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EFCA 2018 Doctrinal Survey

A summary of survey results and the survey process

The EFCA Board of Directors (BOD) conducted their five-year doctrinal survey late last year. The results were compiled and assessed by the Spiritual Heritage Committee (SHC) and presented to the BOD. Those results are posted on our EFCA website.

EFCA 2018 Doctrinal Survey: This document consists of the Results, Assessments, and Comments (pages 1-14) and the Questionnaire and Statistical Results (pages 15-80). In the first part, we give some introductory comments about the survey, along with some general assessments and a few general observations (pages 1-3). Included here are reminders of how to read and assess surveys. Following this, we focus on the results of the survey, along with an assessment, including some cross-tabulation with a few of the profile matters and also with the 2013 survey. This is followed by a few comments focusing on some specific issues of importance for us (pages 3-14). The second part of this document includes the actual doctrinal survey questions along with the results (pages 15-80).

2018 EFCA Doctrinal Survey: Questions: After taking the survey, a number of respondents were interested in asking the survey questions of staff, elders, and/or members. Based on this request, we have made the questions available. One possible use of this survey could be to compare and contrast the local church with the national survey. Another possibility would be to develop a teaching and/or preaching series on certain doctrinal or moral issues that need emphasis or clarification.

As you know, this is no small undertaking. I am grateful this doctrinal survey matters to the BOD, as one of their commitments is to retain our doctrinal fidelity. And in light of what is happening in so many denominations, this is a vital conviction and a major commitment. This is not a boast, but a statement of humble gratitude for God’s kindness to us. I am also thankful to the SHC who gives oversight to the doctrinal specifics of the survey, and I am also thankful for the time they give to read, evaluate, assess, and comment on the results. The input and insights they provide are invaluable. Additionally, I give thanks to and for the many who help with the administration of the survey, including the Office of the President, Theology and Credentialing, and IT. Finally, I am thankful to the many who take the time to respond to the survey. The high response rate reflects that theology and doctrine matter in the EFCA among these survey respondents and the high number of responses allows us to gather and assess more data and that this data gives us a strong sense of where we are on these important issues. We give thanks to God alone – soli Deo Gloria!

I include below the information from the first three pages of the Results, Assessments, and Comments. You can read this here, or you can read the whole document here. If you read the Introduction, the General Assessments, and A Few Observations here, please make sure you read the whole document. After reading and reflecting on the results, assessments, and comments of the survey, I am interested to hear your thoughts and comments.


Why conduct a doctrinal survey?

When the EFCA Conference adopted our 2008 Statement of Faith, the EFCA Board of Directors affirmed a “process for safeguarding our spiritual heritage.” One part of this process was to receive an annual theology update. Another aspect of the process was to conduct a doctrinal survey every five years. The first one was conducted in 2013. It was a way the board sought intentionally to value and safeguard the vital role of the Bible, theology, and doctrine in the Christian life for those in the EFCA.

How was the survey structured?

The survey assumed respondents affirmed the EFCA SOF. (Since not all senior pastors are credentialed with the EFCA, this assumption may not have been accurate.) The questions and structure of the survey were based on our SOF with a focus on major doctrinal issues, including some matters of “significance of silence (matters we will debate but not divide over), other doctrinal and contemporary issues, and finally, some critical doctrinal issues to address. Also included at the beginning of the survey were a number of profile questions. The survey was conducted anonymously, and each question provided opportunities for comments.

Who received the survey and what was the response rate?

All senior pastors of EFCA churches (not all are credentialed in the EFCA) and everyone credentialed by the EFCA (not all are in EFCA ministries) received the survey through email. The 49-question survey was conducted from November 8, 2018 to December 11, 2018. SurveyMonkey was used to conduct the survey and compile the data. The survey was sent to 3,000 individuals, it was completed by 1,509, which represents 50.3%. This is an excellent response rate, especially remembering this 49-question survey takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. In addition to completing the survey, 8,341 comments were made by respondents. In comparison, in 2013 we sent the survey to 1,928 individuals (the same groups represented) and received 1,074 responses, which represents a 55.7% response, with 3,670 comments.

What did we desire to learn from the survey?

The survey was conducted for informational purposes, to discern a doctrinal “pulse” from a select group of the EFCA, those most often responsible for biblical and doctrinal matters in the local church and in the EFCA (all senior pastors and all those credentialed in the EFCA). Because we assume the SOF is affirmed, one purpose is to reveal theological aberrations or doctrinal outliers. We also sought to determine how strongly our SOF is affirmed, where there are doctrinal weaknesses, how many doctrinal outliers there are and on what Articles and doctrines, what issues need to be addressed and where instruction is needed, what biblical and theological issues and trends are affecting us, with possible trajectories, and what resources we should provide to retain our biblical and theological convictions and commitments to doctrinal fidelity and faithfulness.

Reminder: surveys have both strengths and weaknesses

Surveys must be read and interpreted carefully. They can be misunderstood and/or misused. It is important to remember that survey bias can occur for a number of reasons: survey questions, respondents of the survey, definitions either assumed or imported, misunderstanding or confusing questions, more than one question asked in a question, over-interpreting or under interpreting either a part or the whole, universalizing rather than recognizing it is a limited group that records a “pulse” at a point in time. Bearing all of these limitations in mind, surveys are still helpful tools and provide much helpful information, including this doctrinal survey.

Responses, Assessments and Comments

As noted above, this five-year doctrinal survey was conducted from November 8, 2018 to December 11, 2018. Below are the responses, assessments, and comments of the doctrinal survey compiled and assessed by the Spiritual Heritage Committee and presented to and discussed by the Board of Directors on April 17, 2019.

These assessments highlight important aspects of the responses, and all the questions in the survey are included. There is also some cross-tabulation with the 2013 doctrinal survey, and also with some of the profile assessments. The comments highlight important or notable issues, which makes them representative, not exhaustive. In the responses, assessments, and comments, we have focused on what we believe to be important information, yet we have done so in as objective a manner as possible.

As you read these responses, assessments, and comments, please bear in mind that many individual responses were nuanced through comments. Though those comments are not included, certain statistics must be read through this nuance which, if pertinent, we have noted below.

General Assessments

  1. We remain strongly committed to the essential doctrinal truths espoused in our SOF. It remains strong because of our unwavering commitment to the inerrancy, infallibility, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures.
  2. We remain strongly committed to the outworking of the Christian faith on some of the major moral and social issues of the day.
  3. We have a few doctrinal and moral outliers.
  4. In addition to a strong commitment to biblical and doctrinal fidelity and faithfulness, there is also a strong commitment to our ethos, living with the “significance of silence,” the two primary issues that describe the uniqueness of the EFCA.
  5. Through the years we have addressed many of the doctrinal and moral issues in Theology Conferences and at EFCA One.
  6. There remains an ongoing need to address the issues raised in the doctrinal survey, which will be somewhat accomplished through providing teachings and resources. This is one of the reasons for conducting the survey, to hear and learn from pastors, ministers and staff what resources they need in order to shepherd the people of God faithfully. It is both helpful and important to remember that Evangelical Convictions is the “theological exposition” of our SOF, so it is the best resource to learn about our SOF.
  7. As an immediate response, the survey questions asked in the doctrinal survey will be available so they can be asked of pastoral staff, elders, leaders, or possibly even members. Based on what is learned, pastors and/or elders may develop a teaching series to address areas of needed growth based on the specific results of the survey. Additionally, our upcoming Theology Conference will address some of the key doctrinal issues raised in the survey.

A Few Observations

  1. Some misunderstood the structure of a doctrinal survey. Several times in comments respondents questioned why a certain settled doctrine in the EFCA was being questioned. In the future, we may need to state in the instructions that some questions may be non-orthodox views, with the goal of discerning and ascertaining responses to the orthodox view.
  2. Many do not seem to be aware of or know about current or even decades-long theological debates, e.g., “What is this evolutionary Creation of which you speak?” “What do you mean by Eternal Functional Submission?” “What are models of atonement?” “What is ‘creation care?'”
  3. Most respondents’ comments are winsome and engaging, consisting of thoughtful interaction with the questions. Some comments reflect skepticism to the survey. A few comments are made by those who deny a specific doctrine in our SOF. For example, on the doctrine of “eternal conscious punishment,” one comments, “I believe the tradition of ETERNAL conscious punishment is a slander of God, and preach and teach against it with vigor.”
  4. This reminds us and reinforces to us the importance of credentialing in the EFCA. For those credentialed, a denial of our SOF will be addressed through our five-year reaffirmation of the SOF, which requires all to reaffirm “without mental reservation.” For those not credentialed, they will have an influence on our EFC churches with no doctrinal accountability to the EFCA outside the local church. This is one of the critical reasons all pastors and ministry staff ought to be credentialed in the EFCA.
Greg Strand

Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.

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