By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Who counts as an evangelical Christian?
New research attempts to narrow down who deserves the label "evangelical Christian." - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Since the late 1970s, evangelical Christians have been major players in national politics and hot-button social issues.

However, few commentators have specified exactly what type of Christians are captured by the label. Now, researchers from the National Association of Evangelicals and LifeWay Research have come up with a way to clear up the confusion.

"Evangelicals have been misunderstood and categorized incorrectly so often, and much of that is due to inconsistent identification in research," said Leith Anderson, NAE president, to LifeWay Research. "Now we have a way to measure evangelical belief with confidence."

Anderson was referring to new research from the NAE and LifeWay Research, which offers a four-part definition of evangelical Christianity.

According to the organizations, an evangelical must say the Bible is the highest authority they believe in, prioritize sharing the gospel with non-Christians, believe in the salvific power of Jesus Christ's death on the cross and consider trust in Jesus Christ to be the only path to salvation.

"We're not saying these are the only evangelicals, but we are saying this will define someone as having evangelical belief," said LifeWay Research vice president Scott McConnell to Christianity Today.

In the past, survey organizations like Pew Research Center have relied on participant self-identification and denominational affiliation to draw conclusions about evangelicals. But these methods are often inexact, and the share of the U.S. population considered evangelical ranges from 23 percent to 35 percent depending on who conducts research, LifeWay reported.

The goal of the new definition is to streamline religious surveys in order to ensure that reporters, researchers and faith groups are talking about the same group of people when they use the term evangelical. LifeWay Research and the NAE arrived at their four-part description after testing 17 different belief statements.

"Those who strongly agree with all four statements are more likely to attend church frequently and identify themselves as evangelical, indicating the survey measures the intended group," LifeWay reported.

While testing the final definition, researchers discovered a few quirks about the evangelical label, including that black Christians generally resist it.

"African-American Christians historically have high levels of beliefs that align with evangelical beliefs but tend not to use that term," said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research's executive director. "And a percentage of people strongly agree with all four of these statements but don't identify as Christian, which is fascinating."
Sign up for our E-Newsletters