely to describe the Bible as the only true and authoritative word of God (62%).
In synch with those views, blacks were the group least likely to complain that it is hard to obey the Bible because it is open to interpretation (just 34%). Further support for the Bible was seen in their standing as the group least likely to say that a person can be moral without following the principles taught in the Bible (50% accepted that claim).
Blacks were also the racial or ethnic group most likely to pray to God every day – nearly 50% more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to do so. They were the segment most likely to pray for the people they disagreed with on important matters. They were also the most likely to be motivated to pray by the belief that prayer produces the hope of a positive resolution; of helping them to cope with difficult situations; experiencing transformation through their prayers; believing that their prayers influence God; and praying as both a means of communicating with, as well as worshiping, God.
Hispanics distinguished themselves from whites and blacks by being the segment least likely to:
- describe themselves as Christian (just 65% did so, compared to 74% of whites and blacks)
- qualify as born again (i.e., believe that they will live with God in Heaven forever solely because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior)
- believe in the existence of absolute moral truth (seven out of ten said there is no such thing)
- contend that you can be moral without following biblical principles
- perceive God to be the omniscient, omnipotent and just Creator and Ruler of the universe
The prayer life of Hispanic adults in the general public appears to be less robust than that of whites and blacks. Overall, Hispanics were the racial/ethnic group least likely to pray each day (only 38% claimed to do so, compared to 57% among blacks and 44% of whites). Hispanics were also the least likely of these segments to view prayer as a way of coping with difficult situations or as a way to worship God. They were also least likely to believe that God answers prayers.
The Protestant-Catholic Divide
Catholics belong to the single, largest Christian denomination in the nation, although the number of adults aligned with any one of the 200-plus Protestant denominations dwarfs the magnitude of the American Catholic community by about a two-to-one margin. While roughly one-quarter of the adult population claims to be Catholic, just under half of U.S. adults are Christians associated with some type of Protestant congregation.
When comparing the spiritual profile of the two church families in the general public – Catholics and Protestants – some clear distinctions were present.
Catholics in the general public were clearly less enamored by the Bible. They were less likely to view the Bible as relevant to the way we live today; as the inspired word of God; as true and accurate in its teachings; and as the only true and authoritative word of God. They were also more likely than Protestants to say the Bible is hard to obey because it is open to interpretation; that the holy books of other faiths are just as reliable as the Bible; and that a person can be moral without following biblical principles.
When it comes to prayer, Protestants in the general public were more engaged in and supportive of the practice. Protestant adults were more likely to pray on a daily basis (59% of Protestants compared to 46% of Catholics). They were far more likely to believe that God hears and answers all prayers (54% versus 41%, respectively).
A majority of both Catholics and Protestants pray for multiple reasons, but several of the motivations examined were significantly more common among Protestants. Those motivations included the belief that prayer helps them cope with difficult situations (accurate for 64% of Protestants vs. 52% of Catholics); that prayers provide the hope of a positive resolution (61% to 51%, respectively); because praying is a way to communicate with God (72% vs. 61%); praying is central to their relationship with God (66% vs. 56%); and it is a way of worshiping God (68% vs. 54%).
Among the motivations that most Protestants acknowledge, but a majority of Catholics do not, are that praying reduces their anxiety or concern (55% of Protestants compared to 40% of Catholics) and that it is one of the ways by which God transforms us (54% vs. 39%).
Catholics were twice as likely as Protestants to say that they pray because it is something they have always done (49% compared to 25%).
Protestants in the general public were the group more likely to consistently pray for the president (53% of Protestants and 42% of Catholics do so every week), for the nation (66% versus 60%, respectively), and for people with whom they have important disagreements (48% versus 40%).
Both faith families reported similar proportions who pray each week for government officials and for the military.
The Effect of Children
Observers have long held that the presence of children in a home changes the spiritual dynamics in the life of the parents as well as within their home environment.
The Presidential Prayer Team survey of the general public identified some of the differences in households based on the presence or absence of children under the age of 18. The average age of parents in homes with children was considerably younger than that of adults in childless homes (the median among parents was 38 years of age, the median among non-parents was 54); better educated (half of those with children in the home had a college degree compared to just one-third of the adults without children); and parents of children under 18 had much higher household income levels as well.
Unfortunately, the parents of children under 18 are less likely than adults without young children to believe that there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. Seven out of ten those parents (69%) reject the existence of absolute moral truth, compared to 57% among the adults without children currently in their home. The parents are also less likely to have a biblical view of the nature of God and to believe that even though people have free will God retains complete control of His creation.
Despite those inconsistencies with biblical teaching, the parental group has a more traditional Christian viewpoint on several other important matters. They are more likely to claim to be deeply committed to their religious faith, to read religious books (other than the Bible), to help the needy, and to discuss their religious beliefs with those who believe differently.
Parents in the general public showed their higher degree of esteem for the Bible by being more likely than adults without young children to contend that the Bible is the only true and authoritative word of God (60% hold that view compared to 50% of their counterparts). They are also more likely to believe that the Bible is the ultimate and final moral authority (58% compared to 44%, respectively). It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that parents of children under 18 are more troubled by the fact that churches are not sufficiently focused on teaching biblical content (49% versus 39%).
Although the frequency of praying and the motivations for prayer were similar between the parent and non-parent segments, the people for whom they pray were notably divergent. Parents of young children were much more inclusive in their prayers, emerging as the segment more likely to pray for the president, the military, other government officials, the nation at-large, and people with whom they disagree on important matters.
Parents of young children were also significantly more likely to claim that they were praying "a lot more" as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.
Reaching the Next Generation
James Bolthouse, the president of The Presidential Prayer Team, said that, as a result of the study, "We see an opportunity for greater outreach to population segments, including parents of young children, as we encourage people of faith to pray for the nation's leaders and for America at large."
About the Research
The research was developed and implemented for PPT by George Barna, Director of Research of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The survey was conducted among a nationwide sample of 1,000 adults associated with an online survey panel managed by Braun Research. The data were collected in April 2020. The demographic profile of the survey respondents reflects that of the adult population of the U.S., as determined by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
The two-dimensional study was commissioned by The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT), a non-partisan, non-profit organization based in Scottsdale as part of Pray The Vote.
The second and much larger study - yet forthcoming - will be an inward dimension. The focus will be on a larger segment of prayer team membership in order to learn ways to better encourage their members, provide helpful prayer resources, and to improve their prayer life during the upcoming election season and into the future.
Since its inception in 2001, The Presidential Prayer Team has become the nation's largest intercessory prayer movement. Regardless of party politics and ideology, The Presidential Prayer Team is dedicated to encouraging and facilitating prayer for the nation's president, political leaders, and military leaders. It seeks to ignite a lifestyle characterized by robust prayer based on its belief that prayer will transform the nation, one heart at a time.