NASHVILLE, Tenn.—About 62% of adult Americans have a favorable impression of United Methodists. That's according to a new survey from LifeWay Research that looks at perceptions of faith groups among adults in the U.S.
United Methodists had the highest percentage of favorable impressions among the faith groups included in the survey – Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Mormons, and Muslims – with 15% of respondents reporting very favorable impressions and 47% reporting somewhat favorable.
United Methodists also had the lowest percentage of unfavorable impressions: only 23%, compared to 38% for Roman Catholics, 40% for Southern Baptists, 52% for Mormons, and 63% for Muslims.
Americans in the South were the most likely to have a very favorable opinion. Americans with a college degree were also more likely to have a very favorable opinion than those without a degree. Those in the West and Northeast were most likely to be not familiar with United Methodists. Americans who never attend a worship service are the least likely to have a very favorable opinion or a somewhat favorable opinion, and the most likely to have a very unfavorable opinion.
The LifeWay research reinforces the findings of a 2008 Gallup poll that showed "Methodists" to have the highest positive ratings of religious and spiritual groups in the U.S.
The United Methodist Church began the "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." advertising campaign in 2001 in order to increase awareness and recognition of the denomination's basic beliefs and to promote willingness to visit a United Methodist church.
"Independent research commissioned annually to determine the campaign's effectiveness indicated that our advertising efforts increased awareness and favorably impacted perceptions," says the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. As the communications agency for The United Methodist Church, United Methodist Communications seeks to increase awareness and visibility of the denomination around the globe.
The campaign evolved in 2009 with the launch of Rethink Church, an effort targeted at globally minded 18- to 34-year-olds that highlights the many opportunities available within United Methodist churches to make a difference in the world – from literacy programs to feeding the poor.
Hollon said the high number of respondents who were either not familiar with the faith groups or did not see their value creates a great challenge for all religious groups.
"The findings underscore the need to redouble our efforts to reach audiences with the message that faith is relevant to their lives. We have found that connecting seekers with the church through mission and outreach opportunities can have profound effects," said Hollon.
For example, 82 percent of volunteers at a recent service event in El Paso, Texas, were not part of the local church, and 4 out of 10 of those volunteers were from the target 18-34 age group. Likewise, a day of service recently hosted by 20 United Methodist churches in Topeka, Kansas, drew nearly 1,000 volunteers to do outdoor cleanup work; 200 of the volunteers were new to the churches.