Poll: Making disciples tops United Methodists’ priorities; sexuality ranks low

UMC_Logo-01NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A new poll of United Methodists in the United States shows that issues related to human sexuality rank significantly lower than other concerns, and members want the church to engage on this issue and bring a positive perspective to the discussion.

Creating disciples of Christ, spiritual growth and youth involvement are among the top priorities for U.S. church members, according to the survey, commissioned by United Methodist Communications. The research is based on a May 30-June 1 survey of United Methodist members in the United States. The research was conducted by Corporate Research of Greensboro, N.C., and Research Now of Dallas. It had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

“We found that regardless of a person’s position on homosexuality, members felt strongly that the church could offer a positive and different voice to the broader conversation occurring in society today,” said John Deuterman, president of Corporate Research. “They overwhelmingly reject the idea that the disagreements over this issue were justification for splitting the church.”

Seventy-six percent of members said the church “should engage and bring positive perspective” to society’s discussion of issues related to sexuality.

More than 90 percent of respondents said The United Methodist Church should not split over issues related to human sexuality. Sixty-three percent said the issue of sexual orientation and same-gender marriage is “diverting the church from more important things.” They ranked it 8th in importance among issues facing the church today.

The most important issues, according to members, are creating disciples of Christ (39 percent of respondents ranked it as first or second in importance); youth involvement (27 percent); members’ spiritual growth (24 percent); decline in membership (19 percent); poverty (17 percent); children at risk (17 percent); and social injustice (16 percent). Sexual orientation and same-gender marriage drew 11 percent.

“This poll shows what really matters to the members of The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications. “It also clarifies that the people in the pews are more concerned about faithful living and changing lives for Christ than they are about some of the other issues that we hear so much about.”

The poll is helpful as The United Methodist Church looks ahead to its legislative assembly in 2016, Hollon said. “As the church wrestles with issues related to human sexuality leading up to 2016, this is a hopeful reminder that our connection is strong and that people in the pews are neither ignoring this discussion nor letting it distract from our effort to answer Christ’s call.”

UMReporter Staff

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  1. Though all polls are transient and should be taken with a grain of salt, this is not particularly surprising, but it does underscore further disappointment with liberal UMC leaders who seem intent on making sexuality a primary focal point.

    • Statistically speaking, I think the 4% Matgen error is very high. It seems that there are variables that underlie ekl feel of participants. On the other hand, the priorities are shown in the basics of Christian faith, but this is too abstract for the other side and show some attitude toward conformity, not toward awareness of urgent social problems. In fact, the search work against social injustice, tolerance of diversity and the pursuit of improving the conditions of poverty were forgotten when, according to the Gospel, these issues were priority attention in the ministry of Jesus. That’s my opinion.
      Rev. Osvaldo Colon – Puerto Rico

    • Mark,

      The liberals didn’t call for schism over the issue. I think the respondents are directing at least some of their disappointment at someone else right now.

      • Phil, the respondents are directing disappointment, I believe, at the whole controversy; but, if you are correct, I would suggest AT WHOM THE’VE BEEN TOLD are the rabble-rousers. The reason I say that is that most of the respondents have likely not been following this issue closely until lately, when most reports suggest that schism has been initiated by orthodox/conservative clergy (the UM Reporter referred to them as a”gang”).

        Please understand that the suggestion that an amicable separation may be the best option represents a response to the covenant-breaking of others, not an independent action of itself.

      • No, the liberals didn’t call for schism, they just CREATED it by disobeying the Book of Discipline and the Bible.

  2. Shepherd mama says:

    How many respondents participated?

  3. What’s most interesting is the poll itself — and the conclusions being drawn by the General agency that commissioned it so quickly upon the heels of a call for a split within the denomination.

    Did the poll ask respondents whether they view homosexuality as a sin? Whether they view The Bible as the authoritative Word of God? Whether they approve of bishops and pastors who purposefully violate the letter or the spirit of the Book of Discipline? When viewed as an isolated question, outside the context of issues that are driving the call for the split, it’s not surprising that people don’t view homosexuality as a high-priority issue.

    Most people in the pews are clueless about the issues currently being debated so hotly. Once they become more informed, poll results will change dramatically.

    I doubt this was an unbiased poll, and UMCOM certainly is not a disinterested party. If the split takes place, the General boards and agencies will be the first to feel its impact.

    • Lawrence Kreh says:

      I agree that the structure of the poll, the bias of those creating and administering the poll, and the implications and questions left unsaid is far from the standards of objective research.

  4. It is a very simple fix. What does the bible say?

  5. Kent Little says:

    Though I was screened out as a clergy I did respond to this poll. I thought the questions were good and provided opportunity to collect opinion from across our denomination. I am interested though as to the very small sampling taken. Only a two day poll and 509 respondents counted for a membership of 12.5 million does not seem like a very large sampling to be held out as a fair representation of the entire will and opinion of our denomination.

  6. bill krill says:

    Even more proof that the crisis is in the pastorate, not the membership. How I grieve for the church, pastors who are whitewashed tombs, out of touch with the people.

  7. The book of James needs to be studied with vigor.

  8. Can you tell us how many people responded? Standard polling results include that number. Also were the respondonts from across the United States or clustered in certain conferences? It will be interesting to view these poll results with the actions of our general conferences.
    I tried to respond to the poll but did so too late as it was already closed.

  9. Kris Wise says:

    I’d like to see the actual questions and poll. What were the specific questions? Human Sexuality isn’t the most important issue of the UMC but its the one we most need to discuss and come to an understanding on. Until we see the full poll I’m skeptical on what this data actually means.

  10. The survey did not ask questions specifically of the type Dave Hurst asked above. Moreover, the survey did not clearly ask whether the church should split over this issue. There was a question that I believe was intended to capture that idea (and probably the one which the report refers to), but the way the response options were structured, it would be inaccurate to draw much inference about splitting. The “split the church” response was very absolute and set against an option that recognized the struggle people have with the need to split–but not that they would necessarily oppose it.

    As someone who does work in survey design and analysis, it’s pretty obvious this one was put together with great haste and not sufficient thought to make the kind of strong conclusions reported above. It would be helpful if there was a link to the survey results themselves.

  11. Elaine T. says:

    Think! Why do you hire a company to conduct a survey.? You are looking for a desired result. Now if you are being hired what do you do? Why of course, you phrase the questions to achieve the desired result your client wants. They would have gotten a truer picture of where the people in the pew are if they had asked the questions that Dave suggested.

  12. Can a link be provided of the actual survey study? I would like to know how many people were surveyed, from where, and the questions that were asked? Mr. Dave makes good points, it is the foundational issues that drive perceptions and opinions that should be polled. Those would be long questions in a survey though, which is not ideal.

  13. could others see the poll questions and the result?

  14. Anne Carey says:

    What’s really disappointing about these results is the relative position of matters like poverty, children, and injustice. When I read the gospels, I don’t find Jesus being so concerned about “making disciples” (code for church growth) or “youth involvement” (ditto). I do find him being much more concerned about the poor, the sick, and those who are excluded. Makes me wonder if I really want to continue my affiliation with United Methodism.

  15. Would it be possible to post or send exactly how these questions were asked? I see these kinds of polls (not just from the UMR but Gallup etc.) but have neve been personally called and don’t ever know anyone who has been called. I would like to unoffically be able to answer them as if I had been contacted. Thanks so much.

  16. Creating disciples, youth involvement, and declining membership are the top three concerns. How can the United Methodist Church expect to create disciples when much of the declining membership is due to young people leaving the church over the treatment of LGBT people. I don’t have to look too far from home; my daughter quit attending church when she saw how the United Methodist Church chose to treat me because I am gay (and she let our bishop know this when the bishop tried to stop the Holy Ceremony that my husband I had last year). Young people do not want to be a disciple to a perception of Christ as one who does not embrace his creation…all of it.

    United Methodists and especially those of the conservative faction can pretend that the issue of LGBT equality is not important, but they do so at their own peril.

    • Elaine T. says:

      My daughters were born, raised and married in the UMC. Today they would never consider belonging to an UMC congregation. They are all active in very large congregations of other denominations that have significant numbers of young people in them. ( My estimate would be that 60-75% of their attenders are under the age of 50.) I would guess that our UMC has those number in the reverse) Why wouldn’t they consider the UMC? They see how God created the concept of marriage between a man and woman in the creation story That model is illustrated throughout the whole Bible. It’s like God puts the bow on the whole package when He sums it up in describing The Marriage of the Lamb where Christ is the groom and the church is the bride. What you don’t hear much about is what you find smack in the middle of the Bible . There is a whole book devoted to how God values the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. It is the plan that God introduces, illustrates, and glorifies from Genesis to Revelation.

      • Very good comments, Elaine. Those who want to talk about the “few verses” that discuss sexuality are missing the big picture. Go all the way back to Genesis. A major theme of the entire Bible that emanates forward is the problems occurring when there is a breach in the man/woman relationship, which is the focus of procreation for a creating God. Redefining this relationship is a much deeper issue spiritually than is commonly appreciated.

  17. The 11% who do think same sex issues are important are enough to bring The UMC to its knees. And the other 89% are content to allow them to do so.

    • William says:

      To make disciple of Jesus Christ for the TRANSFORMATION of the world — we proclaim. But, the progressives seem to want to transform Jesus to the world. If it is for the transformation of the world, then why are we so bogged down with sexual immorality? Could be that progressives are capitulating to the world a sin of sexual immorality so as get themselves off the hook by having a denomination endorse their sin — thus it’s been voted out as a sin by the sheer numbers of a mainline church.

  18. I took the poll, and the questions were biased and fixed to get this result. Of course everyone on both sides thinks making disciples is a higher priority than sexuality, but that doesn’t mean one opposes schism if gay marriage / ordination continues. Even the ones sent the poll were carefully hand picked. It was dishonest and misleading.

  19. I wish someone had told me about the poll. The best kept secret in our Denomination until the results came out. The bigger issue in the UMC didn’t seem to even be on the list – The Authority of Scripture vs Culture.

  20. This so-called poll is totally bogus, it was quickly created and published to justify the “progressive” viewpoint prior to conferences this month. And the results in NO WAY represent what I and most of my Georgia UMC friends believe. The poll was not sent to all UMC members — only those who go to the UMC website saw it, a very small minority of Methodists. The clergy may be leaning toward unity and acceptance of gay marriage, but believe me, we in the pews do NOT approve. If the Conference votes to allow gay clergy and same-sex marriage, people will leave the UMC in droves, so the clergy better be prepared for that. For a more accurate response to those issues, send the poll out to all churches and their entire congregations! In my opinion, a split is inevitable.

  21. Yesterday I submitted a comment critical of this poll. Why doesn’t it appear? Are you censoring comments to show only the positive ones?

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)


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