Cliff Notes on Main Outcomes of Montana Clergy Survey Results

June 2009; S. Higgins

Respondent Profile. 57 clergy completed the survey; 71 provided partial answers. All were Christian/Catholic. 53 % have already talked about the environment in their sermons mostly on these topics: Genesis, greening the church, stewardship, Earth Day. Most have congregation sizes of 1-250 (small), with congregation age of 55-69 most prominent. Most clergy prefer the term “stewardship” when talking about protection of the earth; they think “environmentalism” is a negative term.

Perceptions of Clergy and Congregations. Of the 60 who answered this question, all except 7 personally feel that environmental issues are at least on par or more important than sociopolitical issues (war, health care, immigration, etc.). Three others said the question could not be answered because they are all connected. Interestingly, 37 of these same 60 respondents said their congregation feels that sociopolitical topics are more important.  21 clergy put moral issues (child abuse, poverty, abortion) above environment. 23 said that their congregation puts moral issues above environment.

Community Profile and Environmental Issues. 61 percent described their communities as rural  (24% had 500-2500 people; 24% had 2,500 to 10,000; 40%  over 25K). Biggest environmental concerns (of a laundry list offered) in those communities are:

  • water quality
  • food and agriculture
  • land conservation
  • then, wilderness and wildlife protection and global warming.

Interestingly, the three top topics come up as the three the community is most equipped to address.  Global warming was not listed as a topic the community is equipped to address. The three main sources of revenue in these communities are ranching/ag, health services, government. The most significant natural resources identified are agricultural, ranchland, wildlife and water. Congregations are “somewhat concerned and informed” in environmental issues, but even less “engaged” in environmental issues. The main barriers to their involvement were identified as lack of time, poor health, lack of education on the issues, lack of  leadership, perceptions, poverty (which related to time). 68% of the clergy respondents say that “environmental stewardship (taking personal and corporate responsibility for environmental problems, following the Biblical call to be good stewards of creation)” is best approach to bringing message to church communities versus “ecojustice” and “creation spirituality.”

Next Steps/Needs. Some churches are already recycling and addressing energy efficiency in their churches. Most have not yet, but plan to eliminate use of disposables, conduct energy audits, or do nothing (this last one was one of the top three responses). Resources listed as most useful to clergy would be:

  • creation care bible inserts
  • access to work in other congregations
  • access to latest scientific info
  • blogs
  • study guides
  • discounts on lightbulbs and efficiency
  • sermon aids and liturgy resources

Of those, the top three are listed as:

  • access to the stories of environmental work from other organizations
  • bible study materials
  • creation care bulletin inserts

The most trusted placed where they’d like to get more info:

  • Their denomination
  • Montana Association of Churches
  • MSU extension
  • Faith based environmental groups

Top five resources we could offer them:

  • Mini-grants
  • Results of this survey
  • Curricula
  • Church energy audit
  • Guest speakers

88 percent of respondents are not aware of other faith communities doing this work. The ones they did list include: UCC in Missoula, Bartimaeus Institute, UMC, Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp

Only 15% would talk with a TTF researcher about our work. Those 17 are from Helena, Billings, Bozeman, Lodge Grass, Missoula, Columbus, Conrad, Chinook, Libby, Dillon.

Unfortunately, our survey did not ask what these folks think are key communities to target. We’ll hone in on this more with our steering committee and MAC.

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