American Congregations Reach Out to Other Faith Traditions: A Decade of Change
In the 10-year aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, churches of nearly all denominations have increased their cooperation in interfaith ministry.
According to a report released Wednesday, September 5, to Adventist Today and other media by David A. Roozen, for Faith Communities Today 2010 (FACT2010), the study of more than 11,000 randomly sampled congregations has found interfaith activities during the 10 years following 9/11 doubled. This has been from about seven percent of congregations being involved, to approximately 14 percent today.
Seventh-day Adventist congregations scored near the very bottom for interfaith activities, with only three percent conducting interfaith services in the past 12 months, and a slightly higher eight percent participating in interfaith community services.
“Participation in interfaith activities is not a sign of churches coming together in doctrines or in ecumenism," said Monte Sahlin, a long-time researcher for the Seventh-day Adventist church. He participated actively in the study and today serves as executive secretary of its parent body, Congregational Studies Partnership.
He says, “It's a measure of American churches' willingness to work together for the common good. Apparently the 9/11 attacks brought home a strong spiritual message that we should work more closely together to help solve persistent community needs.”
Sahlin noted a strong inverse correlation between a denomination's perception of self as conservative, and its willingness to cooperate with other faiths in ministry. The survey found 65 percent of Adventists interviewed saw their church as conservative. This was compared with members of the Unitarian Universalist Association who saw themselves as containing 0 percent conservative (the lowest of all denominations) and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who viewed their church as 90 percent conservative (the most conservative).
On the interfaith chart of activities, by contrast, Mormons rated very low (two percent of congregations having held interfaith worship services during past 12 months), compared with Universalists, of which 50 percent held interfaith services during that same period of time. Adventist churches reported three percent had conducted interfaith services.
"During these 10 years, Adventist churches did expand heavily into the arena of interfaith activities," Sahlin said. "I believe if a church wants to truly grow, it must be seen as relevant, and interfaith partnerships for the common good are excellent ways to gain that recognition."
He noted church growth is clearly associated with how active a congregation becomes in the community, and the relevance it appears to have to the general good of the people.
An abstract of the report is available here.