The Foster Letter

Religious Market Update

The FOSTER Letter is a bi-weekly e-mail religious market intelligence report targeted to Christian market channel and ministry leaders.  Each issue reports on news, trends, events and research that will directly or indirectly impact your audiences and businesses in a convenient summary format  Better informed leaders make better choices!

Researched, Edited & Published by Gary D. Foster


Excerpts from the

October 25, 2016 edition of

The FOSTER Letter—Religious Market Update



Seeing Christians Live Out Faith can pique interest of unbelievers in listening to them. Specifically, the following good works can have an appeal: Treating others better 32%, Caring for people’s needs 31%, Being happier 26%, Standing up against injustice 24%, Solving community problems 22%, Solving personal problems 22%, Multiple races/ethnicities working together in a church 21% or none of these 29%. (Facts & Trends, Fall ’16)


The Growing Church in Iran Despite continued hostility from the late ’70s until now; Muslims of Iran have become the people most open to the gospel in the Middle East. In the face of persecution, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. In ’79, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands (some say more than 1 million). Last year Operation World named Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. Operation World also says the 2nd fastest growing church is in Afghanistan, and Afghans are being reached in part by Iranians, as their languages are similar. ( 10/7/16)


Growing Closer to God When presented with a list of 5 possible reasons for reading the Bible, 54% of teen Bible readers say they read Scripture because it brings them closer to God. 12% because of obligation/knowing you are sup-posed to, 8% in need for comfort, 6% when having a problem or needing direction and 10% are reading for school. 11% read for some other reason. (Barna Research 8/26/16)


American Confused on Theology 60% of Americans say everyone eventually goes to heaven, but half say only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. Even 64% of those with evangelical beliefs say heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones. 70% also say there’s only one true God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) while 64% say God accepts worship of all faiths. Many Americans seem to be confused about some of the details of their faith. 66% believe Jesus is God while half say Jesus is a being created by God. 54% of Americans overall say only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone receive eternal salvation. 74% of Americans disagree with the idea that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation. 58% of Americans say God is the author of the Bible. 52% say the Bible alone is the written Word of God. 64% say the biblical accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. Just 43%say the Bible is 100% accurate in all it teaches. 77% say people must contribute their own effort for personal salvation. 52% say good deeds help them earn a spot in heaven. 60% agree Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of their sin. (LifeWay Research 9/29/16)


Teens are Flocking to the Local Church when they feel the urge to volunteer finds a new Youth Specialties and Youth Works sponsored study. The most common forms of service for teens are those linked with church/ministry (42%). Followed closely are feeding the hungry/helping the homeless (35%), educational (31%), and environmental/ cleanup (28%). Others are volunteering with animals (20%), service trips (18%), social advocacy/political (11%), or medical or healthcare (10%). (Barna Group 9/2/16)


Fail Forward Fast is the slogan of O’Reilly Media. It underscores the need to “maximize learning relative to time and money -– make the big mistakes early on, when you have less invested,” in order to limit costly mistakes as the scale grows. This is edgy but apt counsel for most Christian ministries and businesses today. Let me help you apply this to your organization. or, 419-238-4082. (Publishing Perspectives 5/11/11)


Teens Are Volunteers A new Barna study shows teens are actively engaged in service and volunteer projects and youth ministry is a primary channel through which they serve. Volunteer and service projects are a foundational element of church youth ministry programs across the U.S. According to their parents, 68% of teens are fairly active when it comes to volunteering at least once every few months. 17% volunteer once a week, 25% at least once a month, 26% once every few months, and 32% less often. (Barna Group 9/2/16)


The Church in America Overall, the Church’s influence on Americans is beginning to fade. A growing number of Americans have given up on God—or at least on organized religion. They have become “Nones.” Pew’s ‛07 Religious Landscape study found about 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation vs. 23% in ‛15. Gallup studies say in 1967 about 2% of Americans claimed no religious preference compared with 16% in‛14. In ‛07, Pew found about 80% of Americans identified as Christians vs. 70% ‛14. Pew also found that less than half of Americans (46.5%) now identify as Protestants for the first time in American history. In 1940, 37% of Americans said, “yes,” when asked by Gallup if they had been to church within the last week vs. 36% in ‛14. Over the past 40 years, the share of Americans who regularly attends a Protestant church has only declined from 23% to 20%. More than 138 million Americans (or 44% of the population) belong to a congregation. (The Exchange 9/13/16)


Puddle, Swamp, Ocean, or Well? When you’re thinking about developing a new product or ministry, it’s essential that you find out 2 things: 1) How widespread is the public’s interest in it? 2) How deep is that interest? If interest is not widespread and not very deep, you’re looking at a puddle. Never invest time or money in a puddle. If interest is widespread but not very deep, you’re looking at a swamp. Be careful of swamps. They look like oceans at first, because everyone is interested. Many have gone broke when what looked like a swamp turned out to be an ocean. If interest is wide and deep, you’re looking at an ocean. But you’re going to need a platform on which to navigate your ocean. If you don’t have a platform, you’ll drown. And you’re going to need a plan or you’ll drift. If public interest is narrow but deep, you’ve got a well. Don’t underestimate it. You can draw a lot of water from a well. Are you in a puddle, a swamp, an ocean, or a well? I can objectively help you find out. Contact me at 419-238-4082, or (Monday Morning Memo 7/9/07)


They No Longer Believe Nones now make up 25% of the American population, making them the single largest “faith group” in the U.S., ahead of Catholics (21%) and white evangelicals (16%). And just 7% say they are looking for a religion to belong to at all, finds a new Public Religion Research Institute study of the religiously unaffiliated. Only 18% of nones say “religion is important in their lives,” and only 40% say they are “moderately spiritual” while 53% describe themselves as neither religious nor spiritual. 60% said they simply “stopped believing” in their childhood religion, while 32% cited their family’s lack of religious commitment. 29% said negative religious teachings about gays and lesbians influenced leaving their childhood religion, and 19% cited the clergy sex-abuse crisis. 22% of nones say God is a “person,” while 37% see God as “an impersonal force.” 20% say a belief in God is “necessary” to morality. Yet, while only 20% of all nones say morality is fostered by belief in God, 33% believe children should be raised in a religion to learn “good values.” And while 33% say they do not believe in God, only 13% accept the label “atheist.” (Exodus: Why Americans Are Leaving Religion—and Why They Are Unlikely to Come Back, PRRI & RNS 2016)


American Views on Sin 49% of Americans say sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. 44% say it’s not a sin and 7% aren’t sure. Of Americans say abortion is a sin, 40% say it’s not and 11% aren’t sure. 38% of Americans say gender identity is a matter of choice. 51% disagree and 11% aren’t sure.  42% of Americans say the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today. 44% disagree and 14% aren’t sure. (LifeWay Research 9/29/16)


Can God Heal People Supernaturally? 66% of U.S. adults believe people can be physically healed supernaturally by God find new Barna Group research. Evangelicals are the most likely of any group to believe with 87% agreeing strongly as well as 61% of practicing Christians. So do 55% of Protestants and just 19% of Catholics. 68% of U.S. adults have personally prayed for someone to be healed supernaturally by God. A surprising 27% have actually experienced a physical healing that could only be explained as a miraculous healing and not solely as a result of normal process, medical procedure or the body healing itself. (Barna Group, 9/29/16)


Reality Check Former CBA CEO Bill Anderson states, “It starts with the customer (or constituent). It ends with the customer (or constituent).  The fact is, our competitors don’t put us out of business; our customers (or constituents) do. And they do it when we give them permission by not being their best preferred option.” Let me help make sure you are not inadvertently giving your customers or constituents permission to put you out of business or ministry. Contact 419-238-4082, or Resources+Retailers 1/08)


Moral Therapeutic Deism In the U.S., the encounter of religion with secularism has been overtaken by the encounter of both with American consumerism. “Consumerism,” says Pacific Council on Int’l Policy’s Jack Miles, “is as subversive of, and yet as compatible with, secularism as it is with religion.” This seems a plausible explanation for the predominant “faith” that Christian Smith and Melinda Denton encountered in their study of youth and religion, which they named “moral therapeutic deism.” They summarize it as follows. (1) Moral: “Central to living a good, happy life is being a good moral person. That means being nice, kind, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” (2) Therapeutic: “What appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teens is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.” (3) Deism: “God exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but is not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs—especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.” Smith and Denton posit Moral Therapeutic Deism is a “faith” that the youth they interviewed learned from their parents and adults in the congregations where they grew up.  (Countering Commodification: A Review of Recent Research and Writings On Youth, Young Adults and Religion by Anabel C. Proffitt, Lancaster Theological Seminary)


Student Loan Debt could end up costing higher education in the U.S. for a long time. Findings from The 2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College & University Admissions Directors say 72% of Directors admit their institution is losing potential applicants due to applicants’ concerns about accumulating student loan debt. More than 7 in 10 recent 4-year college grads have student debt. The nearly $1.3 trillion in outstanding student debt is shared across 43 million borrowers and exceeds credit card and auto loan debt in the U.S. The average grad debt load is over $30,000, triple the early ’90s. While the total average borrowed for a bachelor’s degree has skyrocketed, the average family income has not. Family incomes have been flat since 2000, and many are struggling economically. So, while grads may have a higher chance of avoiding unemployment and getting a better-paying job than their peers who don’t have a degree or certificate, they can expect to pay higher tuition and pay for it longer than previous generations. Also, for some jobs, such as teaching, they can’t expect much higher wages than earlier generations. Top of Form(Gallup 10/6/16)


“Value” of Faith We should know if the decline in religion is likely to have negative economic consequences. To find out, Georgetown Univ.’s Brian Grim and Newseum Institute’s Melissa Grim calculated estimates of religion’s socio-economic value to the U.S. They found religion is good for the economy. It is a $378 billion to $4.8 trillion boost to the US economy. That is more than the global revenue of Apple and Microsoft combined. At the high end, religion makes roughly the same amount as a 3rd of the nation’s GDP. The revenues of faith-based organizations include education, healthcare, local congregational activities, charities, media, and food. Health care systems alone raise about $161 billion a year. Congregations generate $84 billion. Religious elementary, high schools and colleges pull in $74 billion, while charities bring in more than $45 billion. The money provides salaries for religious teachers, doctors, and pastors. It also pays for food assistance programs, parenting classes, alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs, youth camps, assistance for the unemployed, and classes on money management. 50% of churches allow their building to be used for non-congregational purposes and 48% have groups who seek to meet community needs. Churches encourage invest-ment in family and children; stimulate local economies by buying goods and services; provide a place to host weddings, funerals, or large community events; run schools or day cares; provide outdoor space for leisure activities; and augment social services; a value of $418.9 billion. Businesses with overt religious ties pull in $422 billion each year. (Gleanings 9/14/16)


Americans Give to Churches more than any nonprofit organization. 54% have given money to a church in the past year vs. 22% that have given to a nonprofit other than a church. 24% have given to neither. 94% of practicing Christians have given to a church vs. 23% of atheists or agnostics. (Barna 9/15/16)



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