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Graham Tops Poll of Influential Christian Leaders

By Paul Scicchitano   |   Monday, 21 Nov 2011 08:55 PM

Forty-one percent of Americans are unable to name the most influential Christian leader in the United States while another eight percent think it might be President Barack Obama.

Not surprisingly, evangelist Billy Graham garners the highest name recognition among Christian leaders with four out of every 10 Americans — some 19 percent — giving top recognition to the octogenarian, according to a new Barna Group study released Monday.

“Billy Graham is the name mentioned most often in response to the unaided survey question (a measure often described as “top-of-mind” awareness),” the survey finds.

Pope Benedict XVI or “the pope” was the choice of only 9 percent of U.S. adults, perhaps due to the fact that he resides in the Vatican and not the United States.

“Researchers place a lot weight on top-of-mind awareness measures,” explains Lynn Hanacek, Barna Group vice president of research and project director. “It is a type of unaided awareness measurement — meaning that respondents answer on their own with no response options presented to them.”

She says that greater importance is typically placed on such recognition because it reflects the very first name that comes to mind — and typically suggests that the person, brand or organization has made a lasting impression.

One out of 20 people named Joel Osteen as the most significant Christian leader, while only two percent each pointed to Charles Stanley or Joyce Meyer.

Various pastors, ministry leaders, authors, politicians, and other public figures, including Oprah Winfrey, George W. Bush, T.D. Jakes, James Dobson, Franklin Graham and Maya Angelou each received one percent recognition as the most influential Christian leader.

“Looking at the big picture, only a limited number of individuals come to mind when Americans consider leadership of Christians on a national scale,” adds Hanacek, noting that the results may have been different simply by asking respondents if they heard of a specific individual.

While Billy Graham has more than twice the top-of-mind awareness of any other individual, his name was barely mentioned by the youngest respondents in the nationwide survey of 1,007 adults, ages 18 and older, according to the findings.

“In terms of national Christian leadership, there may well be a gap to be filled. However, it is also likely that leadership may be perceived differently at this time in our society,” the survey holds. “If the role and relevance of national faith leadership is waning, it suggests an opportunity for more local and regional Christian leaders to emerge — whether in churches, ministries or a variety of other capacities.”

Among other findings of the telephone survey conducted on Aug. 1-14:

• Evangelical Christians are more likely to name Billy Graham (35 percent), Joyce Meyer (12 percent) and Franklin Graham (5 percent) as the most influential Christian leader.
• No evangelicals consider Pope Benedict to hold this distinction.
• A majority of atheists and agnostics (65 percent) and non Christians (52 percent) are unable to think of anyone they would consider to be an influential Christian leader.
• Protestants are more likely to name Billy Graham as the most significant leader (31 percent) while Catholics are just as likely to name the pope (32 percent).

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