Southern Baptist congregations have been found to outrank the churches of five mainline Protestant denominations in the quality of Christian education, according to a national study.
Members of the theologically conservative denomination also score highest in maturity of faith and in church loyalty, the study said.
The recently released findings came from a three-year research project conducted by the Search Institute, Minneapolis, and funded by the Lilly Endowment, Indianapolis.
Besides the Southern Baptists, the denominations involved in the study were the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A); United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.
Among the findings of the study, which surveyed the beliefs, attitudes, perspectives and behaviors of more than 11,000 members of 563 congregations, were that many of them have an under-developed or undeveloped Christian faith and that the quality of Christian education is poor at the local level.
Peter L. Benson, president of Search Institute and project director, said all six denominations did better on the vertical dimension of the Christian faith--a personal relationship with God--than on the horizontal dimension--service to others.
Fifty-two percent of mainline adults and 45% of Southern Baptist adults said they "never donated time to helping the poor, hungry, sick or those unable to help themselves." Little time was spent on social justice efforts.
Seventy-eight percent of the mainline adults and 83% of the Southern Baptists said they "never spent time promoting social justice."
One reason the horizontal dimension did not fare better in the findings, Benson suggested in an interview, is that "we live in a culture which is very self-oriented. Society emphasizes individualism, and the church is doing its work in a cultural context that in some ways discourages the horizontal dimension."
The study found that exposure to effective Christian education is strongly associated with both faith maturity and loyalty. "The more effective the Christian education program, the greater is faith maturity and loyalty," a report points out.
The analysts said 45% of Southern Baptists practiced a mature, integrated faith, compared to 34% each for Presbyterians and Methodists, the largest percentage among the mainline members surveyed.