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Benson L. Benson and Carolyn H. Eklin, Effective Christian Education Study: A National Study of Protestant Congregations, A Summary Report on Faith, Loyalty, and Congregational Life, Search Institute, Minneapolis; March 1999


This survey done in 1998 where 11,122 persons from 561 churches from six major denominations were surveyed regarding formal Christian education as one of the aspect of congregational life with respect to faith maturity in adults and youth and their loyalty to their congregation and denomination. This enormous project yielded some fascinating results about formal and informal Christian education in a congregation.

The overall spiritual health of those surveyed (youths and adults) were not very encouraging with only a minority that can be described to be in “developed faith’. The majority would be classified as in “undeveloped faith”.

The writers of the report declares, “Christian education in a majority of congregation is a tired enterprise in need of reform. Often, out-of-touch with adult and adolescent needs, it experiences increasing difficulty in finding and motivating volunteers, faces general disinterest among its “clients,” and employs models and procedures that have changed little over time.”

While this survey pointed to the failure of the Christian education program currently being practiced in these congregations, it also identified many ways in which Christian education can be improved. The survey called this Christian education effectiveness.


                                                                                                                                                                          Soli Deo Gloria




"We choose as one of our purposes. therefore, to look at formal Christian education as one of a number of aspects of congregational life, with the intent of evaluating its relative impact on the lives of adults and adolescent' p.2

"More than 11,000 individuals in 561 randomly chosen congregations provided in-depth, survey based data on faith, loyalty, religious biography, congregational life, and the dynamics of Christian educational programming" p.2

"(formal) Christian education includes Sunday school, church school, Bible studies, confirmation, camping, retreats, workshops, youth ministry and youth groups, children and adult choirs, auxiliaries for men and women, prayer groups, religious plays and dramas, Vacation Bible school, new member classes, and intergenerational or family events and programs" p.2-3


Eighteen Major Conclusions

" Taking Stock: Faith and Loyalty Among Adults

1. Only a minority of Protestant adults evidence the kind of integrated, vibrant, and life-encompassing faith congregations seek to develop. For most adults, faith is underdeveloped, lacking some of the key elements necessary for faith maturity.

2. Maturity of faith is strongly linked to age, increasing with each successive decade, nd is most likely to be found among those over 70.

3. In every age group from the 30's on,, women exhibit greater faith maturity than men.

4. While most adult report strong loyalty to their congregation and denomination, loyalty is less evident among those in the 20-39 and 40-59 age ranges than among those 60 or older.

Taking Stock: Faith and Loyalty Among Youth

5. A majority of adolescents fall into the faith type called "underdeveloped faith". Faith is least well formed among 9th grade and 10th grade boys.

[Boys appear to :backslide’ in the 9th and 19th grade…For girls, “backsliding”, though not as pronounced as for boys, occurs in the 11th and 12th grades p.23]

6. Less than two-thirds of adolescents express high denominational or congregational loyalty.

7. In each of the six denominations, a majority of adolescents evidence one or more at risk indicators (eg, chemical use, depression). Most youth report that congregational place little emphasis on chemical or sexuality education.

The Power of Christian Education

8. In examining the religious biographies of youth, the two experiences most associated with higher faith maturity are the level of family religiousness and the amount of exposure of Christian education.

9. In examining the religious biography of adults, one of the two lifetime experiences most associated with higher faith maturity is the amount of exposure to Christian education.

10. Regarding the impact of congregational life on faith maturity, the congregational factor most associated with helping people grow in faith maturity is the degree of effectiveness in Christian education programming. This finding is true for both of youth and adults.

11. Effectiveness in Christian education is also associated wit greater denominational and congregational loyalty.  This finding is true for both of youth and adults.

12. Effective Christian educational is an important for the faith development of adults as for is for youth.

13. Only about 3 out of 20 mainline Protestant high school students (grades 10-12) and adults are actively involve in Christian education. This finding, along with evidence of common biographical deficits in religious socialization, helps to explain the lack of faith maturity commonly found among adults and adolescents.

The Nature of Christian Educational Effectiveness

14. Effective education for you requires particular kinds of process, content, leadership, and administrative foundations.

15. Many of these effectiveness factors for youth are lacking in a large percentage of congregations.

16. As is the case for youth, effective education methods for adults requires a range of definable processes, content, and administrative ingredients.

17. Many of these effectiveness factors are for adults are lacking in a large percentage of congregations.

18. The more a congregations embodies these Christian effectiveness factors, the greater the growth in faith by youth and adults, and the greater loyalty to congregation and denomination." p.3-4


Project methods p.5-7

Churches involved

  • Christian Church(Disciples of Christ)
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Presbyterian church (USA)
  • Southern Baptist Convention
  • United Church of Christ’
  • United Methodist church


1988, in-depth surveys were done

  • Under supervision of a project director in each of 561 participating congregation.
  • Standardised procedure
  • Survey sessions one and a half to two and  two and a half hours in length.
  • Combined participation was 66 percent (493-750).
  • Overall 11,122 persons in 51 congregations participated.
  • Key constructs p.9
    • Maturity of faith-The degree in which persons exhibit a vibrant, life-transforming fait marked by both a deep, personal relationship to a loving God and a consistent devotion to serving others.
    • Growth in the maturity of faith-The degree to which persons report that their faith has growth in the last two or three years.
    • Denominational loyalty-The degree to which persons are committed to their denomination.
    • Congregational loyalty-The degree to which persons are committed to their congregation.


  • The nature of Mature faith p.10
    • Trusts in God’s saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
    • Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security and peace
    • Integrates faith and life, seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one’s religious life.
    • Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, and discussion with others.
    • Seeks to be part of a community of believers in which people give witness to their life and support and nourish one another.
    • Holds life-affirming values including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
    • Advocates social and global change to bring about a greater social justice.
    • Serves humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.
    • [ measured in index of 38 items p.71-77]


The Nature of Christian Education Effectiveness p.53-54

  • The effective factors are addictive. That is, the more a congregation has them in place in its adult or youth program, the greater the growth in faith maturity.
  • The effectiveness factors are associated with growth in faith maturity even though the average time adults and youth spend in formal Christian education programs and events is fairly minimal. Even when youth or adults spend as little as 15-20 hours per year in Christian education, exposure to effective programs produce greater faith growth than exposure to less effective programs.
  • Involvement in effective education has a benefit for adults as it does for adolescents, in part because faith development is best understood as a lifelong process.
  • For both adults and adolescents, effectiveness factors can be grouped into categories: teacher characteristics, pastor characteristics, educational process, educational content, peer interest in learning and goals/objectives. These categories are reminiscent of the effectiveness literature on academic learning. There, too, empirical findings sow that the same categories applies if we substitute “principal” for pastor.
  • For both adults and adolescents, effective Christian education programs are associated not only with greater faith maturity, but also with greater loyalty to congregation and denomination.
  • The importance of educational process, in tandem with educational content suggests that the effective program not only teaches in the classical sense of transmitting insight and knowledge, but allows insight to emerge from the crucible of experience. (Experience can be fostered by either reflection and interpretation of personal religious experience or involvement in the faith stories of others.) Both ways of learning are powerful, and the two combinations produce stronger growth in faith than either one alone.
  • Effective programs fro adults and adolescents include both strong pastoral leadership and pastoral involvement.
  • Effective programs for adults and adolescents require strong educational expertise on the part of teachers…
  • Effective content for both the adult and adolescent programs blends biblical knowledge and insight with significant engagement in the major life issues each age group faces. To a certain extent, these life issues have a value component in which one is called upon to make decisions. For adolescents, the issues include sexuality, chemical use, and friendship. For adults, they include global, political and social issues, and issues related to cultural diversity.
  • It is significant that in neither the adult nor adolescent lists of effectiveness is the quantity of programs visible. Though we looked hard at the issue of quantity, it does not appear to matter in any systematic way. This suggests that effective Christian education can be transmitted through a small number of programs and events, as long as, in combination, they have effective leadership, process and content. Accordingly, what matters is how things are done rather than numbers or range of programs. This finding should be especially encouraging to the small congregation.
  • Clear mission and clear learning objectives matter. They have power, in part, because the process of determining and evaluating them builds shared purpose and a sense of team.
  • And finally, for both adolescents and adults, the faith maturity of teachers matters. The greater the faith maturity of teachers, the greater the growth in faith maturity of participants,

“Christian education in a majority of congregation is a tired enterprise in need of reform. Often, out-of-touch with adult and adolescent needs, it experiences increasing difficulty in finding and motivating volunteers, faces general disinterest among its “clients,” and employs models and procedures that have changed little over time.”   P.58

Reflections on Change p.65-66

  • Those with the greatest faith maturity-ages 70 and older-are an underutilized resource who should be connected in a meaningful, relational way to children, adolescents and younger adults.
  • Given the power of family religiousness on the faith development of youth, priority should be given to the faith formation of parents and the teachings of faith development skills.
  • Given the importance of faith maturity for teachers, a major challenge is to pay significant attention to the faith formation of those who teach and lead.
  • The experience of serving others, though through acts of mercy, compassion, or the promotion of social justice, is an important influence on the deepening of faith.


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