NCLS Research

Media Release: All are called but who responds?

British academics using data from the Australian National Church Life Survey have found that the psychological characteristics of churchgoers could be so atypical of the general population that visitors feel alienated.

NCLS Research provided Mandy Robbins and Leslie J. Francis from the University of Warwick, UK, with the largest sample for comparable studies in the world, which they analysed for their report, “All are called, but some psychological types are more likely to respond: profiling churchgoers in Australia”.

Developing Carl Jung’s psychological type theory — distinguishing between four aspects of personality: orientations (introversion and extraversion: I/E), perceiving functions (sensing and intuition: S/N), judging functions (feeling and thinking: F/T) and attitudes toward the outer world (judging and perceiving: J/P) — they examined an NCLS sample of 1,527 Australian churchgoers (591 males and 936 females).

Compared with the data held by the Australian Archive of the Psychological Type Research Unit, both male and female churchgoers displayed significantly higher levels of preference for sensing, for feeling and for judging.

Where men and women are counted together, the combined SFJ preferences (i.e. ISFJ and ESFJ) accounted for almost two out of every five churchgoers.

The ISFJ profile was described as quiet, friendly, responsible and conscientious. Work devotedly to meet their obligations. Lend stability to any project or group. Thorough, painstaking, accurate. Their interests are usually not technical. Can be patient with necessary details. Loyal considerate, perceptive, concerned with other people feel.

The ESFJ profile was said to be warm-hearted, talkative, popular, conscientious, born co-operators, active committee members. Need harmony and may be good at creating it. Always doing something nice for someone. Work best with encouragement and praise. Main interest is in things that directly and visibly affect people’s lives.

Although those characteristics might seem desirable within the church community, Robbins and Francis found some strong differences in the levels of certain psychological types present in church congregations and in the wider population.

The two preference sets that were most visible in that regard were SFJ and STJ: SFJ preferences accounted for 45% of the female churchgoers (compared with 21% of the wider female population) and for 27% of male churchgoers (compared with 17% of the wider male population); STJ preferences accounted for 28% of the female churchgoers (compared with 17% of the wider female population) and for 44% of the male churchgoers (compared with 37% of the wider male population).

They concluded that while in principle churches proclaim their invitation to worship to all psychological types, in practice some psychological types appear more willing to respond.

“Looking at the key binary preferences, within church congregations there are large over-representations of sensers, and of judgers and a more modest over-representation of feelers.”

They said the over-representation of preference for sensing characterised a community concerned with continuity, with traditions, with stability, and with a God grounded in divine changelessness. “Here is a community concerned with guarding what has been handed down by previous generations. Such a community may tend to espouse conservative social and moral values.

“A community shaped by such a pronounced preference for sensing may, however, be quite alien to individuals who view the world through the lens of intuition. For this reason some intuitives may find it more difficult to access their local churches.”

The researchers said the over-representation of preference for judging characterised a community concerned with organisation, with discipline, with structure, and with a God who welcomes a regular pattern of worship (whatever that pattern may be).

“Here is a community concerned with valuing regular commitment, advanced planning and respect for guidelines (implicit as well as explicit). Such a community may tend to reject spontaneity and flexibility. A community shaped by such a pronounced preference for judging may, however, be quite alien to individuals who view the world through the lens of perceiving.

“For this reason some perceivers may find it more difficult to access their local churches.”

The over-representation of preference for feeling characterised a community concerned with human values, with interpersonal relationships, and with a loving and caring God. “Here is a community concerned with peace and with harmony. Such a community may tend to project a feminine profile, given the significantly higher levels of preference for feeling reported among women than among men in many national population studies.

“A community shaped by a preference for feeling may, however, be quite alien to individuals who view the world through the lens of thinking. For this reason some thinkers may find it more difficult to access their local churches.”

For comment or more information, contact NCLS Research Director Dr Ruth Powell, 02 8267 4394.


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