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A Brief Methodology

The Research

This research study of American religious preferences, practices, beliefs and life concerns began in 1991. It has been fielded six times in total, with 2017 and 2021 being the latest editions. ACST is currently responsible for funding this research. The goal of this study is to equip American Christian churches with hyper-local resources for understanding and reaching their communities. At its heart is a focus on the American religious landscape, especially across generational groups. This online study among 14,942 American adults was conducted by Campbell Rinker for ACST from October 2020 through  February 2021. Results were balanced by US region, 19 ‘Mosaic’ demographic clusters from Experian, and weighted by age to align with known population characteristics. The study carries a maximum margin of error of ±1.97% at the 95% confidence level within any US Census Region. A comparative 2017 study involved the same size audience. Note: Media outlets quoting from this paper are directed to use the summary paragraph above to describe the study in keeping with AP style.

The Questions

Several denominational partners helped design the study questionnaire and the fielding methodology. The authors are deeply indebted to them for their commitment to this project. Developing the questionnaire is a key step in any research effort. ‘Longitudinal’ studies such as this require even more care for several reasons – for instance, respondents, language and social issues change over time. Changes like this force adaptations in the questions as well. Through the years, the questionnaire has retained its focus on these core topics:

  • Beliefs About God
  • Beliefs About Jesus
  • Beliefs About Social and Moral Issues
  • Faith Involvement or Non-Involvement
  • Life Concerns
  • Program and Ministry Preferences
  • Religious Affiliations
  • Religious Preferences

The Respondents

The study obtained nearly 15,000 completed surveys from a panel of paid respondents. This panel was managed by Dynata, with fielding and analysis conducted by the research firm Campbell Rinker. ACST’s partners in this effort followed a rigorous stratified sampling plan carried over from earlier studies. This plan ensured that the respondent sample accurately represented a distribution across 76 unique groups – 19 geodemographic Mosaic clusters as defined by Experian within each of the four United States Census Bureau regions. Of course, the nature of surveying involves some level of error. The researchers took care to minimize any bias that might occur with the sampling plan and in framing the questions themselves, including weighting the final data by age to ensure it reflects known proportions in the US population. This weighting delivers a final data set of 14,942 respondents.

Read the full methodology for the American Beliefs Study