Except perhaps for the “born again” label, no religious term is more common today, or more important, than “evangelical,” and none is more difficult to define. By definition, all Christians are evangelicals. The word evangelical is derived from the Greek word evangelion, which means “the good news” or “the gospel.” But the term evangelical has generally come to mean Protestants who emphasize personal conversion; evangelism; the authority, primacy and inerrancy of the Bible; and the belief that Jesus’ death reconciled God and humans. Evangelicals tend to be conservative theologically, but the terms evangelical and conservative Christian aren’t synonymous, though they both may apply to some people. Fundamentalists, who say that the Bible is the literal word of God and generally separate themselves from what they see as a sinful culture, are distinct from evangelicals, who tend to embrace culture and use it to build up the church. Today, the term evangelical has become so popular that it has become almost trans-denominational, with many mainline Protestants and even some Catholics using it.
A 2005 survey identified 1,210 American megachurches with an average weekly attendance of 3,612.
SOURCE:Megachurches Today 2005, a survey by Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Leadership Network in Dallas
- The New International Version is most popular among evangelicals, but many refer to the King James Version when quoting Scripture.
- The National Association of Evangelicals is a fellowship of 60 denominations in addition to individual churches, parachurch organizations and individuals.
- The Southern Baptist Convention, with 16 million members, is the largest group within the evangelical world, as well as the second-largest faith group in America (behind Catholics).
- The most influential evangelical leaders are pastors of megachurches or lead parachurch ministries. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research posts research and a database on megachurches.
- There are hundreds of parachurch ministries — nonprofits organized outside of the church — ranging from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Focus on the Family to Campus Crusade for Christ. The Baptist Missionary Association of Texas posts a list of more than 50,with Web links.
- The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a network of 1,800 Baptist churches known for its moderate views.
- Individual denominations have extensive Web sites with background and contact information.
- Evangelicals are gaining numbers and influence in America, particularly in the political arena. Surveys indicate they make up a quarter or more of the population. They are known for steadfastness to tradition as well as creativity and innovation in programs for youth and young adults. The emergent church movement is a good example.
- Debates include the proper role for the church in politics, the role of women in leadership, differences over biblical interpretation, and relations with other Christians and other faiths. Conflicts occur when evangelicals express their faith in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods — through teachings about evolution, creationism and sexuality; through workplace Bible studies; or through holiday observances — in ways that may infringe upon others’ freedom from religion or freedom to practice their own beliefs.
- While evangelicals have been known for commitment to issues involving morality and family, they are increasingly becoming involved in issues such as poverty and environmentalism.
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- There is rich diversity among evangelicals in belief and practice as well as in approaches to living out faith outside church walls. Evangelicals run Sojourners/Call to Renewal, organizations focused on social justice and poverty which call their agendas “progressive,” as well as very conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family.
- Baptists make up a huge portion of evangelicals, and with more than 60 denominations, Baptists are an entire world unto themselves. In recent years, that world has been marked by fierce debates between moderates and conservatives over doctrine and policies regarding women, evangelism of people of other faiths, missionary work, homosexuality and other issues. Churches have chosen sides by leaving or joining different national Baptist organizations. These debates have been well-chronicled and play out in every state in the nation. Out of the spotlight, Baptists in the pews are active in a tremendous array of mission work and other activities that affect communities around the country and around the world.
- Christianity Today is the most prominent magazine for evangelicals. It has several associated publications, such as Books & Culture.
- Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals offers a range of resources.
- Evangelicals are the topic of dozens of books. Good primers include the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism by Randall Balmer (Westminster John Knox Press) and books by Mark A. Noll, including The Rise of Evangelicalism (Intervarsity Press) and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans).
- The Ethics and Public Policy Center runs a program on evangelicals in civic life.
- The Baptist Press is a news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Associated Baptist Press is an independent news service about Baptists. Crosswalk offers a daily news service.