Issues Pertaining to Growth, Retention and Consolidation in the United States
A Report by the National Teaching Committee of the Bahais of the United States, December 12, 1999. The document contained ocr errors, which have been corrected without reference to a scan. The corrections that involved some guesswork are marked with [ ].
Note that the page numbers are at the bottom of each page.
A version in Microsft Word is available here. =================================================
National Teaching Committee
BAHAI NATIONAL CENTER 1233 CENTRAL STREET EVANSTON, IL W201-1611 TELEPHONE: (847) 733-3498 * FAX: (847) 733-3502 * EMAIL: NTC@USBNC.ORG
Issues Pertaining to Growth, Retention and Consolidation in the United States
A Report by the National Teaching Committee of the United States
December 12, 1999
A COMMITTEE OF THE NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF THE BAHA’IS OF THE UNITED STATES
Table of Contents
A New Approach to Information 6
Religious Change in America: The Next “Great Awakening’ 6
Assessing the Real Growth Rate of the Baha’i Faith in America 8
Dramatic Impact Results from Retention of Believers 10
Growth Shows Distinct Patterns and Opportunities 11
Lessons in Attracting Seekers 13
A New Religious Sensibility 14
An Emerging Generation of Seekers 15
How Media Tests Mirror National Trends 17
A Closer Look at the Baha’i Community 18
Issues Contributing to Decline in Enrollments 20
Areas for Strategic Emphasis:
A New Conception of Growth: A Combination of Old and New 22
Continued Development of National and Local Outreach 23
The Challenge of Community 27
Impact of Urbanization, Immigration on World Development of Faith 29
Training Institutes 29
Improving Local Stewardship 29
Improving the Level of Discourse 30
The Role of the Regional Baha’i Councils 31
Notes on Survey Methods 33
Process for Examination of Membership Database 34
Selected Bibliography 36
This report suggests areas of strategic focus to pursue in our individual and collective efforts to advance the process of entry by troops in the United States. While affirming all of the major strategic objectives set by the Universal House of Justice for this Plan, this report explores how those objectives can be met within the context of the specific challenges and opportunities faced by the believers in this country.
With the above aim in mind, the report addresses a range of key issues:
1 . The historical patterns of growth and consolidation of the Baha’i community within the past few decades
2. Modem trends of religious change and spiritual search in America
3. Patterns of American Baha’i community life and individual activism
4. Experiences in reaching out to audiences using mass media
Drawing upon survey-based research of the American Baha’i community, consultation of pertinent literature and accumulated experience in developing and testing media materials, we reach a number of conclusions:
1 . Our historical growth rate is an impressive achievement in the context of American religion;
2. We are in the midst of one of the most significant periods of religious and spiritual revival in American history; a phenomenon which has already impacted our growth and indicates vast opportunity for teaching in the immediate future;
3 . The issues driving the spiritual search of millions of Americans accord with our most cherished principles, such as interracial understanding, elimination of religious intolerance, and more;
4. Our capacity to retain new believers as long-term active members must be improved if we are to achieve higher rates of growth.
5 . We have the proven capacity to reach out beyond traditional boundaries of personal contact to engage vast numbers of seekers, whose interest can then be nurtured through interaction with the believers in local communities;
6. The U.S. Baha’i community as a whole is committed, active and enthusiastic; and that the friends in general are ready and able to rise to present challenges-,
7. Discernible patterns in the current dynamics of growth, local community life and individual participation mirror the concerns and issues of seekers; and these patterns shed light on challenges that need to be addressed in order to achieve sustainable and rapid growth.
The report concludes by offering a series of specific suggestions in these areas:
1 .Achieving a new mindset about growth
2. Continued development of local and national outreach and follow-up
3 . Building our communities: dealing with diversity of many kinds
4. Development of Training Institutes
5. Improving local stewardship
6. Improving our discourse about teaching
7. The leadership of the Regional Baha’i Councils
The intent of this paper is to serve as a stimulus for thoughtful discussion, further inquiry and more refined approaches to the task of advancing the process of entry by troops.
Issues Pertaining To Growth, Retention and Consolidation in the United States
There is no issue in the American Baha’i community more frequently discussed than “entry by troops,” nor does any subject race unity being the possible exception, arouse the same level of passionate interest.
Discourse about the historical and potential growth of the American Baha’i community normally has two characteristics: first, a general feeling of dissatisfaction about our growth record to date; second, a range of assumptions, often contradictory or erroneous, about our historical record and present state of development. These conditions sometimes engender a sense of frustration, followed by polarized opinions as to what will eventually bring about rapid and sustained growth. In the end these discussions may confine our strategic choices to unworkable extremes.
We believe that such discourse should touch upon issues which are of key importance if we are to adequately appreciate what has been achieved in this country over the years, and which also offer a realistic sense of the lines of action that should be undertaken to accelerate our growth rate.
1. How has our growth compared with other growth-oriented religions over the course of the past 30-35 years?
2. What factors, in addition to individual teaching activity, affect our growth rate?
3. Who has enrolled in the Faith during the past 30-35 years? Why? And who is likely to become a Baha’i today?
4. How well have we succeeded in retaining as active members those who have enrolled in the Faith over the past 30-35 years? How does our record compare with other religions?
5. What factors influence retention of new believers? How have we performed in the light of such factors?
6. What have we learned about reaching receptive populations during the course of the Four Year Plan? What do these lessons suggest about our overall growth strategy?
7. How effectively do we, especially in local communities, deal with issues that impact growth and retention?
8. Does our community demonstrate the characteristics of commitment, unity, and enthusiasm necessary for growth; or are there weaknesses that hinder our progress?
9. What are the general trends of religious and spiritual search in America today? What opportunities for teaching do they indicate?
The Universal House of Justice has already made ample comment on most of these issues. The National Teaching Committee’s research into the same questions bears out every one of the Supreme Body’s fundamental assertions about the present opportunities for growth as well as our strategic challenges. We have learned some things in the course of this research which give a more in-depth perspective that should be helpful. Discussion of these issues will yield practical strategies that should receive emphasis in the months and years ahead.
The intent here is not to supply the final word on these issues; rather, to share what has been learned up to this point in the full expectation that continued research, consultation and experience will further refine our collective thinking.
A New Approach to Information
During the Four Year Plan the National Teaching Committee has pursued more systematic ways of generating information and evaluating results. Among the new tools, practical survey methods have been used more extensively to probe issues, gain insight on activities and performance, and gauge Baha’i prospects for growth.
Using various survey techniques, Baha’i perspectives have been probed on issues such as teaching, spiritual practice, interracial contacts and friendship, Fund participation, personal well-being institutional confidence, and many others. We have surveyed respondents to television broadcasts and Web site visitors on their religious backgrounds and other themes. We have used focus groups with non-Baha’is of many backgrounds, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Baby Boomers, born-again Christians and others, to understand audience reaction to religious presentations and their specific thematic content. There has also been rigorous consultation of the literature in a number of related fields, including opinion research, cultural studies, the sociology of religion and U.S. demographics, to better understand our experience as a community within the overall context of current trends in American religion.
The interest in new methods has been to broaden the input of rank-and-file Baha’is to the important deliberations related to charting a course of growth and expansion; to provide accurate and balanced perspective on key assumptions; and to introduce new insights to enrich the consultation on teaching. The information is presented here to uplift the friends, promote a spirit of moderation, increase confidence, generate activism and channel the energies of the believers into more effective lines of action.
The conclusions of this report are based on the results of this work.
Religious Change in America: The Next “Great Awakening”
Many commentators on religious trends in the United States agree that we are now in the midst of one of the most profound eras of religious search in the history of the country. While similar in some respects to past experiences, this new phase has its own characteristics. Among the most notable is that traditional Christianity, and organized religion generally, are losing ground in favor [p. 6] of a new spirituality characterized by tolerance of religious diversity and an unprecedented atmosphere of individual self-determination.
Over the past 30-35 years there has been a realignment of denominational membership that has resulted in notable declines for many mainstream congregations. Those that have lost the most are elite denominations like Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Generally, conservative denominations have fared better, though mainstream denominations continue to have twice the membership of conservative denominations. Most of the losses by mainstream groups, however, have not been to conservative congregations. Indeed “liberal” churches, continuing an historic pattern, have actually gained more members from conservative congregations than they have surrendered to them.
The greatest losses have been to the ranks of unaffiliated or unchurched — people, that is, who simply leave religion altogether because nothing they are aware of addresses their needs. Much of the erosion has been among younger people, though many of the unaffiliated continue to describe themselves as seekers and remain deeply interested in spirituality. About half of the new Baha’is in the US come from the ranks of the unaffiliated.
The general perceptions that liberal denominations have suffered setbacks, and that some conservative churches and political movements in America have grown, together with an apparent slowdown in the rate of growth of the Baha’i community since the mid 80’s, has unsettled some of the friends and led to recurring speculation that the themes used in most teaching approaches are misdirected. This concern is encapsulated in the observation that we have placed too much emphasis on “social” teachings and must now re-assess our fundamental approach to audiences, shifting our emphasis to prophetic fulfillment and Baha’i eschatology.
Such a re-assessment, however, should take into account that the majority of Americans are not conservative Christians. Indeed, Americans have become less attached to conservative religious views, not more entrenched. Notwithstanding the brighter prospects for a few conservative denominations, there is growing concern among many from those very ranks that shifting cultural outlooks will soon overwhelm the inroads they have made.
For example, a leading conservative pollster (George Barna, among whose clients are the Billy Graham Crusades and Focus on The Family, a nationally syndicated evangelical radio program), says in his new book, The Second Coming of the Church: “the Church in America is losing influence and adherents faster than any other major institution in the country.”
The reason, he speculates, is that while people are desperate for spiritual truth, “they can’t find the answers they need in Christian churches.”
Recent surveys by his Barna Group have shown that “…a majority of the people who made a first-time ‘decision’ for Christ were no longer connected to a Christian church within just eight weeks of having made such a decision.” The sad fact he says, “is that most of these [evangelical] efforts are wasted because new believers are not being effectively absorbed into a healthy community of believers and, in most cases, never move from ‘decision’ to ‘conversion.”
While Americans are more devoted to seeking spiritual enlightenment than at any time in the 20th century, Barna says, Christianity is having less impact on people’s perspectives [and behaviors than] ever. Why? “Because,” he says, “a growing majority of people have dismissed the Christian faith as weak, outdated, and irrelevant….. The downfall of the church,” he concludes, “has not been the content of its message but its failure to practice those truths.”
Most Americans, he says, now believe that all of the world’s major faiths teach the same lessons, and that [all] people pray to the same God. “Diversity and tolerance have clearly edged past the boundaries of political ideology and racial acceptance and invaded the religious realm. For the most part, Americans consider the major faith groups interchangeable: Each faith may have unique language, traditions, icons, and ceremonies, but we view them as unified in their constant push to achieve equivalent outcomes via similar paths of inquiry and activity.”
(It is interesting to note here that the NTC recently compiled all of the questions and comments from non-Baha’i visitors to the National Assembly’s public Website over a ten-month period. Of the total 494, only 12 had to do with specifically Christian issues. Many more dealt with general spiritual issues such as the meaning of life, the hereafter, etc.; and a range of social issues such as racial unity, family and gender equality. This reflects Barna’s observation that people are less interested in strictly doctrinal approaches to these issues, and are more concerned with practical approaches within a universalistic type of spirituality.)
He also makes this stunning observation: “Baby Busters [the generation of Americans under 35] are actually the first generation in American history in which a majority of those who are seeking a religious faith to embrace are starting their spiritual journey with a faith group other than Christianity.”
Christianity, he concludes, “appears poised to lose ‘market share’ in the coming years, More and more people … will abandon Jesus Christ in favor of faiths that seem more in tune with their needs.”
It is this unprecedented reality of shifting spiritual priorities that has also drawn the attention of the NTC over the past several years. The research commissioned by the National Spiritual Assembly, the national media campaign, and the interlocking objectives of the Four Year Plan are designed, in combination, to reposition our teaching to more effectively address the true spiritual concerns of a vast and growing audience of seekers as they themselves define them.
Assessing the Real Growth Rate of the Baha’i Faith in America
An assertion frequently heard in recent years is that the American Baha’i community is not growing but is in fact losing ground. An accurate assessment of historical performance is a baseline requirement for any reasonable projection of future growth.
The following table, excerpted from the Ladd Report (1999, Everett Carl Ladd, of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research) charts the growth of several major religious groups in [p. 8] America from 1960 to 1995. Pentecostals are at the top of the list. Here are percentage growth rates for that group and some others:
ReligionlDenomination Percentage growth in membership, 1960-1995
Jehovah’s Witnesses 286
Latter-day Saints (Mormons) 197
Roman Catholics 43
Churches of Christ -8
In the mid-1960’s, the membership of the US Baha’i community was about 10,000. Slightly more than 140,000 are on the rolls today, an increase of 1400% during the period. We have grown far more rapidly than any other religion listed. (This figure does not include members of the Faith who transferred in from other countries, such as the many thousands of Persians.)
This pattern of achievement has been true ever since the Faith’s inception in America. Although one can argue that we could and should have grown more rapidly than we actually have, there can be no doubt that the growth of the Faith has kept pace with even the most successful religious groups in the country. To have grown at all puts us in an elite category, yet even among the growth religions we have maintained a healthy pace. Relatively speaking, we have done exceedingly well at the task of increasing enrollments.
Our own teaching efforts have been one factor in influencing this growth. Another has been the growing receptivity to non-traditional religious alternatives in the population at large. In the course of American history there have been intervals when large numbers of people have changed religious affiliation. The most recent began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when millions of people born after World War II abandoned traditional denominations in search of new answers to their life issues. It was at this time that the Baha’i Faith, and other non-traditional religions, experienced their most dramatic surges in membership.
As we approach the millennium, millions of these “dropouts,” and now a new generation of younger people, are continuing a sweeping re-evaluation of their options in a quickly changing spiritual landscape.
For the first time in American history, a significant number of Americans are willing to consider non-Christian alternatives on an equal footing with Christianity, and for the first time also, a considerable number feel empowered to resist cultural pressure for conformity in making independent choices about religious commitments. Our opportunity has never been greater and coincides remarkably with the emergence of the Faith from obscurity.
Even with such dramatic changes in church affiliation, the majority of Americans are satisfied with their religious practice and are not easily susceptible to conversion. Despite the upheavals in the culture over nearly a century and profound changes in religious outlook that have resulted from it, still relatively few have taken the venturesome initiative of seeking membership in a nontraditional faith community.
The reasons have less to do with our own deficiencies as promoters and teachers and more to do with powerful factors within the culture that inhibit change. Not everyone is equipped emotionally, intellectually or spiritually to challenge cultural imperatives. Change is experienced most profoundly at the margins. Religious conversion is the tip of an iceberg of disaffection that traverses a continuum with many stations along the course. At any chosen time particular and definable segments of the population are more apt to reach the level of decision and conversion than the generality of their countrymen. Those most likely to change are the most independent minded. And while the number of potential converts may reach the millions, as is now likely the case, the available pool reflects a small, narrowly-framed and distinctive portion of the population with many choices in a volatile marketplace of ideas.
With limited energy and material resources at our disposal our task is to act with ever greater discernment and precision in positioning our outreach to achieve measurable and timely results.
Dramatic Impact Results from Retention of Believers
In managing sustained growth, retention of new believers is as important as enrolling them. For the Faith to grow at its highest potential, those who enter must eventually become active supporters in their own right.
Participation has always been a goal of Baha’i community development and individual training. It has been generally recognized that participation is a valid indicator of spiritual health and that failure in this regard leads inevitably to an erosion in membership. The link between participation and membership is well recognized in all religious communities.
Retention of membership by religious communities also varies widely from period to period. Converts, as a category of membership, are especially hard for all religious groups to maintain in community. Sociologist Wade Clark Roof, in a recently published study, SpiritualMarketplace, shows how church membership among one representative sample of Baby Boomers tracked over more than a decade, declined by at least 50% in the period studied.
A recent analysis of the Baha’i membership database illustrates a comparable dilemma. Despite the more than 140,000 members on the rolls, there are currently valid addresses for only about 70,000 of them now. In aggregate terms, a known address is the least reasonable condition of participation. And while an identification of faith cannot be solely inferred from such membership data, it is reasonable to assume that affiliation on the part of individuals disengaged from participation over extended periods is open to question.
The months-long database analysis of Baha’i membership, covering the period from 1970 to 1998, involved an exhaustive record-by-record reconciliation of all discrepancies. It provided, among other insights, a definitive status for every individual enrolled during the period.
Based on a reasonable standard of ongoing participation, it is likely that our membership retention during the nearly three decades corresponding with the period of our most rapid growth, does not exceed 50%. Our most serious challenge, consequently, may well be retention, even as we position ourselves to take advantage of accelerated opportunities for enrollments.
Here’s an illustration of this point:
Suppose our growth rate over 30 years had been the same, but our retention, rather than that which we experienced, had been around 80%, the average rate at which some Christian denominations retain membership. Rather than 70,000 believers our membership today (people with known addresses) would have been 260,000.
Now, assume the same average annual growth rate for the next 30 years as we experienced in the last 30. With no change in retention we can expect a membership of about half a million. With 80% retention the membership could be nearly 2 million.
In the subsequent generation, again assuming a constant rate of growth and variable rates of retention, the difference would be stunning: 3-4 million members at our current level of performance and some 45-50 million members with 80% retention. In less than one lifetime, then, the consequences of successful retention make a breathtaking difference.
Growth Shows Distinct Patterns and Opportunities
At the start of the Four Year Plan the House of Justice observed that no region has a greater potential for growth than North America. In assessing this potential the NTC has combined the study of seekers with the study of the Baha’i community in order to learn a great deal more about both.
Our Baha’i community has a distinctive demographic composition. It is not merely a cross-section of the general population. At this time it is comprised largely of Baby Boomers, that portion of the population born after World War 11; and increasingly the offspring of Baby Boomers. To some degree this is simply due to the fact that the growth of the Faith accelerated after 1960, when this generation was coming of age. On the other hand, portions of this still-dominant generation have been more receptive to non-traditional faith alternatives than any previous generation in American history. This is due in part to the great social upheavals of the late 20th century, but also because rising levels of education have enabled more people to question and to search.
Rising levels of education have served the interests of the Faith well. The majority of Baha’is in this day are college trained, more by far than Americans generally. Education is still the best single predictor for a range of beliefs, among which are cherished Baha’i ideals, including racial and gender equality, religious tolerance, and international cooperation. It is natural that seekers have [p 11] been strongly drawn to the progressive solutions to real problems offered in Baha’i Scripture. It is also natural that so many who have been attracted have also been well educated.
These aspects are true not only of the Baha’i Faith. Indeed, many non-traditional religions that have also grown in membership share these demographics in common with Baha’is.
And yet the magnet has not been social outlook alone. The believers themselves say they have been attracted equally by the Faith’s spiritual teachings. It is noteworthy, as well, that the preponderance of today’s believers were raised in religious homes. Nearly half were active in a religious community when they came to the Faith. Most had never changed religion before becoming Baha’is.
In recalling factors that influenced their decision to enroll in the Faith, 305 Baha’is taking part in one community survey rank the top 10 in this order:
Agreement with spiritual principles 87.8
Agreement with social principles 80.0
Affinity for Baha’i Writings 76.7
Baha’is made me feel wanted 62.1
Baha’is I met were attractive to me 62.1
Love for one or more Central Figures 59.1
Personal esteem for teacher 51.2
Spiritual environment for my family 47.1
Helped me overcome personal crisis 34.0
Baha’is involved in social reform 33.0
Naturally, no single factor drives a personal decision to investigate and convert. A range of factors blend in every decision. It is also instructive that some factors are influenced by demographics. Baha’is born before 1940, for example, are the most likely to choose love of the Central Figures as a top choice. The importance of social principles as a factor in conversion has diminished for individuals born after 1960. On the other hand, help with overcoming personal crisis, which ranks 9th overall with a 34% positive rating, ranks 4th for women alone with a 66% positive rating. Similarly, factors bearing on personal relationships are relatively more important to younger people than to others. The item, “Baha’is I met were attractive to me’, given positive ratings by 62% of Baha’is overall, is selected by more than 70% of Baha’is born after 1960. The factor of involvement in social reform, which a third of respondents overall rank as an important influence, is emphasized by majorities of non-white believers.
There are millions of Americans whose spiritual, social and intellectual values are consistent with those of Baha’is, who are not satisfied with their current practice, and who characterize themselves in surveys as highly active seekers. A large number of these are presently not affiliated because religion as they have experienced it has not met important needs they define for themselves. The estimates of the size of this “highly active” seeker population range from 15-30 million people. And there are millions more, according to some scholars, who will soon join their ranks as this trend expands.
In its current makeup the leading edge of this seeking cluster is virtually a mirror image of the Baha’i community. The NTC’s research has identified convergence in values, interests, opinions and outlooks. The initial phase of the national media campaign has been designed to address this active core of present day seekers. As would be expected, these seekers are also a principal target of every growth-oriented religious community in America.
There are additional points worth making about similarity between seekers and Baha’is, especially seekers and new believers, those most recently drawn from the ranks of seekers. Among them:
– Baby Boomers still predominate among Baha’is and seekers, but there is growing diversity in both categories. More of both are younger, especially younger college women. Nearly a third of non-Baha’i Web site visitors are college students and nearly 16% of new believers are under 25 years old. This suggests a broadening of opportunity for teaching, and corresponds with observations that the up-and-coming generation is showing an increased interest in non-traditional options.
– Most are urban or suburban residents and a majority are from high growth areas of the South and Southwest. The most likely timing for religious conversion is following a major inter-regional relocation when individuals have separated from long standing friends and relatives.
– Women are the majority of the Baha’i membership, the majority of new believers, and the majority of seekers. Women are more likely than men to convert to a new religion and for most families they are also the key decision-makers in matters of faith.
– More than 50% of Baha’is, and seekers who have responded to national broadcasts of Baha’i programming, are college trained and a disproportionate number are employed in caring professions such teaching and health care.
In observing the overall composition of seekers and believers, distinct patterns emerge. But this is not to say that there are categories of people whom we should never teach, nor that individuals who fit these patterns are the only ones that will be receptive. Indeed, receptive individuals can be found in any population. But the same principle will always apply – we will be more successful at reaching them to the degree that we understand their needs and concerns.
Lessons in Attracting Seekers
Although the Baha’i Faith may be well known in some circles of society, most ordinary Americans appear to be unfamiliar with it. If the experience with hundreds of respondents in focus groups is any indication, general awareness does not exceed 10%, and probably fewer still have any idea of our basic teachings and principles.
Our traditional method for recruiting has been word-of-mouth communications through friendship and kinship networks. Our most effective medium for this style of outreach has been the fireside [p. 13] meeting. While they have been extremely effective for us, these networks have been restricted by the need for physical contact as a stimulus for investigation on the part of seekers.
With many millions of potentially receptive souls in our midst, there is the challenge of reaching beyond traditional boundaries. The national media campaign is an attempt to reach larger numbers of souls than would be possible through personal contacts alone. In addressing this collective challenge we would do well to keep in mind a number of fundamental observations:
1. There is no “mass” audience in the sense that “one size fits all.” There are a multitude of distinct audience segments, each with its own set of concerns and needs. No single message can be expected to reach all segments.
2. Not all Americans are seekers, hence media programming concentrates on the kinds of people who define themselves as seekers and the information they require to make reasonable judgments. Many are satisfied with their present choices, and those that are do not convert.
3. Information that makes us comfortable sometimes makes others uncomfortable, which is one reason for testing. For example, we sometimes use phrasing and illustrations that annoy or antagonize others and impede their interest. It is extremely difficult to overcome a bad first impression.
4. Criticism of others and self-serving comparisons are counter-productive. “Moderation and tolerance,” according to one prominent scholar of American religion, “are today the bedrock of the American Middle Class.” A quality that seekers are most anxious to avoid is a sectarian spirit.
While there is a high level of interest in religion, the critical task of media is to defuse suspicion in a very short encounter, To be productive, information must reduce uncertainty. Burdening a listener is a fruitless and wasteful exercise.
The most persuasive points we make are not about differences between ourselves and others but about similarities. People are attracted to things that are familiar and positive. Most distinctions are not worth drawing on first encounter. The object of communication is engagement, a response which can lead to dialogue and interaction.
The point is not that we dilute or change our beliefs to accommodate the wishes of others. Rather, that we articulate them in such a way as to strike a chord in the heart of the listener. As one Christian commentator has said, “The style is how the sermon is presented; the message is the substance. Style is never as important as the substance of the message, but style determines whether the message is heard.”
A New Religious Sensibility
We see in this panorama an emerging religious sensibility that is different from what we have witnessed heretofore and that is without precedent in this culture.
The conditions now are not the same as those that fueled the growth of the Faith starting around 1960, though there are elements of continuity. Many social causes, such as race unity and gender equality, that were controversial a generation ago, have become mainstream commitments. There is less interest in “command” solutions such as legislation and national government involvement and more in local approaches that reflect a more conciliatory perspective and a spirit of personal responsibility. To understand this makes us appreciate how well suited our efforts at social and economic development as defined by the Universal House of Justice, are to such an emerging outlook.
Seekers are more conventionally religious than a generation ago, in the sense that they are interested in a meaningful community experience. There is less emphasis on fine points of doctrine, and still less on exclusivity. Hence the success of “non-denominational” congregations that have focused on community services, and on devotional experiences that promote a general sense of spirituality and worship. To some observers this comes across as narcissistic, “feel-good” religion that is devoid of real moral challenge. While there may be an element of truth to this, it must also be said that participants themselves describe their own weariness with doctrinal dispute, and their desire to get back to the essential spirituality of religion. In other words, they themselves define superficiality in precisely opposite terms from their critics.
While there is a surging interest in spirituality, it is balanced by skepticism about the motives of religious institutions. The tug of denominationalism is weakening as individuals grow weary of doctrinal controversy and hypocritical leadership. Americans now make a distinction between “spirituality” and “religion,” the latter having negative associations of exclusivity and authoritarianism. There is an emphasis on family, relationships, and community, with a concomitant desire to engage long-standing social ills in more decentralized, practical and participatory encounters.
And even more central to our prospects, Americans are also more tolerant of faiths other than Christianity and the majority are impatient with religious antagonisms of any stripe.
“As much as they admire religion, it would seem middle class Americans dislike doctrinaire strife and sectarian conflict more,” says Alan Wolfe, director of the Middle Class Morality Project and author of the recently published One Nation After All, a well regarded study of American values, a portion of which was excerpted in Newsweek. “For the overwhelming majority the aspect of loudly proclaimed religion that bothers them most is the idea of excluding others who may not share in one’s particular religious commitment.” Americans distrust extremes, he says, “even those views which they consider correct but that are asserted with too much finality.”
An Emerging Generation of Seekers
In most American religious communities, including the Baha’i Faith, people under 30 are not well represented. Younger people historically have tended to be less active in religious community, but among the post-Baby Boom generations the tendency has been even more pronounced.
Young people are the largest group among unaffiliated or unchurched Americans as well as the fastest growing component of that segment, which suggests a more active flight from membership as well as postponement of membership.
Many factors appear to contribute. Younger Americans have tended to delay marriage and family formation, remaining single longer, thus postponing the traditional timetable for religious engagement. Most religious communities, being centered on family, do not adequately serve the needs of younger people in community.
As importantly, the social outlook of the generations following Baby Boomers to maturity seems substantially different in key respects from that of the dominant Boomers. Known as “Generation X” or “Baby Busters”, they have, as these names might imply, been characterized by their Boomer elders as a group largely uninterested in spiritual matters, highly self-absorbed, and generally pessimistic.
Younger Americans, according to surveys, are certainly more independent-minded, more self-reliant, more conservative, and more wary of institutions than most others. They express less confidence in collective behavior to promote change and more in personal responsibility, and tend to view social commitments as extravagant. They also tend to view the dominant Boomers as whiners.
Interestingly, younger Americans are also vitally attracted to diversity and deeply critical of churches for sidestepping the issue of racial unity. They are also more inclined than others to believe in the oneness of religion and to be offended by aggressive evangelism.
It is particularly important that the Baha’i community refine its ability to attract the disaffected younger generations. The predominant Baby Boomer base of the community is rapidly aging and the existing core of Baha’i youth is insufficient to ensure the stability of the existing community or to sustain its momentum of growth.
While our performance in this area of teaching has not been encouraging, there are recent hints that new opportunities may be emerging. For example, the proportion of young people among new believers appears to be increasing. A survey of new members in 1998 showed that about 16% were 20-29 years of age and that the majority were not children raised in Baha’i families. There is renewed momentum in campus teaching through Baha’i college clubs across the country and encouraging signs that Baha’i themes and perspectives are once again appealing to idealistic young people. A significant proportion of respondents to national television broadcasts are also younger and nearly 30% of visitors to the advertised Web site are younger than 25.
More recent research is also focusing more closely on the religious outlooks of younger Americans, providing an interesting perspective on their potential role as agents for change in spirituality. George Barna, for example, makes these interesting remarks in a recent book on the subject, Generation Next:
“… teenagers these days are highly spiritual,, but they are not very religious nor are they inclined to embrace Christianity as their faith of choice. They are … the first generation of Americans to be raised without the culturally established assumption that they would start their religious explorations with Christianity and continue to seek a faith system only if Christianity was found wanting …. this does not mean that they are not spiritual. On the contrary, they are more spiritual than Boomers ever were.”
“The research we have conducted among teenagers shows that large numbers of them do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only means to eternal peace. There is a growing trend toward universalism among America’s young people. In the spirit of cultural diversity, more and more teens are allowing that all faiths have value, offer equally valid solutions and ought to be given a fair hearing before they make a choice.”
“From a spiritual point of view, the all-roads-lead-to-heaven mind-set is widely ingrained. Half of all teenagers state unapologetically that it doesn’t matter what faith you embrace since they all teach similar lessons. And millions of teens espouse the philosophy that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, it’s what you do that counts.”
How Media Tests Mirror National Trends
This altered sensibility has played out repeatedly in focus group tests. Curiosity about spirituality is overwhelming, as is the independence with which people approach the subject. The concentration, however, is not on doctrine but on practice and performance, and this outlook is emphasized in many ways.
While there is suspicion about the possible motives of newer religions like our own, there is also a great deal of tolerance for any that meet the test of spirituality, and a willingness to consider nontraditional options as valid and appropriate. A distinction is made between spiritual and religious behavior, and appears to correspond with the distinction Baha’is make between essential and nonessential characteristics in religion. Spiritual behavior is considered universal and unchanging, religious behavior is considered partisan and contentious.
Invariably, the sharpest reaction in focus group sessions is reserved for inferences of superiority of one faith over another, no matter how subtly broached. Statements of Baha’i exceptionalism or primacy, for example, no matter how innocent, generate dissonance and criticism. These are not attractive to any segment of the population represented in these groups. By contrast, what most appeals to focus groups are illustrations of similarities between faith traditions, not their differences. The idea of the oneness of religion is gaining precedence over sectarianism and is becoming a dominant perception. It is one of the striking examples of cultural change witnessed in these sessions. Another is clearly the degree of affirmation for the principle of inter-racial unity and the willingness of the people to take practical steps to reject bias. The impulse of Baha’is to [p. 17] stress differences between themselves and other faiths may well be counter-productive, at least insofar as generating initial interest is concerned. The Baha’i teachings dealing with respect for other traditions may achieve greater resonance, particularly in early stages of awareness.
In measuring the soundness of religious arguments, certain criteria are emphasized again and again among focus group participants. Among them: the belief in a single universal God, stress on personal and congregational worship, a scriptural foundation for belief, an approach to community that respects individuality, emphasis on child care and education, joy in the practice of faith, adherence to principles of equality, and good works. Acceptability is linked to adherence to these criteria, and, on this basis, a surprising number of participants have been well disposed to the Baha’i teachings.
The strong impressions garnered from work with focus groups and broadcast respondents, as we have seen, are consistent with the published opinions of others. Take as an example of this the work of Reverend William Easum, whose How to Reach Baby Boomers is part of a series on church growth directed at Christian ministers.
“The last twenty-five years,” he says, ” have brought more basic changes in the life-styles and needs of people than any other period in our nation’s history. Of all the changes affecting the ministry of mainstream churches, none is more important than the relationship between church and culture. The marriage between American culture and Christianity is coming to an end. What was once a separation, is becoming a divorce. Not only is the marriage dissolving, but there are signs of actual hostility between the church and society. We are the first generation of Americans to live in an unchurched culture.”
“The gap between the mind-set of mainstream Protestants and Baby Boomers visiting our churches is often like the Grand Canyon,” he says. “Some church members are struggling to bridge this gap. Some do not even know the gap exists. Others do their best to widen the gap.”
“The individualism of the 1970s is beginning to soften”, he notes, “as maturity produces a growing need for community. Relationships are more important than rules. Family, marriage and home are essential elements of their search. Male and female are seen as equals. Education becomes a way of life. Global concerns are as important as local issues.”
“Healthy churches focus on the needs of the unchurched as much as the needs of their members. Ninety-three million people in America reflect the values of the Baby Boomers. Three out of five are open to an invitation to attend worship. Mainstream churches grow when they intentionally reach out to this group and warmly welcome them into the family of faith.”
A Closer Look at the Baha’i Community
It is obvious that expanded outreach will not be productive if the Baha’i community is disinclined to pursue opportunities. And the conviction has grown in some quarters that the friends are indifferent to growth and unwilling to arise to embrace it. The issue of motivation is certainly crucial in creating vibrancy and deserves concentrated attention.
To develop a more refined view of this subject the National Teaching Committee has pursued a systematic study of Baha’i community life and the individual over several years through a series of surveys administered in various forms. In all cases these have involved random selection of respondents with assurances of privacy to answer a wide range of questions on behavior and preferences.
Information about the structure and composition of a Baha’i community as dynamic as our own can also help to decipher the patterns of religious search and conversion in a society across generations. We are in one sense a living record of growth opportunities that have percolated within the culture over extended periods. Analysis of both the aggregate membership and of the newer streams feeding into it can provide sure-footed guidance in identifying both receptive clusters within the general society, the source of the converts, and areas of weakness that require further exploration.
From these studies it is clear that the community as a whole is committed, active and enthusiastic. Where comparisons with other groups are possible the Baha’i community always compares favorably. For example:
1. The believers are highly active as teachers. 70% report teaching the Faith at least once per week, and 50% report several times per week. 40% report holding regular firesides, and far more bring seekers to firesides and public gatherings. At least two thirds say they have hosted at least one fireside during the past year. The vast majority are optimistic about the prospects for imminent growth.
2. Believers are generous with contributions to the Funds. As a whole, American Baha’i households give over three times more to the Faith than other American households (those who belong and contribute to churches) give to religion and charity combined. In addition, we are very generous with our time in service to the Faith and to social causes, contributing more by far than average Americans.
3. American believers are attentive to all aspects of Baha’i religious life, including daily prayer (82% pray at least daily) personal deepening (88% read the Writings regularly), and Feast attendance (77% always or often attend). These measures have improved since the early 1990s.
4. Baha’is are extremely trusting and confident in their administrative institutions, expressing far more favorable opinion about them than about other social institutions in America. Unlike Americans generally, Baha’is express greater confidence in their own national Administrative Institutions than in local ones. More than 90% express a great deal of confidence in the National Spiritual Assembly, for example, while just over half rank Local Spiritual Assemblies similarly.
5. Baha’is are active on many social issues, especially race unity. More than 55% say that since becoming Baha’is they have taken direct action to support some important social issue. Only 30% had been similarly involved before enrolling. At 32%, Baha’is are many times more likely than other Americans to be married to a person of a different race or ethnicity, and also more likely to [p. 19] interact with other groups socially. They participate far more than others in activities to promote interracial understanding, and are much more positive on such issues as school and neighborhood integration than others.
6. Baha’is are rapidly accelerating their efforts at social and economic development within the United States. There are now about 100 locally sponsored projects in this country, double the number that existed just three years ago.
Many other examples could be added to these. They are presented here not to encourage a sense of complacency, nor to suggest that our community has achieved the standard of Baha’i life upheld in the Writings. There are many challenges to face, yet at the same time the positive aspects of our behaviors should be recognized and taken into account as we discuss our future prospects.
Issues Contributing to Decline in Enrollments
Notwithstanding the overall record of success in teaching, the healthy vital signs displayed by our community, and the clear and present opportunities for expansion, the fact remains that we have experienced a noticeable decline in enrollments since the heyday of expansion that lasted until the end of the 1970s. In the past few years the rate has again declined slightly. We have continued to experience net gains of between 2% and 3% per year, but this is off significantly from a thirty year average of roughly 6% per year.
This reality has provoked a great deal of frustration, anxiety and disappointment on the part of a significant number of believers. The National Spiritual Assembly itself met with the Universal House of Justice in 1994 to consult, among other matters, on this state of affairs. The result was a moving and memorable letter, dated May 19, 1994, in which the Supreme Institution gave encouragement to the Assembly as well as greater insight into the process of growth.
We would like to take this opportunity to comment on how some of the issues raised by the Supreme Institution are affecting us at this time:
1 . There are natural cycles of ebb and flow in the growth of religion. There are times when conditions create renewed opportunities for growth, and there are other times when the field of teaching is not as fertile. It is surely no coincidence that the periods when the American Baha’i community has grown most rapidly generally coincide with periods of wider social turmoil.
2. Religious activism has been strongly linked to life cycle considerations, like the presence of children in the household. Marriage and family formation is increasingly delayed in younger generations, which depresses the tendency to affiliate. The generations that are succeeding the Baby Boomers have shown even greater reluctance to join existing faith communities.
3. Growth is also linked to external and internal factors directly affecting the Faith. The Guardian and the Universal House of Justice have asserted that the Faith does not progress at a uniform [p. 20] rate; rather it moves forward in “vast surges,” precipitated by “the alternation of crisis and victory.” Examples of this phenomenon are innumerable, illustrated first and foremost in God Passes By. This knowledge should give us confidence that our efforts, not to mention the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters in the Cradle of the Faith, will eventually be rewarded.
4. We have been slow to respond to changing spiritual needs among active seekers. The Universal House of Justice has called us to a new level of understanding about the process of growth, and a corresponding refinement in our patterns of individual and collective activity. This is a challenge not to be underestimated. In the course of this Plan the believers have begun to pursue new kinds of activities and to accelerate old ones, amounting in the aggregate to a level of effort without precedent in our experience, The establishment of Regional Baha’i Councils; development of a network of training institutes at the regional and local levels; regular devotional meetings in hundreds of localities; more widespread use of the arts; a dramatic increase in projects for social and economic development; acceleration of programs for youth and children- intensive focus on sustained local proclamation activity; countless initiatives dealing with race and gender equality – all these and other activities, with the added challenge of coordinating them in some meaningful way, demand a high level of energy, and have naturally required the participation of the most devoted believers in the community. It is reasonable to expect a slight, temporary setback in enrollments as we work to put in place all of the elements necessary for a sustainable process of growth.
5. With respect to the media campaign, it has occasionally been asked why, if the national broadcasts have produced such a great response, there has been no increase in overall growth. Media usage is only one of many elements that must all be pursued effectively if we are to experience growth. They must coalesce into one efficient process, involving the wholehearted support of the believers. The expectation is that it will take some time yet for patterns of activity to emerge that will yield breakthroughs. One encouraging sign is that a handful of communities have experienced enrollments from seekers who inquired about the Faith as a result of media broadcasts. One feature common to all of these communities is that teaching and consolidation activities are in place to nurture seeker interest.
6. Declines in enrollment dating from the early 80’s also correspond with intensification of differences among Baha’is relating to advocacy of teaching methods. These divisions, which are still visible in internal polling data, have robbed our collective efforts of critical intensity and vital energy. These divisions bear a resemblance to a corresponding ideological and religious polarization in the society that has brought about widespread rejection of sectarian wrangling. The process of growth would be assisted by earnest attempts to forge a new consensus on teaching that takes into account emerging opportunities.
Lastly, it is clear what the problem is not. Most discussions about the decline in enrollments seem to lead to a criticism of the friends in general, with frequent assertions to the effect that the believers have failed to be faithful to the Covenant do not love Baha’u’llah, or are otherwise morally or spiritually in question.
The evidence simply does not support this. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement – there certainly is. Nor does it contradict the importance of training for new and veteran believers to increase their overall knowledge, insights and skills. There can be no doubt that our general effectiveness as teachers and administrators must be improved, and that many more believers should be actively involved than are at present. Yet these challenges should be considered in the light of other factors such as are listed above — it would be neither just nor productive to place an unfair burden of responsibility on a community that has shown, and continues to show, such admirable enthusiasm and devotion.
Areas for Strategic Emphasis
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer (3 July 1948), there is this statement:
“There are two things which will contribute greatly to bringing more people into the Cause more swiftly: one is the maturity of the Baha’is within their Communities, functioning according to Baha’i laws and in the proper spirit of unity, and the other is the disintegration of society and the suffering it will bring in its wake. When the old forms are seen to be hopelessly useless, the people will stir from their materialism and spiritual lethargy, and embrace the Faith.”
When we see what is happening around us, and recognize the patterns of activity emerging in our own community, we are left with little doubt that we face an unprecedented opportunity to advance the process of entry by troops.
What are our challenges?
A New Conception of Growth: A Combination of Old and New
Word-of mouth is a medium of communication, and like any other medium it has strengths and weaknesses. While it has powerful advantages (like concentration, immediacy and flexibility) its great weakness is reach. It is limited by the extent of human energy that can be invested in the process and the restricted numbers that can be reached through personal contact.
Notwithstanding, it has been the principal mechanism for growth for all American religions, primarily because persuasion is facilitated through personal contact. Through our fireside networks we have become a firmly rooted American religion in a relatively short period of time. The growth of the Baha’i Faith in America has been a remarkable achievement in any comparative sense and should not be depreciated.
The objective for quantum acceleration in growth implied in what we call “entry by troops,” however, is beyond the experience of any American faith community and cannot be encompassed solely within what has been the natural framework for expansion. The challenge requires a new paradigm of engagement and teaching that amplifies the efficiency of outreach, adding new forms of media for communications, and upon vastly greater human resources for closure and consolidation. It is neither fair nor productive to expect a system that has been wonderfully [p. 22] effective in one context to perform the miracle of acceleration inherent in another. The new challenge requires innovation on many levels. New systems must be elaborated which blend effectively with the tried and true. The House of Justice has created new institutions to facilitate these tasks. The national campaign described in this document is a starting step in a venture to create an integration of forces that will yield the appropriate engine for sustainable growth.
Continued Development of National and Local Outreach
Understanding the role of media
The national media campaign does not solve the problem of growth. It is only one aspect of systematic outreach. It is not a replacement for personal teaching. Indeed, people informed through media must still be taught by willing and sympathetic believers, who will befriend the seekers and lead them to faith.
The process demonstrates that we have the capability to reach out selectively beyond our traditional boundaries, that the messages we broadcast can be appealing, that they can generate response, and that large numbers of people will investigate the Baha’i Faith.
Early results confirm that the field of action is vast and rich with opportunity. It provides ample reason for optimism as the number of local contacts increases and as national awareness of the Faith, with a corresponding positive association of the Faith with key values, also rises.
An expanding, knowledge-based process
The phased media process, including audience research, programming design and systematic testing, which places great emphasis on addressing the needs of definable seekers, demonstrates the promise of knowledge-based outreach.
In twenty months some 30,000 individuals have responded to national television broadcasts and commercials, and to Internet advertisements. The phone calls, and information requests from the Website, are processed using an automated answering service and are distributed electronically to nearly one thousand local communities for follow-through contacts.
The broadcasts have reached millions of viewers in the period of the campaign, increasing general awareness of the Faith. In addition the national Web site has received more than 50,000 visits from non-Baha’is, about half in response to broadcasts, according to site surveys. Nearly half of the non-Baha’i visitors (48%) say they learned of the Faith through media. More than 60% define themselves as seekers. Only 15% say they are satisfied with their current Faith practice and more than half are presently unaffiliated. Interestingly, nearly a third of Web visitors are college students.
The programming for this campaign has been developed in close cooperation with a series of independent Baha’i producers. The process has included rigorous consultation on themes and formats and the use of focus groups for testing versions. The output to date has included three [p. 23] half-hour programs and five commercial spots. Seven new films and several short spots are presently in production. The subjects of these films have included race unity, prayer, and family. New films in the works will address Hispanic audiences in both Spanish and English, American Indians, the working class, college students and conservative Christians, using various themes such as gender equality, community life, family, and spiritual values. These new videos and commercials should be ready within the next few months.
The process for producing timely, effective, and affordable informational programming materials has taken firm root and will no doubt improve through further refinements. The pool of talented Baha’is in this area is quite impressive. In addition to television, other media products are contemplated and will be addressed in turn.
Emblazoning the Name of Baha’u’llah
A matter of profound significance is the manner in which we introduce the Life and Mission of Baha’u’llah to our countrymen. A considerable number of believers think that the national media effort will be much more successful if it focuses primarily on Baha’u’llah; and some have suggested the direct proclamation of the Second Coming of Christ.
The issue is important to believers because it deals with the essence of our Faith and belief. The most important thing about the Faith is the appearance of God’s Messenger. Further, we realize that His very Name has a special potency, an attractive power. It is logical to expect that a compelling presentation would attract the attention of many sincere souls.
The Universal House of Justice has asked us to “emblazon the Name of Baha’u’llah.” Yet doing so requires great care and wisdom, not only because of its importance, but also because bad or mistaken first impressions are extremely hard to overcome.
The challenge is complicated by the fact that the only evangelical model familiar to most Americans is the one practiced by fundamentalist Christian groups. Their efforts may be attractive to some, but for many more they have created alienation, distrust and an overwhelmingly negative image, even among believing Christians. Respondents who have attended focusgroup sessions have displayed high sensitivity to the slightest indication that our methods resemble those of TV ministers, whom they have come to dislike immensely, in the sense of appearing exclusivist and sectarian. The attitude of religious tolerance displayed by the majority applies to all – there have been recent interactions wherein a few “born again” Christians reacted to the Baha’i media materials with the assertion that “Christ is the only way,” only to face the criticism of other non-Baha’i participants for their strident judgmental attitudes.
In recent sessions new videos have been tested which introduce the claims of Baha’u’llah with more directness and clarity than ever before. And the majority of respondents have been respectful and receptive. These presentations, however, were carefully crafted to heighten the viewers’ receptivity to its more profound elements. The approach was gradual, and was conveyed in the context of buffering information that attempted to portray the Faith as a “valid” religion as the viewers would define it. The results indicate that we can indeed offer a candid message about the [p. 24] Manifestation of God for this Day, but it is also clear that the presentation itself must provide complementary information necessary to engender trust in our audience.
It is clear that conservative Christians make up a significant audience, perhaps 30% of all Americans. The number of seekers who have responded to the national broadcasts, and who describe themselves in Internet surveys conducted by the NTC as fundamentalist or evangelical Christians, is about the same – 30% of the total. In addition, most Americans who would not call themselves fundamentalists retain some affinity with Christianity and at least basic familiarity with its teachings. In this light there is every reason for us to present the Faith in a manner that shows understanding of and sympathy with essential Christian beliefs. Moreover, we can be certain that many of the individuals who come into contact with us will want answers to questions having to do with the relationship of the Faith to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This means that media materials addressing these issues should be complemented by training programs to ensure competence on the part of the believers to deal with them.
It is important to remember two more things:
First, there is no point in looking for a single video, or pamphlet, or book, that will appeal to everyone. People will always have distinct and varying needs; our task is to reach them with many different kinds of presentations. It is likely that a direct presentation about Baha’u’llah will attract many people, but other presentations will attract other people. In addition, what we choose to say about Him will likely appeal to distinct audiences. For example, if we choose “The Return of Christ,” we leave out individuals, either non-believers or members of other religions, who might find the topic irrelevant or offensive and might not bother to listen to the message.
Second, the point of media presentations is not to “prove” anything to anyone. It is not necessary to present a full exposition on a theme, which would not even be possible in any case. We should offer enough information to provide a positive impression and, in as many cases as possible, have them respond to our invitation for further information. We will be successful to the degree that our message is loving and inviting. Often the “indirect” messages are more effective at accomplishing this. When seekers come into contact with us we then have the opportunity to gradually acquaint them with all aspects of the Faith.
The National Spiritual Assembly has commissioned a video that will center on the Life and Mission of Baha’u’llah, which will incorporate the lessons learned from nearly four years of tests with various materials. Production will begin in early 2000.
Expanding outreach must include new literature, better press coverage
One urgent need is for a stream of new books and materials for identifiable non-Baha’i audiences produced with the same focus on response and testing as has been applied to video products. A serious effort is under way to establish a new publishing division to address such needs.
In addition, more effort must be invested in outreach through the press. Coverage of religion in America has undergone a sea-change in recent years. The focus of the press is no longer merely [p. 25] nor primarily on Christian subjects, but on a broader category termed “faith and values”, which deals with an expanded category of spiritual concerns among readers. One concentration of this new coverage is on non-Christian faith alternatives. The willingness of journalists to entertain stories centered on Baha’i initiatives in their communities has increased immensely and will provide a powerful adjunct to the national media campaign in attracting seekers. It will also provide opportunities on a timely basis to call attention to Baha’i approaches and solutions to pressing national concerns and problems.
Perfecting Follow-up with Seekers
The media process demonstrates the presence of a searching and compatible audience and proves our ability to communicate and attract their interest. Perfecting the mechanisms for follow-up that will lead to accelerated enrollment will require the sophisticated engagement of local Baha’i communities in an interactive trial-and-error process that will at once complement traditional forms of engagement and inform and validate the new methodologies for outreach. In the end we must welcome the new seekers, befriend them, serve their needs, and integrate them into our way of life, skills which we must learn through conscientious effort.
The research has revealed remarkable similarities in perspective between seekers and the community of believers. The great difference between these seekers and traditional converts to our ranks is that individuals who respond to media stimulus begin their quest without the buffering safety of prior association with Baha’i friends or relatives. Their first encounter will be with a community proper, which they will judge accordingly. Many participants in focus group sessions express fear of a first encounter in unfamiliar religious surroundings and apprehension over the kind of the people they might find there. Interaction with interested strangers requires heightened sensitivity and tact, and a level of sympathetic kindness that must be assiduously practiced and mastered.
Interestingly, the preference of audiences has been for presentations by rank-and-file believers with whom they can identify and resistance to statements by leaders and official spokes-people, which they tend to view as self-serving. Invariably, audiences press for a convincing presentation of the essential characteristics of Baha’i community life and individual practice, which they consider the fulcrum of a religious identity and the principal attraction. There is also great interest in Baha’i family life and the manner in which we train our children for life in society. This orientation should ease their way to entry into the community.
Implementing a faithful and effective follow-on mechanism has been challenging, especially as this activity has been so radically decentralized. However, this is generally true also of fulfillment systems for all direct response applications, no matter how costly or centralized. Performance has steadily and systematically improved: some communities are demonstrating the promise of this activity through their extraordinary engagement.
The Challenge of Community
In another letter written on behalf of the beloved Guardian (13 March 1944), there is this statement:
“Until the public sees in the Baha’i Community a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has, it will not respond to the Faith in large numbers.”
The vitality of community life is central to persuading a new generation of seekers of the viability of the Faith as an option for them and their families. Growth occurs naturally in [the] community as the friends more skillfully address the needs that seekers define for themselves and bring within the Baha’i orbit. Conversion of seekers will be triggered in significant measure by the perceived quality of Baha’i life in community. Community must be a source of meaningful relationships, spiritual enrichment and practical help, as well as an arena in which individuals can participate and serve.
There are ample indications that the friends themselves are intent upon developing vibrant communities to serve their own needs as well as to advance the goals of the Four Year Plan. It is also clear, as has already been demonstrated, that the level of commitment on the part of the generality of the friends to fundamental Baha’i ideals is both genuine and extremely high.
At the same time, there are clear areas of challenge:
I . Our percentages of African Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Asians are all below that of the general population. In addition, those who we do have indicate less overall satisfaction with Baha’i community life than the white majority.
2. We are under-represented by members of “non-traditional” households, like single mothers, divorced parents, etc.
3. We are also underrepresented by youth, by members of the lower and upper income classes, and by the less educated.
An aspect of community that must be given more thought as this effort progresses, is the manner by which we accommodate legitimate differences among us. The changing demographics of the country makes attention to this priority even more urgent. Non-traditional households have already eclipsed the traditional family in numbers. And over the next generation or two, the proportion of minorities of every kind will grow dramatically. By the middle of the next century Caucasians will become a bare majority in the population. Certain key states — Texas, Florida, New York, to name a few– will reach this milestone even sooner. California, for example, which currently has the largest Baha’i membership, has already become the first state in the mainland in which Caucasians are less than half of the population.
The proportion of minorities among seeker calls has been considerably higher than the proportion of minorities within our communities. Less than 60% of callers have been Caucasians, for example, compared with more than two-thirds of the American Baha’i membership. An important thing to consider is the evidence that different racial and ethnic groups describe different [p 27] expectations of religious practice. For example, like the broad American Middle Class, the majority of Baha’is tend to define their expectations of religious practice in individualistic terms. Different ethnic and racial groups tend to place varying degrees of emphasis on communal interaction, so it is important to understand and deal with these differences in expectation as we examine the standards upheld in the Sacred Text.
Among seeker calls have also been higher proportions of young people under 35 and individuals currently divorced (40% and 22% respectively) than in our present general membership.
Among new believers, as distinct from seekers, women continue to dominate. Overall, more than 60% of new members are women and in some age categories their proportion is even higher. Among 20-34 year-olds it is 68%, for example, and among 35-44 year-olds it is 79%. There are three times as many women as men among new members between 30-34 years of age and twice as many among those who are between 35-39 years of age.
There are also more younger people among new believers in recent years. About 16% are between 20 and 29 years-old, compared with about 10% of the general Baha’i membership. A majority of new believers are also single, though more of the women are married (53%) than are the men (44%).
The general community, on the other hand, is more centered on traditional households. Nearly two-thirds of Baha’is are married and about half have children under 21 living at home. While this relative composition is true also of other religious communities, it is no longer reflective of the larger society. Only about a fourth of households in America are traditional units with parents and children still present. Most religious communities, including our own, have experienced difficulty in attracting and holding members from non-traditional households. This is in part because such people have specific needs that are not well served within prevailing religious organizations.
In sum, the challenge of community will become in part to serve the needs and expectations of a more highly varied membership than ever before. This is the challenge of diversity before us-a diversity of needs and temperaments, influenced not only by race, but also by such factors as age, class, education and religious background.
In executing this Plan the Universal House of Justice has prescribed an array of activities that are to take place within the context of community, such as regular devotional meetings, the 19-day Feast, regular firesides, training and deepening programs for new and veteran believers, service projects, youth and children’s programs, and the like. These must be appreciated not as a list of disparate activities; rather, as facets of one overall process of community building.
In this way, all programs are understood to be intimately linked with each other. No single line of action or activity stands alone, nor can any one thing yield sustained growth
Impact of Immigration, Urbanization on World Development of Faith
Of particular interest must be the burgeoning groups of inbound migrants that are changing the character of urban America. Not only have immigration patterns shifted in the last generation, but these new Americans retain dynamic links with their countries of origin that suggest opportunities for a new kind of global outreach. The accelerating integration of economies is stimulating the rise of a new global middle class that is becoming more intimately associated. Moreover, the steady urbanization of the masses of humanity appears to be having a similar effect on foreign populations to what we are experiencing here, in the sense that such uprooting makes individuals much more open to the possibility of religious change. The approach to audiences that has characterized the national media campaign may well have relevance for reaching these emerging categories, and deserves thorough investigation.
The Universal House of Justice has given us a great deal of guidance about the role and function of training institutes, and has never failed to remind us of the crucial role played by the individual believer as teacher and servant of the Cause. There is no need to repeat it, but there are a couple of points that are especially pertinent for this country.
The need for systematic instruction in the fundamental verities of the Faith becomes clear in the context of the issues raised in this document. The commitment of new believers is fragile. The urge that drives search is spiritual fulfillment but in a context of self-determination. The seekers are independent-minded, which makes them more open to joining, but also more open to leaving. New believers must be given every opportunity to come to a level of understanding and appreciation for the Central Figures and their Teachings that will ensure their life-long allegiance.
Other religious groups that have had extensive experience in this area have discovered that training programs must be complemented by immediate outlets for participation in community activities. According to one study about Catholics, long-term participation was more predictable when individuals received training coupled with opportunities for participation in community life and service according to their own individual interests. Catholics who did not experience such opportunities generally did not emerge as long-term supporters and were no more active than individuals who had not received training at all. Effective training does not occur in a vacuum.
In addition, there is an array of new knowledge and skills that must be imparted through skillful training. Dealing with seekers in the new electronic environments is one obvious case in point; anticipating their issues, needs and questions, and learning how to address them, is another. The growing complexity of outreach to more highly specialized audience segments suggests the urgency and appropriateness of expert training.
Improving Local Stewardship
Baha’i Administrative Institutions play a crucial role in fostering the emergence of that “growth producing milieu” in which individual believers and seekers interact. For the institutions, [p 29] approaches that accommodate, and encourage, human diversity will ensure that masses of people will have a meaningful experience as they come into association with us.
The proper assessment of membership needs, as defined by the membership itself, and the self sacrifice necessary for such a practice, must become a hallmark of Baha’i leadership. Assemblies should lead the way in dealing with the complex issues of community life and outreach to others; in fostering universal participation; in providing safe environments for the expression of ideas and of grievances, and in genuinely encouraging the initiative of individuals.
Although believers express general satisfaction with the functioning of Local Spiritual Assemblies, they receive the lowest confidence ratings of any institutions. Assemblies get high marks for maintenance of basic community functions, like the 19-Day Feast, management of Funds and observance of Holy Days. They get lower marks for leadership functions, such as supporting individual initiative, planning and carrying out teaching campaigns and fostering unity among the friends. Certain sub-groups with under-served special needs — youth, minorities, the elderly, single and divorced, and blue-collar individuals — are generally less satisfied with their experience in community than others. The need for improvement is obvious, since it is the aggregate of local effort, intelligently led by the Assemblies, that is the foundation of our success; whereas everything done at the national and regional levels merely serves to facilitate that activity.
In the growing number of instances in which Local Assemblies are taking initiative to increase satisfaction and strengthen unity by forthrightly addressing the needs of the friends as expressed through consultation, progress can be measured through positive indicators such as increased Feast attendance and Fund participation and expanded enrollments. In so doing they prove another fundamental assertion of the House of Justice – that if we succeed in building loving and united communities, everyone will be happier and more attracted, believers and seekers alike.
Improving The Level of Discourse
The Universal House of Justice has made abundantly clear that there is no one single ingredient that will bring about entry by troops. It is a multi-faceted endeavor, requiring thoughtful, systematic, patient and persistent effort. No individual line of action, no particular method or approach, can be pursued or judged in isolation; all facets must fit together as harmonious elements of a single process.
The Universal House of Justice has exhorted the friends everywhere to thoughtful analysis, systematic effort, ongoing reflection and steady refinement in every undertaking. The national teaching plan is not simply a set of activities, but an attempt to address the issue of growth in the manner prescribed by the Supreme Institution.
In general, the believers in this country now understand that in advancing a process, we must pursue many lines of action at the same time — and there are signs everywhere of increasingly systematic effort and commensurate persistence and confidence. Because of this we can all feel extremely optimistic about the prospects for growth, for the House of Justice has assured us that our own perseverance will in the end yield the results we so long for.
Yet there is room for improvement in our discourse. Occasionally there is stridency of language about what will or will not achieve growth, what has or has not worked in the past, what we may lack in spiritual capacity. In some instances certain teaching approaches are touted as more faithful to the true spirit of the Writings, while those who disagree are said to fall short in their understanding. The result is a kind of fundamentalism, wherein curiosity is discouraged and honest evaluation becomes nearly impossible. False dichotomies are set up, the friends polarize into extreme ideological “camps,” and the teaching work suffers needless delay. In such an atmosphere it is impossible for workable approaches to be developed.
Intemperance of discourse in any area of endeavor not only impacts our ability to act with unity, but will also repel seekers, whose sensitivity to factionalism is acutely honed. It is hard to resist the thought that our efforts to meet the challenges ahead could be stymied unless we are willing to set aside minor differences and old grievances.
The rank-and-file of the believers express overwhelming and undiminished confidence in the senior institutions of the Faith. This sense of trust is not only remarkable in American culture, but will resonate with the seekers we hope to attract. The challenge of institutional unity affects primarily those who serve in leadership roles. Perhaps no other issue is more pertinent to the outcome of our efforts that the ability of our leadership and rank-and-file members together to provide a convincing example of consensus and unity to the masses of our countrymen.
Success in advancing such a broad, comprehensive process as entry by troops will not be found in simplistic answers or “get rich quick” schemes, and certainly not through dispute. There is ample room for experimentation with a variety of methods and approaches, and no reason for undue fear of mistakes. Our approaches should draw upon knowledge of patterns and trends in American society today and our own community’s present state of development. Such insights will reveal opportunities for teaching that are appropriate for current conditions, and allow us to engage in thoughtful, united and persistent action.
The Role of the Regional Baha’i Councils
There have been two extraordinary institutional developments during the course of this Plan: the establishment of a network of regional training institutes; and the establishment of Regional Baha’i Councils. That the Universal House of Justice has envisioned and described a key role for the Councils in furthering the process of entry by troops goes without saying, for its guidance has been ample.
There is one aspect of the operation of the Councils in the United States which deserves mention here. Over the past few years there has been a marked increase in intercommunity activities, where consortia of Local Assemblies and groups have agreed to work together in support of programs that benefit an entire area. This trend has been going on for some years with respect to children’s classes, youth programs and special activities such as Holy Days, and is now encompassing devotional meetings, training institute programs, proclamation activities, service [p. 31] projects and more. This has proven a sensible arrangement, given that most of our communities would find it extremely difficult to support such arrays of activities due to their limited resources.
The Councils have already begun acting as organizing agents in their respective regions, helping groups of communities to develop harmonious and effective relationships. Their continued participation will help to ensure the emergence of patterns of activity more and more in harmony with the vision of the House of Justice.
The collaboration between the Councils and the National Teaching Committee in the prosecution of the national teaching plan has been extensive and will deepen as more intercommunity efforts are developed. Fifteen such joint campaigns are now under way or in the planning stages. Specialized productions for targeted outreach have also been developed collaboratively and funded nationally, and many more are contemplated. The effectiveness of these preliminary enterprises is fueling a willingness to expand the pace and scope of interaction and an inclination to greater boldness.
Our hope is that the months and years ahead will witness a rich harvest of effective regional strategies. Over the course of time our common understandings will be enhanced as the Councils gain in experience and share their knowledge with other institutions and agencies.
The need for growth is urgent. Although we can look back upon the achievements of the century soon coming to an end with deep gratitude, our community as yet makes up but a miniscule proportion of the American population – it is far too small to demonstrate the true efficacy of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah to a bewildered and spiritually starving world. The time is ripe for an unprecedented era of expansion. We must resolutely and boldly seize the opportunities that are now open before us.
Our goal is not merely to increase our numbers, but also to transform our communities and our individual lives while also spreading the fragrances of the Divine Message into the world. Our assessment of our own progress in advancing the process of entry by troops must take all of these considerations into account as we move forward.
“It is not sufficient” states a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, “to number the souls that embrace the Cause to know the progress that it is making. The more important consequences of’ your activities are the spirit that is diffused into the life of the community, and the extent to which the teachings we proclaim become a part of the consciousness and belief of the people that hear them. For it is only when the spirit has thoroughly permeated the world that the people will begin to enter the Faith in large numbers. At the beginning of spring only the few, exceptionally favored seeds will sprout, but when the season gets in its full sway, and the atmosphere gets permeated with the warmth of true springtime, then masses of flowers will begin to appear, and a whole hillside suddenly blooms. We are still in the state when only isolated souls are awakened, but soon we shall have the full swing of the season and the quickening of whole groups and nations into the spiritual life breathed by Baha’u’llah.” (18 February 1932)
We are only in the earliest phase of a national campaign whose fundamental elements have been delineated and are now in motion. There is still a great deal to learn. There will be many difficulties ahead, but also many rewards. And who can doubt the assurance of our Supreme Institution that “victories hover on the horizon” of this community?
A vast increase in interaction with seekers will inevitably change the realities of our common experience, will alter the priorities of the Institutions, and will refine our sense of what it will take to achieve sustained expansion. Our ability to know the dynamics of growth at any given point in time, and to apply that knowledge toward practical outcomes, will dramatically assist the process of entry by troops.
NOTES ON SURVEY METHODS
In the last three years the NTC has conducted more than two dozen surveys of various kinds to measure different aspects of Baha’i behavior and attitudes and to gauge various dimensions of community engagement. These surveys have taken many forms. Their primary purpose has been to begin to generate a broader base of generally reliable information and data for outreach planning.
This phase of the NTC’s work has been advanced with the able help of a group of participating research professionals, most notably Gene Telser, who has helped with design of most of the survey instruments, consulted in the supervision of the field work in many instances, and provided invaluable analytical support. Mr. Telser has more than 40 years of experience in the field of survey research, both as teacher and practitioner. He has been research director of J.Walter Thompson, one of the leading global advertising firms, and of Brick and Lavidge, a well respected U.S. research company. He also held many senior executive positions over nearly twenty years with Nielsen Research, the largest American research company and one of the largest in the world. He has also taught research methods at Loyola University in Chicago and published many articles over an illustrious career.
A primary consideration in selecting survey methods has been speed and cost of interviewing. The realities of an ongoing media campaign have led us to favor methods yielding faster turn-arounds.
In all cases the research has been of a practical rather than academic nature, more properly termed marketing research. The applicable standards are thorough and systematic, though arguably less rigorous than academic or sociological studies.
Over the period we have done several telephone studies to establish a demographic baseline for subsequent applications. For the bulk of our internal surveys we have used representative panels drawn from the membership database and have conducted interviewing with automated interactive technologies, including IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and the Internet. The interactive technologies center on self-administered questionnaires to pre-recruited respondents. The value of these self-administered instruments in a sensitive environment like the Baha’i community is that they increase the sense of privacy, reduce interviewer bias and lower the propensity to give socially approved responses, an important consideration in this work. It has also provided the advantage of reduced cost.
We have also done extensive qualitative interviewing in the form of focus group sessions, primarily to obtain feedback on video productions. The principal advantage of focus groups is that large amounts of information can be obtained quickly and at a relatively small cost. This feedback has helped to guide the work of an array of independent film makers laboring on nearly a dozen projects. The groups have normally been conducted with 8-12 participants recruited by telephone in professional focus group facilities throughout the country. Gene Telser has been the moderator for the more than 20 sessions that have been held to date. The NTC will be experimenting with Internet-based focus groups in subsequent productions.
The National Assembly and the NTC have been in the forefront of an advancing tendency to use computers in interviewing. Computer aided interviewing, in addition to benefits mentioned above, helps reduce interviewer error, ensures consistency of presentation, and eliminates the need for post-processing physical questionnaires and manual data entry. It also provides real-time reporting features impossible with more conventional methods. The use of Internet as an adjunct of this process, with networked multimedia computer systems, provides efficient and accessible technologies for developing standardized survey approaches on a national and ultimately global scale.
In the interest of efficiency, we have used systematic sampling to draw respondent pools from membership lists arranged in order of respondent ID number. While this is a reliable and straightforward approach it ultimately depends upon the accuracy of the membership database itself. Results of these surveys are not projectable to those portions of the membership excluded from the sampling frame as a result of unknown addresses, for example. Response rates for Baha’i surveys have been within ranges considered acceptable for commercial surveys. The sample sizes have been sufficient to draw valid inferences in the error range of +/- 4% at 99% confidence.
PROCESS FOR EXAMINATION OF MEMBERSHIP DATABASE
In this analysis, we set out to find answers to two questions:
1. What proportion of people who enroll as Baha’is remain in good standing and with a good address in the national database?
2. Regarding those who do not, can we find a pattern that describes the period of time when someone is likely to withdraw or to make themselves inaccessible to Baha’i contact?
The population analyzed included all Baha’is in the mainland United States who were Baha’is on January l, 1970, or who joined the community through December 3l, 1998. However certain records had to be excluded because they included insufficient date information. Dates were crucial because we sought to track people’s tangible affiliation over time.
There are, in total, 176,864 records in the database, of which 140,338 are included in this analysis. There are approximately 70,000 records with good addresses in the total database. Most (19,000) of the records excluded from this analysis are: (1) people who transferred in from outside the U.S., (2) with no recorded transfer-in date, and (3) records which do not indicate “transfer in” as the most recent cause of action. The great majority of these transfers-in are Persians. There are 5734 additional transfers-in that are excluded in order to make the analysis reflect U.S.-based enrollments. In addition, there are 4,000 enrollee records with no declaration date, 1629 enrollments in calendar 1999 (to date), 400 duplicate records, certain records for prominent Baha’is living outside the U.S., and other smaller categories which were excluded from the analysis.
The process entailed analyses of numbers of Baha’is at the beginning of the year, breaking them into categories reflecting standing for mail and rights purposes, then adding and deleting those who joined or withdrew that year. Many discrepancies were encountered in this process, leading to the elimination of the record classes described above and other smaller classes, e.g., person withdrew before they declared, died before they declared, transferred in before they declared.
In this process, many records were corrected in the database and then could be retained in the analysis. Approximately 1,000 records were manually checked against the original paper documents in the attempt to correct date discrepancies. In about 60 percent of the cases, the paper documents allowed us to make the needed correction. In the other 40 percent of the cases, we had to delete the record from this analysis due to insufficient data.
Another type of problem was resolved by reasonable approximation. In many cases where there was not a declaration date, we checked declaration dates for Baha’is whose ID number was close to the ID number on the record in question. Often the declaration date could be approximated well enough to establish the correct year.
This analysis was designed and conducted by Bill Ahlhauser of Americom Research, Inc. and Michael Carr in the Information Services Department of the Baha’i National Center. This work was conducted from September through December 1999.
The results include:
A summary analysis of Baha’i enrollments and withdrawals by year from 1970 through 1998. This includes breaking out those for whom we have good address versus those for whom we do not.
An analysis for each year showing the eventual status (i.e., the status today) of those who enrolled in that year. This analysis also breaks out the year in which that eventual status was attained.
There is a seemingly endless wealth of literature on patterns of American religious change. Here are some titles on this and related issues that were helpful in developing this report:
American Congregations, Vol. 2 New Perspectives in the Study of Congregations, James P. Wind, Chicago University Press, 1998
American Exceptionalism, Seymour Martin Lipset, W.W. Norton and Company, 1996
The Black Church in the African American Experience, C. Eric Lincoln, Duke University Press, 1990
The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Times of Trial, Robert N. Bellah, Chicago University Press, 1984
The Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics, Andrew M. Greeley, Collier Books, (paperback) 1997
Commercial Culture, Leo Bogart, Oxford University Press, 1995
The Culture of Disbelief, Stephen L. Carter, Anchor Books, 1993
Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers, Free Press, (paperback) 1995
Divided By Color, Donald Kinder and Lynn Sades, University of Chicago Press, 1996
Edge City, Joel Garreau, Doubleday, 1988
An Empire Wilderness, Robert B. Kaplan, Random House, 1998
Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Re-Shaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century, Harvey Cox, Perseus Press, 1996
Fresh Blood: The New American Immigrants, Sanford Ungar, Simon and Schuster, 1995
Generation at the Crossroads: Apathy and Action on the American Campus, Paul Rogat Loeb, Rutgers University Press, (paperback) 1995
Generation Next: What You Need to Know About Today’s Youth, George Barna, Regal Books, 1997
A Generation of Seekers; The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation, Wade Clark
Roof, Bruce Greer, Mary Johnson, Andrea Leibson
God-Talk in America, Phyllis Tickle, The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1997
The Great Disruption, Francis Fukuyama, The Free Press, 1997
The Hispanic Population in America, Frank Dean and Marta Tienda, Russell Sage Publications, 1987
How to Reach Baby Boomers (Effective Church Series), William M. Easum, Herb Miller (ed.), Abingdon Press, 1991
Immigrant America, Alejandro Portes and Ruben Rumbaut, University of California Press, 1996
The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, George Barna, Word Books, 1996
Islam in America, Jane I. Smith, Columbia University Press, 1999
The Ladd Report, Everett Carl Ladd, Free Press, 1999
Marketing to a Changing Household, Mary Lou Roberts ed., Ballinger Publishing, 1984
Middle-Class Dreams, Stanley B. Greenberg, Times Books, 1995
Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties, Paul Johnson, Harper Perennial Library, (paperback) 1992
Moral Politics, George Lakoff, Chicago University Press, 1996
News for All: America’s Coming of Age with the Press, Thomas C. Leonard, Oxford University Press, 1995
One Nation Under God, Religion in Contemporary American Society, Barry A. Kosmin, Seymour P. Lachman, Crown, 1994
One Nation After All. What Americans really Think About God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, the Right, the Left and Each Other, Alan Wolfe, Penguin paperback, 1999; Hardcover Viking, 1998
The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s “Racial” Crisis, Orlando Patterson, Counterpoint, 1997
The Other Americans: How Immigrants Renew Our country, our Economy and Our Values, Joel Millman, Viking Books, 1997
PR! A Social History of Spin, Stewart Ewin, Basic Books, 1996
Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, Howard Schumann et al., Harvard University Press, 1997
Religion and Mass Media; Audiences and Adaptations, Daniel Stout and Judith Budeenbaum, Sage Publications, 1996
Religion in America, Julia Mitchell Corbett, Prentice Hall, (paperback) 1999
Religion in the Secular City, Harvey Cox, Simon and Schuster, 1984
The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, Rodney Stark, Harper Collins (paperback), 1997
The Second Coming of the Church, George Bama, Word Books, 1998
Segmenting the Women’s Market. Using Niche Marketing to Understand and Meet the Diverse Needs of Today’s Most Dynamic Consumer Market, E. Janice Leeming, Cynthia F. Tripp
Selling God.- American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture, Laurence R. Moore, Oxford University Press, 1995
Shadow Culture: Psychologv and Spirituality in America, Eugene Taylor, Counterpoint, 1999
Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millenium, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998
Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Wade Clark Roof, Princeton University Press, 1999
The State of Americans, Uric Bronfenbrenner et al., The Free Press, 1996
Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America, Robert Supo, Vintage Books, 1998
Understanding Religious Conversion, Lewis R. Rambo, Yale University Press, (paperback) 1995
Values Matter Most, Ben J. Wattenberg, The Free Press, 1995
The Villagers, Richard Critchfield, 1994
Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X, Tom Beaudoin, Jossey-Bass, 1998
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill, Simon and Schuster, 1999
Work, Family and Religion in American Society, Nancy Tatom. Ammerman, Wade Clark Roof, Routledge, (paperback) 1995
13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, Vintage, (paperback) 1993