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Pastors Across U.S. Disagree on Top Threats to Families

  • Allie Martin and Jenni Parker Agape Press
  • 2004 15 Nov
Pastors Across U.S. Disagree on Top Threats to Families

A new study shows that Protestant clergy in America name divorce as the top threat to families in their communities, followed by a wide range of problems from materialism to marital infidelity to negative influences in the media.

Ellison Research conducted the study using a representative sample of 695 pastors from across the nation. The researchers asked pastors to identify the three strongest threats to families in their own communities. In their responses, reported in the November/December 2004 issue of Facts &Trends magazine, 43 percent of the pastors surveyed named divorce as the number-one threat. Meanwhile, 38 percent named negative influences from the media, and 36 percent cited materialism.

After the top three threats cited, absentee fathers (24 percent) and families that lack a stay-at-home parent (22 percent) were among the top threats to the family most frequently named by pastors. Other serious threats to the family that were mentioned included co-habitation before marriage (18 percent), pornography (17 percent), and morality not being taught in schools (14 percent).

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, says the new study revealed that the level of threat each of these issues represented differed from region to region and from one demographic to the next. "In a very upscale suburban area," he explains, "you may be dealing with things like substance abuse, materialism, latchkey kids. In a poor, rural community you may be dealing with poverty, lack of education."

Some pastors in the survey (13 percent) felt poverty, unemployment, and/or a poor economy was the worst threat to families in their communities. Still others responded that the biggest threat was parental alcohol use/abuse (12 percent); parental drug use/abuse (11 percent); drug use/abuse among teens or children (8 percent); teen sexual involvement/activity (8 percent); adultery (5 percent); teen pregnancy (2 percent); sexual predators or sexual abuse (1 percent); or the expense of child care (1 percent).

Sellers says the study showed that pastors vary from one part of the country to another in how they assess the threats to the people in their care. "It's just so different in communities throughout the United States," he points out.

For instance, the researcher says, "There were so many different opinions on what the top threats were, even down to things like six percent of pastors saying that alcohol abuse among teens or children is one of the top threats, five percent naming adultery, four percent naming poor schools or quality of education."

The pastors surveyed also expressed concerns that churches focus so much on "traditional" families that other groups such as singles or childless couples do not get served appropriately. However, the ministers strongly rejected the idea that churches should abandon the concept of what constitutes a "traditional family." Ultimately, Sellers concludes, "I think what [the survey] shows is that, at least in the view of pastors, the top threats to family vary considerably from community to community."

Ellison Research conducted the "top threats to families" study for Facts & Trends, a magazine that is put out six times a year by LifeWay Christian Resources (, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Facts & Trends retains Ellison Research, a full-service marketing research firm in Phoenix, Arizona, to supply current data on issues and challenges facing Christian pastors and the contemporary Church.


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