In August 2018, our Centre reviewed over 1,000 journal articles on research studies done in Hong Kong. We conducted a meta-analysis on 47 of these articles that specifically reported the religious background of participants in studies with Hong Kong community based sampling, and of which 24 of them reported detail demographics of research participants. The result of the meta-analysis indicated that about 20.4 to 29.3% of participants from these studies had identified themselves as Christian (Protestant) as their religious background.
According to the Hong Kong Church Survey 2014 by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, attendees of Christian worship services account for about 5% of Hong Kong’s population. These two figures (~20% and 5%) may indicate that other than regular church attendees, many Christians may be non-church-goers. With that in mind, our Centre had conducted a survey on the religious background and faith expression of Hong Kong people in October to December 2018. Through this survey, we hope that we can better understand Regular, Marginal church-goers and Dechurched believers.
Aim and Method of this Study
We made use of an online survey platform Survey Legend and adopted snowball sampling in conducting this research. The online survey was sent out through our personal network, affiliated organizations, facebook page and advertisements. This study is not a census survey on the number or percentage of Christian or Dechurched population in Hong Kong. Instead, we hope to reach out to marginal church-goers and Dechurched believers through this survey to better understand how some of these brothers and sisters experience and express their faith outside of church. The major restriction of this study is that our connections had helped us reach regularly church-goers which we only received limited responses from the Dechurched group. Also, this study will only look into participants who still identify themselves as Christians (Protestant), so we are not able to explore on those who no longer believe in God.
Profile and background of valid responses of Protestant participants of this study are as follow:
Part I: Faith Maturity Scale
In the first part of the survey, we made use of the Faith Maturity Scale that was developed by scholars in 1993 2,4,5. The Scale consists of 12 items that explores on believer’s relationship with the Lord (Vertical) and relationship with the society and other believers (Horizontal). Results for this study are as follow:
The Faith Maturity Scores of the Regular group are statistically higher than Marginal and Dechurched groups in both Horizontal and Vertical scores. However, there is no statistical difference between Marginal and Dechurched groups. It is worth noting that the difference between groups among Vertical scores are larger than Horizontal scores, indicating that church-going pattern have more impact on believers’ relationship with God than horizontally with other believers and the society.
Part II: Ways of Faith Expression
Inspired by Barna Group’s research on Meet Those Who “Love Jesus but Not the Church”1, we asked our survey participants about the frequency of the below ways of faith expression:
Prayer is the most common form of faith expression among Marginal and Dechurched participants in this research. These two groups mostly express their faith in more personal ways while Regular church-goers more often express their faith in community setting. It is worth noting that there are not much group differences for some ways of expression including Meditation, Reflection in nature and Solitude; whereas joining Smallgroups, Partake Communion and Reading the Bible are ways of expression that have larger group differences.
Part III: Reasons for “Churched and Dechurched”
We have asked Marginal and Dechurched survey participants to indicate reasons for not attending church regularly or leaving church. The options are provided with reference to previous local and international research studies 3,6:
Equally, we hope to understand the reasons of why our survey participants choose to attend church (now or in the past). The top reasons are mostly related to personal faith and spirituality including “To become closer to God”, “For comfort in times of trouble/sorrow”, “I find the sermons valuable” and “To be a part of a faith community”; whereas factors related to programmes and forms of worship e.g. “Worship music and choir”, “For children and youth activities” were less popular reasons. We took reference to research studies from Pew Research Centre and Gallup for the reasons for going to church 3,6:
By the end of the survey, we asked the Dechurched participants whether they would consider coming back to church in the future:
Linear Regression Analysis for Faith Maturity Scale and Ways of Expression
With the results from the above sections, we conducted linear regression analysis and found that the frequencies of the below ways of faith expressions can predict Horizontal and Vertical Faith Maturity Scores:
From the above report, we can see that Dechurched believers still have certain level of faith maturity and ways of expressing faith even when they are not attending church. The reasons for going to church and leaving church are important directions for ministry and evangelism.
We want to thank the Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation Advisory Panel and Committee for their valuable advice and support. Special thanks to Prof. Kara Chan, Dr. Harry Hui and Dr. Lau Chung Ming for their help and guidance on data analysis. Thanks to everyone who helped us send out the survey, especially Dr. John Chan Wai On for helping us reach the Dechurched group. Looking forward, we will continue to engage Dechurched brothers and sisters through qualitative interviews so to better understand their experience and journey.
Barna Group (2017) Meet Those Who “Love Jesus but Not the Church” https://www.barna.com/research/meet-love-jesus-not-church/
Benson, Peter L., Michael J. Donahue, and Joseph A. Erickson. "The faith maturity scale: Conceptualization, measurement, and empirical validation." Research in the social scientific study of religion5, no. 1 (1993): 1-26.
Gallup (2017) Sermon Content Is What Appeals Most to Churchgoers https://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx
Hui, C. H., Wai Ng, E. C., Ying Mok, D. S., Ying Lau, E. Y., & Cheung, S. F. (2011). “Faith Maturity Scale” for Chinese: A revision and construct validation. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 21(4), 308-322.
Ji, C. H. C. (2004). Faith maturity and doctrinal orthodoxy: A validity study of the faith maturity scale. Psychological Reports, 95(3), 993-998.
Pew Research Centre (2018). Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services http://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/01/why-americans-go-to-religious-services/