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America’s Definition: What Is an Evangelical?

Sponsor: Ellison Research
Released: 2008-09

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Even though evangelical Christians are a group that gets a lot of attention from journalists, marketers, and politicians, it’s a group that most Americans struggle to define — and many admit they don’t have the slightest clue what an evangelical actually is. 36% of all Americans say they have no idea at all what an evangelical Christian is. They could not even hazard a guess as to what defines an evangelical.

The most common perception is that evangelicals are Christians who place a special emphasis on spreading their faith to other people. Sometimes this is phrased in a negative light (the word “proselytizing” comes up frequently), and sometimes in a neutral or positive light (e.g. “spreading their faith,” “telling others about Jesus,” or “evangelizing others”).

Another 9% believe evangelicals are Christians who are particularly zealous or devoted to their faith. Eight percent feel evangelicals are defined largely by their focus on the Bible: their reliance on it, their belief in it, and/or their more literal interpretation of it. Another 8% have some sort of specific theological definition of what an evangelical is: they are saved by grace, they believe in a born-again religious experience, they believe in eternal life through Christ, etc. Only 6% define evangelicals by their worldview or politics, even though evangelicals are often discussed in the public arena in a political context.