By Aaron Earls
Americans aren’t sure what to make of pastors, except the ones they’ve met personally.
As part of its State of Pastors study, Barna Research asked Americans their views on pastors and the contributions clergy make to society.
In general, Americans are split on their attitudes toward pastors. Almost 3 in 10 (28 percent) have a negative opinion, with 19 percent saying “somewhat negative” and 9 percent saying “very negative.”
However, close to the same number (24 percent) say they have a very positive opinion of pastors.
The same diversity of perspective appears when Americans are asked whether pastors are influential in their city or neighborhood.
Almost a quarter (23 percent) say pastors are either “not very” or “not at all” influential, but 19 percent say pastors are “very influential.”
On the bright side for pastors, 2 in 3 Americans (66 percent) say their presence is of benefit to the public—40 percent say a significant benefit, and 26 percent say a small benefit.
And while pastors may have an image problem, personal contact seemingly counteracts negative perceptions.
Among those who know a pastor personally, 64 percent regard pastors very positively. Personal contact appears to affect not only churchgoers but also the religiously unaffiliated, who are more likely to have something positive to say about pastors when they say they know one personally.
Almost half (48 percent) of Americans say their experience with pastors has been better than the portrayals they’ve witnessed in the media.
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.