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Fall 1985 · Vol. 14 No. 2 · pp. 25–42 

Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile, 1972-1982, Chapter 3

Al Dueck, J. B. Toews, and Abram G. Konrad

The Mennonite Brethren church in North America does not exist in a vacuum. It has developed in the context of social and historical influences. Our concern in this chapter is to describe some ways in which such factors as location of residence, sex, marital status, age, education, occupation, income and mobility may have influenced the way Mennonite Brethren responded to questions in the survey.

If the Mennonite Brethren churches were entirely homogeneous, it would make no difference on scale scores whether an individual member pursued further education, made more money or moved to the city. That appears not to be the case. We are both similar and different depending on the issue. In this chapter we seek to specify where there is diversity and its degree. It should be understood that evidence of diversity in itself should not be a cause for alarm. An interpretation of data analyses and trends is offered in chapter four.

Chapter 2 described the percentage of individuals agreeing or disagreeing with individual items in the survey. In this chapter, we will examine the larger picture. When members completed the questionnaire they indicated the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with a statement on a five-point scale. The scales described in this chapter grouped survey items by content, and the responses to these individual items were added to obtain a total scale score for each respondent. A comparison of averages on the scale totals is reported for each of the groupings (Tables 3.1). These comparisons summarize the effects of the various demographic variables on the scale scores. If a group abbreviation (such. as V+ for Village persons under Residence) appears in the table, it means that that group scored higher (+) or lower (-) than others on that scale (Villagers scored higher than Town or City dwellers on spiritualistic Christianity in 1982). The numbering {26} of the scales in Table 3.1 is also used in the analytical tables of this chapter.

As stated in chapter 1, by creating scales it was possible to discuss the findings in broader terms or themes such as discipleship or moral practices among Mennonite Brethren. The individual questionnaire items for each scale were listed in the tables in chapter 2, with the exception of the items on views of Christianity. This chapter summarizes the items that make up a scale and then indicates which variables (e.g., age, sex, education, etc.) significantly influence that scale. This chapter also reports how three groups in the local congregation responded to the items on a scale: the pastor, lay leaders and non-leaders. The lay leaders were individuals who held a church leadership position in the past five years, and the non-leaders were those respondents who have never held a leadership position in the church.

The analytical tables in this chapter (3.2 to 3.9) report the average of all individuals on a particular scale. The notations that appear after certain scores indicate whether there was a statistically significant difference between respondent groups. The notation indicates whether the difference was by country (c) or by decade (d). In the 1982 column, scale scores could be noted for both country and decade differences. In the 1972 column only country differences could be noted, and in the total column only decade differences could be identified. A full illustration of these notations will be discussed in the presentation of Table 3.2. The numbers in parenthesis after the scale label indicate the total possible score on that scale.


Views of Christianity. Three views of Christianity were identified by the survey. Spiritualistic Christianity describes Christianity primarily in private, subjective terms. The outward symbols of the Lord’s Supper are seen as less important than the inward experience. Ecumenicity is a spiritual, not an organizational unity. Discipleship is defined as a direct personal relationship with the Spirit of Christ. The faithful witness of the church is the calling of individuals to conversion. The true Christian community generates a very personal feeling of unity which transcends race, creed, or denomination.

Sectarian Christianity focuses on the life within the Christian

Table 3.1, pp. 27-29

Click to view table
{30} community. The best way to help society, from this perspective, is to call people out of immoral associations into a community of disciples. The faithful witness of the church is to preach the whole gospel regardless of whether it is accepted or not. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance which is a sign of active participation in the suffering service of Christ in the world. Ecumenicity in this position is best expressed by the meeting of Christians from separate denominations who demonstrate by their gathering their common confession and commitment. Discipleship is defined as forsaking all other priorities in obedience to Jesus.

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Commonwealth Christianity expresses the extent to which respondents believe the context of the Christian community is the nation. From this perspective citizens are encouraged to live up to the laws of God, and to speak out on the crucial issues of injustice. It is assumed that through the creation of just laws one can create a moral society. The concern is to transform society according to the principles which Jesus gave. Regarding relationships between denominations, this position would encourage greater ecumenicity.

The responses on the three scales dealing with views of Christianity were as follows: respondents scored highest throughout on the spiritualistic Christianity scale, obtained a lower score on sectarian Christianity and the lowest score on commonwealth Christianity (Table 3.2). That no notations appear after the scores on spiritualistic Christianity means that none of the observed differences by country or decade were statistically significant. On sectarian Christianity, in 1972 Canadians scored significantly higher than United States respondents (1.58>1.40); Canadians scored higher in 1982 than in 1972 (1.78>1.58), as did the Americans (1.66>1.40); and the total score was significantly higher in 1982 than in 1972 (1.72>1.49). Only three comparisons on commonwealth Christianity were statistically significant: Canadians scored higher in 1972 than in 1982 (.92>.74); Americans scored higher in 1972 than in 1982 (1.02>.77); and the total score in 1972 was higher than in 1982 (.97>.76). When notations do not appear, the differences between countries or across the decade were not statistically significant.

From Table 3.1, we can observe that women scored higher on spiritualistic Christianity while men tended to score lower on sectarian and commonwealth Christianity, a pattern which held true for Canada but not for the United States. Education did not {31} appear to affect these scales. Though the pattern was not consistent, it appears that pastors scored highest on spiritualistic Christianity, lay leaders on sectarian Christianity and non-leaders on commonwealth Christianity. Simply by counting the number of times demographic variables significantly affected these scales, it appears that spiritualistic Christianity was influenced more by the social forces associated with education, occupation, mobility and income than was either sectarian or commonwealth Christianity.

Table 3.2
Views of Christianity

Table 3.2


The general orthodoxy scale measured whether or not members believed God exists, Jesus was both human and divine, miracles were supernatural acts of God, Jesus’ resurrection was historically objective, Jesus will return, Satan was active in the world today, and whether there was life beyond death.

The fundamentalism scale measured whether members believed that the Bible was infallible and divinely inspired, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that God created the earth in six 24 hour days, that there was a flood in Noah’s day and that persons who have not accepted Christ will spend eternity in a place of punishment.

Table 3.3
Central Beliefs

Table 3.3

Mennonite Brethren scored high on both scales in both 1972 and 1982 (Table 3.3). Also Canadians scored higher than Americans on both scales in 1972 but not in 1982. The absence {32} of a difference in 1982 occurred because Canadian scores dropped slightly and American scores increased slightly. No differences were significant in comparing total scores across the decades.

The most striking pattern regarding these two scales was the fact that general orthodoxy was very little influenced by the social forces implicit in the demographic variables, while this was definitely not the case for fundamentalism. The following groups scored higher on fundamentalism, though the pattern was not consistent across the decade and across countries: rural members, women, married individuals, older, less formally educated, farming and clerical occupations and those with lower income. There were no significant differences by countries and across the decade between pastors, lay leaders and non-leaders.


The separation of church and state scale measured the extent to which Mennonite Brethren believed in the separation of church and state. From this point of view the church’s primary responsibility is not the improvement of secular society. Church institutions should not seek tax money. Furthermore, there are certain offices in government which a true Christian might not with clear conscience accept. And, on occasion, it is against the will of God for a Christian to swear the oath demanded by the civil government.

The discipleship scale consisted of ten questions which focused upon the confession of the lordship of Jesus Christ and the calling of the individual Christian to obedience. Baptism is seen as appropriate only for adults. Bringing suit against a brother in court and the swearing of oaths is unacceptable. Church discipline is to be exercised. Christians are called not to take part in war, but to actively work for peace.

The reconciliation scale tapped attitudes of members towards peace-related issues. Questionnaire items asked members whether they felt Christians could own stock in companies producing war goods and whether Christians should take part in war or war-promoting activities. Should Christians pay war tax? If faced with military draft, should draftees refuse to register? To what extent should Mennonite Brethren actively promote the peace position?

Both in 1972 and 1982 and in both conferences, church members scored in the mid-range of the total possible score. Canadians scored consistently higher than Americans on each of {33} the three scales. Only on the reconciliation scale was there change across the decade; Canadians increased while Americans decreased.

Table 3.4
Church and World

Table 3.4

While there was no consistent effect for demographic variables across the three scales, the following are of interest (Table 3.1). Rural individuals scored higher on discipleship and reconciliation in the United States, but no significant effect was obtained for residents in Canada. Women scored highest on reconciliation in both conferences in both 1972 and 1982. Older individuals scored highest on these three scales in the United States in 1972, but the same effect was not consistently found in 1982 nor in Canada. Education appeared consistently to affect scores on these scales, but the pattern was not clear. High discipleship scores appeared to be related to having completed graduate education. In terms of level of leadership, pastors scored highest on separation of church and state and on discipleship, but non-leaders scored highest on reconciliation. This pattern was not as clearly the case in 1982.


The first of two questions in the shared ministries scale asked whether members felt that the congregation was not complete unless there was an ordained minister to lead the congregation. Secondly, members were asked if ministers should share the responsibility of leading the church community.

On the church program scale respondents were asked whether they thought the proportion of total resources for specific church programs should be increased, decreased, or remain at the current level. The programs listed were home missions, overseas missions, relief programs, mass communication, peace education, family life education, higher education, secondary education, elementary education, church seminaries, and local congregational expenditures. {34}

The accountability scale tapped the extent to which Mennonite Brethren believed in accountability to the church community. This scale was concerned with the extent to which the church should urge all members to tithe or whether giving was simply an individual matter. It also addressed the matter of church discipline and the extent to which members believe it should be exercised.

Table 3.5
Organizational Matters

Table 3.5

The level of scores for these three scales was low for shared ministry and medium for church programs and accountability (Table 3.5). Across the decade there was an increase for Canadians in shared ministry, a decrease for both conferences in church programs, and a decrease for Canadians on accountability but not for Americans. Canadians scored higher than Americans on the accountability scale only, and that difference was observed in 1972 but not 1982. In total, respondents scored higher on shared ministry in 1982 than 1972, but lower in church programs in 1982 than in 1972.

A cursory review of the effects of demographic variables on these three scales suggests that they were very much influenced by the social forces inherent in the variables (Table 3.1). In the United States (not Canada), men scored higher on all three scales. Married individuals scored higher on accountability, but singles showed greater support for church programs. Younger individuals scored higher on shared ministry in church programs, but middle aged on accountability. Older individuals scored lower on all three scales. Those with greater formal education tended to score highest on these three scales. Professionals scored higher on shared ministry. In 1982 individuals who were more mobile scored higher on shared ministry and church programs. Pastors scored highest on shared ministry and accountability, but not on financial support for church programs. {35}


The denominationalism scale was a measure of group coherence and identity. The scale score is higher if a married member and the spouse belonged to the Mennonite Brethren Church at the time of their wedding and do so now, if they have not been a member of another denomination, if their closest friends are within the congregation or denomination, if all members of their family are Mennonite Brethren and if their parents have always been members of the Mennonite Brethren church. Also there was an item in this scale which asked members the degree to which they supported nondenominational causes.

The voluntarism scale measured the extent to which respondents feel that membership and participation in the church was a result of a voluntary decision. A higher score is given to individuals who are baptised as adults and if becoming a member of the church is their own decision.

The associationalism scale was a composite of four subscales: fellowship, worship, Sunday school participation, and general participation. It was a measure of the extent to which members feel comfortable in the congregation, enjoy worship, and participate in church activities.

Table 3.6
Church Practices

Table 3.6

The fellowship sub-scale questions focused on the degree to which members feel they fit in with the people who make up their church and whether their closest friends are from their congregation. They are also asked if they are participants in a small group other than their family or Sunday school.

The worship sub-scale measured the extent to which members attend worship services and feel they are interested in and strengthened by the Sunday morning worship services.

The Sunday school participation sub-scale tapped how often members attend Sunday School, how much they enjoy it, and how active they are in leadership. {36}

The general participation sub-scale measured the extent to which members attend meetings held on days other than Sunday, consider participation in the life and work of the congregation important, and whether they feel they have a voice in determining where the church offering goes.

Comparing the three scales of denominationalism, voluntarism and associationalism, in Table 3.6, the level of score was high for the first two scales and lower for the third. There was a decrease for both Canadian and the United States conferences on denominationalism, but an increase on voluntarism and associationalism for the American churches. Canadians scored higher than Americans on all three scales in both 1972 and 1982 except on associationalism in 1982. Comparison by total indicates a higher score on denominationalism in 1972 than in 1982, but a higher score on voluntarism in 1982 than in 1972.

Virtually no demographic variables seemed to influence significantly scale scores on denominationalism (Table 3.1). Voluntarism and associationalism were most impacted by marital status and age. Married and middle to older church members scored highest on these two scales. Pastors tended to score highest on voluntarism and associationalism.


The race relations scale measured the extent to which it is acceptable and encouraged for members of different races to interact. Is interracial marriage acceptable? Would I sell my home to anyone regardless of race? Is there a Biblical basis for the separation of races?

The unionism scale measured the extent to which church members feel they should not join or recognize labor unions.

The political action scale measured the appropriateness of congregations encouraging their members to study political issues, engage in political action, vote, permit political candidates to speak in the church building, endorse particular candidates, and encourage the minister to discuss political issues from the pulpit.

The social concerns scale was composed of two very different items. The first asks whether Christians ought to participate in peaceful demonstrations and protest marches as a means of bringing about justice. And the second asks whether capital punishment was a necessary deterrent to crime. A high score is a {37} result of a positive response to the first question, and a negative response to the second.

On these four scales, the scores were highest on race relations, medium on political action, and low on unionism and social concerns (Table 3.7). There was virtually no change on these scales from 1972 to 1982 with the exception of race relations which increased in the United States in 1982. In 1972, Canadians scored higher than Americans on race relations, but in 1982 Americans scored higher than Canadians on political action. Comparison by total indicates a higher score on race relations in 1982 than in 1972.

Table 3.7
Social Ethics

Table 3.7

On race relations, political action and social concerns, the following groups scored higher (Table 3.1): single individuals, young people, college and graduate educated, professionals and those who were more mobile. These effects were not always consistent across decades or in each country, but these trends were apparent. Lay leaders and non-leaders tended generally to score higher on all of these scales than did the pastor. The pattern appears to be somewhat different on the unionism scale where women, older individuals, less educated, farmers and clerical and poorer individuals scored higher.


Belief and practice experiences. The questionnaire contained one item that directly pertained to conversion. It asked members whether they had accepted Christ as Savior, made a new start to walk with God or had become vitally committed to God. A high score indicates a positive response; a low score indicates a negative response.

The relationship to God scale measured the extent to which members described their relationship to God as being close. It {38} includes the experience of transcendence in that they report having had the feeling they were in a holy place or in the presence of God. They indicate whether they have had the experience of being healed, and the experience of having been delivered by God from danger in a difficult situation.

The negative tone scale measured the extent to which members perceived their religious experience in negative terms. Their score is higher if they report greater discouragement, doubts about salvation, the awareness of being a sinner and the impression that some personal misfortune was caused by the devil.

The positive tone scale was an indication of the degree to which members reported their religious experience in positive terms. A high score is a result of responding affirmatively to the statements that they have a knowledge of being saved by Christ, a sense of being loved by Christ, an experience of being filled by overwhelming joy and power of the Holy Spirit, and an experience of speaking in tongues.

The direction scale measured the extent to which members of the Mennonite Brethren church feel there is direction in their Christian life, sense they are growing, and have a sense of being chosen to be an instrument of God.

Table 3.8
Belief and Practical Experiences

Table 3.8

Members scored higher on all of these scales with the exception of negative emotional tone and positive emotional tone, where the scores were in the medium range (Table 3.8). There was a decrease in the number reporting a conversion experience for Canadian churches, but an increase in negative emotional tone for both the United States and Canada. There was an increase in positive emotional tone in American churches. There was generally no difference between the countries, though the United States {39} (in 1982) scored higher on conversion and negative emotional tone. There was a higher score on conversion in 1972 and a negative tone in 1982 for the total group.

The pattern across all the scales as shown in Table 3.1 was that residence, sex, education, occupation, and income appeared not to influence the scale scores. However, marital status and age did. In the United States, married individuals scored higher on all scales except conversion. Middle-aged and older individuals scored higher on all scales except positive emotional tone, where younger and middle aged individuals scored higher in Canada than the United States. Pastors in the United States scored highest on all these scales except conversion.


Bible knowledge. Respondents were given eight items which tested their knowledge of Bible facts. They where asked to identify the correct answer for names, places, and selected events in the Bible.

Bible study and prayer. The Bible study scale measured the extent to which members of the Mennonite Brethren church are regularly studying the Bible in small groups or privately. The prayer scale measured the extent to which Mennonite Brethren pray regularly, in times of need and over decisions to be made. Respondents were asked whether they say table grace and whether prayers are offered audibly at meals.

Evangelism and service. The evangelism scale asked members if they had ever been instrumental in someone’s conversion, invited non-Christians to attend church, or had taken the opportunity to witness orally about their faith to persons at work or in the neighborhood. The service scale was based on the responses of members to questions about how frequently they give financially and about their willingness to serve in church leadership. They were asked whether they have actually held a position of leadership in the past and whether they think young persons in the Mennonite Brethren Church should be encouraged to devote several years to some form of voluntary service.

Political participation. This scale measured the extent to which members have voted and feel that Christians should vote in public elections, and should hold public offices.

Stewardship. This scale indicated the extent to which Mennonite Brethren feel they have given of their resources in line with the world’s spiritual and physical needs, whether they have {40} been willing to give 10 percent of their income, favor a congregational budget for giving, and whether they think the requests for money that come to the members of our congregations are too frequent.

Moral practices. The general moral practices scale asked individuals whether they consider “definitely wrong” behaviors which the Mennonite Brethren church has traditionally seen as unacceptable.

The specific moral behavior scale was composed of two items which tapped respondents’ attitudes toward social drinking and dancing. A high score indicates strong disapproval.

Table 3.9 indicates that the level of scores on these scales was high for Bible knowledge, Bible study, prayer, political participation and moral practice. On evangelism, service, stewardship and moral behavior, the scores were at a medium level. In the United States, there was an increase in Bible study, political participation and stewardship during this decade; scale scores decreased in evangelism and moral behavior. In Canada, there was a decrease in scores on Bible study, evangelism, service, moral practice and moral behavior. On nine occasions, Canadian churches scored higher than did American churches; in no case did the United States churches score higher.

Table 3.9
Practical Expressions

Table 3.9

There appeared to be no consistent effect for location of residence and sex on these scales, except on moral behavior where rural individuals were more conservative (Table 3.1). Married and middle and older individuals tended to score higher on virtually all scales. Generally, those with college and graduate {41} education and professionals scored higher on these scales with the notable exception of the moral practice and moral behavior scales. In the United States there was a consistent effect for mobility, such that more mobile individuals scored higher on Bible knowledge, evangelism, service, and moral practice. In the United States the wealthier individuals scored lower on prayer and conservative moral practices, and higher on service and political participation. Pastors consistently scored highest on these scales, with the exception of political participation.


The effect of various social influences on the scale scores was never fully clear. Sometimes an effect was apparent for only one country or only for 1972 or 1982. Furthermore, these data do not support statements of causality, e.g., “Higher education causes one to have lower fundamentalism scores.” However, certain conclusions can be drawn from these analyses.

  1. On the three scales which tapped members’ views of Christianity, spiritualistic Christianity was more clearly associated with education, occupation, mobility and income than was either sectarian or commonwealth Christianity. Canadians showed greater commitment to sectarian views of Christianity.
  2. Fundamentalism, more so than the beliefs categorized as orthodoxy, was strongly influenced by location of residence, education, occupation and income. In 1972 (not 1982) Canadians had higher scale scores on both general orthodoxy and fundamentalism than United States respondents.
  3. The scales related to church-world interaction showed a consistent influence of demographic variables suggesting considerable diversity of opinion and social influence. This diversity was also apparent in the national conferences where Canadians obtained higher scale scores than did Americans on all scales, both in 1972 and 1982.
  4. The organizational concerns of the institutional church also appeared to be influenced by the social forces of education, occupation, mobility and income. This was the case more for shared ministry than for support of church programs and congregational accountability. There was little diversity between the national conferences on these scales.
  5. There was no consistent pattern of social influence on the life of the congregation (denominational cohesion and church participation), but on ethical issues (race relationships, unionism, {42} political involvement, and social concerns such as capital punishment and peaceful protest) there appeared to be a relationship between scale scores and the effects of residence, education, occupation, mobility and income. Nationally, Canadians scored higher on denominational homogeneity, voluntarism and associationalism. On the ethical scales there was no consistent pattern, except that Americans scored higher on political participation in 1972 and 1982.
  6. A comparison of personal religious experiences with ethical practices suggests that experiences such as conversion and one’s relationship to God were less influenced by social factors, but that practices such as Bible study and prayer, evangelism, service, political participation and moral-ethical practices were strongly influenced by social factors. There was more diversity in personal practices than in personal religious experience. There was no discernible pattern of differences between Canadians and Americans on personal belief, but in practice, Canadians were higher on Bible knowledge and study, and they were more conservative in moral practices than Americans.
  7. Comparing both corporate and personal scale scores, the data suggest that there was least variability on orthodox beliefs and experiences (conversion) and most variability on ethical issues—whether personal or corporate. These results suggest that social forces have the greatest effect on the practical, ethical dimensions of the Mennonite Brethren.