Survey: Doctrine remains a struggle in churches

While many Christians have a grasp of important doctrinal positions, some churchgoers struggle with basic truths about salvation, the Bible and the nature of God.

A LifeWay Research study on “Doctrinal Positions,” released April 5, shows 81 percent of churchgoers agree, in regard to salvation, that “when you die, you will go to heaven because you have confessed your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.”

Yet 26 percent of churchgoers concurrently believe that “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity,” while 57 percent disagree.

“Consumers in America are accustomed to having endless combinations of choices for every want in life,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “Biblical truth is radical because it teaches that eternal life is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ alone.”

Other responses regarding beliefs about life after death include:

– “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have tried your best to be a good person and live a good life” (selected by 7 percent of churchgoers).

– “You have no way of knowing what will happen when you die” (5 percent of churchgoers).

– “When you die, you will go to heaven because God loves everyone and we will all be in heaven with Him” (4 percent).

– “When you die, you will go to heaven because you have read the Bible, been involved in church, and tried to live as God wants you to live” (2 percent).

– “There is no life after death” (1 percent).

The survey also reveals that churchgoers strongly hold to the accuracy of the Scriptures, with 82 percent agreeing that “the Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches.” Ten percent disagree, and 8 percent neither agree nor disagree.

While the majority of churchgoers (75 percent) strongly regard the God of the Bible as not the same god worshipped in other world religions, 13 percent say the God of the Bible is no different from the gods or spiritual beings depicted by world religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Another 12 percent neither agree nor disagree with the uniqueness of the God of the Bible.

The study also shows nearly two-thirds (71 percent) agree with the statement: “God is just and sin has to be punished.” However, 13 percent of churchgoers disagree, and 16 percent neither agree nor disagree with the statement.

The research found that churchgoers responded better to the questions when engaged in activities including reading the Bible, participating in small groups or classes such as Sunday school, reading a book about what’s in the Bible, confessing sins to God and asking for forgiveness, or going through a class or training group for new believers.

“If churches stopped to assess their congregation on these biblical truths, many would be surprised to find out how many are struggling with basic doctrinal issues,” Stetzer said.

“Every church has a different mix of mature disciples and spiritual infants who still need a diet of the basic gospel message,” he noted. “A discipleship process must help every person take the next step in his or her spiritual journey. Too many churchgoers are stuck on square one.”

The findings on doctrinal convictions are part of LifeWay Research’s Transformational Discipleship Assessment, the largest research project of its kind, on the Web at

Methodology: The survey of 2,930 American adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more was conducted Oct. 14-22, 2011. A demographically balanced online panel was used for the interviewing. Respondents could respond in English, Spanish or French. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 1.8 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. – LifeWay Research