[I decided to change the title of this series to “Push Polling for Jesus”, rather than “Push Polling for ‘God'”.]
Below is an excerpt from a 1998 article on George Gallup, Jr. in Christian Ethics Today, by Diane Winston, who was then a research fellow at the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, and who is now a Program Officer at the Pew Charitable Trust. The article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News. The full article is available online here.
When George Gallup, Jr. joined the family polling firm, the church lost a prospective priest but the world gained a Spirit-filled layman. Mr. Gallup, who is chairman of the George H. Gallup International Institute and executive director of the Princeton Religion Research Center, chose a secular path for a religious call. But he can twirl a rubber band as deftly as a Catholic prays the rosary.
“I was drawn to the church and thought about being an Episcopal priest,” said Mr. Gallup, whose deep bass voice would have rung appealingly from any pulpit. “But I decided Dad’s field offered an opportunity to find truth, to see how people respond to God and to explore their religious lives. When I started surveying in the early 1950s, this was virgin territory.”
That the once-virgin territory is now well-explored is due, in no small part, to Mr. Gallup’s zeal. Over the years, Gallup polls have measured belief in God, angels, miracles, born-again experiences, biblical inerrancy, and heaven and hell. Among his recent projects is a survey on gratitude commissioned by Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas.
Recently, Mr. Gallup discussed his findings during the institution’s annual celebration of the National Day of Prayer.
“George Gallup was the logical person to talk to when we first conceived our interest in the healing power of prayer,” said Peter Stewart, chairman of Thanksgiving Foundation. “He has an amazing way of looking at subjective and intangible things through the polling method, and he himself is certainly a man who understands the power of gratitude and thanksgiving.”
Mr. Gallup would not divulge the survey’s findings before his speech, but he did say respondents were asked what motivated their gratitude and how they expressed it. He also revealed that the survey focused on teenagers, an age group that Mr. Gallup has tracked for more than 20 years.
Mr. Gallup’s interest in young people may spring from his own youthful conversion. At the tender age of 9, he felt the power of God’s presence and began contemplating a religious vocation. Later, as a student at Princeton University, he majored in religion and wrote his senior thesis about a survey, aided by family connections, of the reasons people believe in God.
“That was in 1953,” recalled Mr. Gallup, whose office walls, decorated with election memorabilia dating back to George Washington, reflect his interest in the past. “The study was one of the first attempts to poke around that area.”
At the same time, Mr. Gallup was poking around a religious vocation. He traveled to Galveston to work with a summer Bible school and an interracial youth program. Based at an African-American Episcopal church, the Christian collegian did his part to end segregation. But, despite his sympathy for the cause and dedication to the church, Mr. Gallup decided to serve God in a different way.
“The most important purpose of polls is to explore people’s response to God and indicate ways to strengthen that response,” he told The Business Journal of New Jersey. “That is a form of ministry.”
Working for his father, George Jr. explored this form of ministry at the Gallup Organization, a for-profit firm that conducts wide-ranging surveys and market research. Ten years ago, the Gallup family sold the business to Selection Research Institute of Lincoln, Neb. Mr. Gallup now divides his time between the George H. Gallup International Institute, named for Gallup senior, a public charity that seeks new approaches to social problems in education, environment, health, religion and human values, and the Princeton Religion Research Center, which publishes books and newsletters on religious trends.
And below is an excerpt from a speech given by George Gallup, Jr. in 1996. The full text of the speech is here.
“Will the Vitality of the Churches be the Surprise of the Next Century?”
I feel blessed, indeed, to have the opportunity to participate in the “30 Good Minutes” program. I feel that God has opened up this wonderful opportunity for me to share with you what is on the hearts and minds of the American people, as best we can discern this from surveys of the public; the title of my talk is, as you’ve heard, “Will The Vitality of Our Churches be the Surprise of the Next Century?” I’d like to start with a prayer:
Gracious God, help us today to step aside from the frantic pace of life and seek solitude in You. Help us to silence the noise within. Release us today, we pray, from the “tyranny of the urgent”. Help us at this moment, and at other moments during our busy lives today, to step back from the hectic demands of daily living. Help us to quiet our hearts and minds, to be still and know that you are God, and that you have total dominion over us. Heavenly Father, we earnestly seek your help for the many people who are homeless, for all who struggle to survive, for those who are physically hungry. We seek also your help for those people who are spiritually hungry; for those who enjoy the fruits of material success, but whose lives are empty; for those who are busy, but bored; for those who are among people, but are desperately lonely; for all those who live lives of quiet desperation. We pray that You will enter the lives of all people, renewing their hearts and minds, and giving them assurance of your loving care. We ask this in Christ’s name. Amen.
Over the years we’ve conducted a great number of studies on religion and values, including of course, the reasons that people give for attending – or not attending – church, which reminds me of a story:
This is about a mother and her son who were at the breakfast table, and they were arguing about whether or not the son should go to church. The son said, “Well, I can think of two good reasons why I shouldn’t go to church: First of all, the people at church don’t like me very much, and secondly, I don’t like them very much.”
Whereupon the mother said, “Well, I can think of two good reasons why you should go: First of all, you’re 45 years old, and secondly, they pay you to be the pastor of the church!”
On a more somber note, as we observe society today there is ample reason to be gloomy. Douglas Lawson writes this about present-day America in his book Give to Live:
“All is not well in Camelot. Millions of Americans are profoundly unhappy with their lives. Many are isolated, unconnected, adrift, lost. Family ties are tenuous. Divorce, disease and debt race like plagues through city and suburbs. Tension, aggression and the scramble to survive take a terrible toll. Marital and family problems, health problems, work problems, failures, financial setbacks, loneliness and despair seem to form an endless river threatening to submerge us. Hostility, crime and alienation seem to outpace progress.”
Certain basic and underlying trends give us real cause for concern, including the following:
We appear to live in an addicted society – addicted not only to chemicals, but to possessions, to success, to wealth and to an easy and self-indulgent lifestyle. In a sense, every human being is addicted in some way.
Six out of every ten new marriages will end in divorce. Divorce is an oddly neglected topic in a nation that has the worst record of broken marriages in the entire world. Divorce is a “root problem” in our country and is the cause of any number of other social ills.
We are physically detached from each other. We continue to move our places of residence frequently. One survey revealed that seven in ten do not know their neighbors. A wall exists between the privileged and underprivileged in our society, a wall built of ignorance, indifference, and perhaps to some extent, fear. And it is probably a safe assumption that we shall not really make any headway in overcoming certain social ills until we begin to break down this wall with direct, person to person kinds of relationships.
Loneliness is widespread. In fact, we are among the loneliest people in the entire world, we discovered in a Gallup International Study. As many as one-third of Americans admit to frequent periods of loneliness (by which we mean the absence of deep and meaningful relationships). Loneliness can have dire consequences, and we discovered in a recent survey that loneliness is the key factor in the high suicide rate among elderly people.
Privatism and rampant individualism contribute in a major way to a go-it-alone philosophy in religious matters, and other areas of life.
A depressing picture, yet there is, I believe, some profoundly good news, and I want to report to you now on a trend that may be contributing to a transformation of America. You will not read about this trend in our daily newspapers or on television, yet it is a powerful undercurrent in our society that, I believe, gives us cause for encouragement about the future!
This trend could be described as a sociological and spiritual phenomenon: Americans on a massive scale are rediscovering each other, and coming together regularly in small nourishing support groups, many with a spiritual dimension.
Our research reveals the great potential of such groups for both inner personal and social renewal. Large majorities of participants say that as a result of participation in small groups they are more open and honest with themselves, and better able to forgive others — certainly a vital need in our society in which retribution too often seems to be the operative word.