Lifeway Research: Americans divided on who should lead healthy conversations about challenges in America


NASHVILLE, Tenn.—While Americans need to have productive conversations about our society’s challenges, there is no consensus on who is best positioned to generate healthy conversations about these issues.

According to a Lifeway Research study, less than 1 in 5 Americans (18%) say their elected president is best positioned to generate healthy conversations about the challenges facing society. And 14% think local church pastors are.

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“A beautiful thing in America is that anyone can seek to have productive conversations about the issues in our society,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Unfortunately, very few Americans agree that anyone is in a good position to do that.”

Less than 1 in 10 say elected members of Congress (9%), business leaders (8%), university professors (8%) or members of the media (6%) are best placed to get Americans to have healthy conversations about challenges in society.

Even though professional athletes and musicians often receive attention for their public statements about the issues facing Americans, few Americans see athletes (3%) and musicians (3%) as leaders of opinion.

Nearly one in three Americans (32%) say that none of the roles considered in this study are best suited to lead healthy conversations about challenges in America.

Opinions have changed slightly

Compared to a 2016 study conducted by Lifeway Research in September and October leading up to a major election, fewer Americans now say the president is best positioned to generate healthy conversations about the challenges facing society (18% vs. 23%). However, compared to the previous study, more Americans say they are elected members of Congress (9% vs. 6%), professional athletes (3% vs. 1%) and musicians (3% vs.

And today, compared to 2016, there is a similar number of Americans who turn to local church pastors (14% vs. 11%), college professors (8% vs. 10%), members of the media (6% vs. 10%). 8%) or business leaders (8% vs. 7%) to lead healthy societal conversations.

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“The anticipation of a new president in 2016 probably led more people to hope that the president-elect could lead healthy conversations,” McConnell said. “Amid the next president’s first term, hopes for that office have faded with even less agreement on who could initiate or moderate the necessary discourse.”

Americans have differing opinions

There are several key indicators of who Americans will consider to be in the best position to generate healthy conversations about societal challenges. Men are more likely than women (10% vs. 6%) to say business leaders are best placed to lead these conversations, and those with a high school education or less are the least likely to say the same (4%).

Older generations are more likely to look to pastors, while younger generations are more likely to look to college professors to generate healthy conversations. Those aged 50-65 (18%) and over 65 (18%) are more likely to say pastors of local churches than those aged 18-34 (9%) and 35-49 (11%). And 18-34 year olds (10%) and 35-49 year olds (10%) are more likely to choose university professors than 50-64 year olds (5%).

Those in the South, where America is saturated with churches, are more likely than those in the West to say they turn to pastors for healthy conversations (16% vs. 10%).

Views from the benches

Even those who identify with a religious group or attend worship services have differing opinions about where conversations about societal issues should arise. Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say healthy conversations should start with our president-elect (22% vs. 16%) or business leaders (12% vs. 7%). Meanwhile, Protestants (22%) are more likely to say local church pastors should lead these conversations compared to Catholics (9%), people of other faiths (9%) or those who are not not affiliated with a religion (3%).

Additionally, those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without (32% vs. 9%) to say healthy conversations should start with pastors.

Christians who attend services at least four times a month (30%) are most likely to turn to pastors to spark conversations about challenges in American society.

“Society certainly has its issues, and productive dialogue about those challenges has become harder and harder to come by,” McConnell said. “Many have preferred solutions to societal ills, but without someone trusted to stimulate or moderate healthy discussion around them, reaching consensus will be rare.”

For more information, see the full report and visit


The online survey of 1,005 Americans was conducted by Lifeway Research from September 3-14, 2021, using a pre-recruited national panel. Quotas and slight weightings were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,005 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error of the panel does not exceed plus or minus 3.3%. This margin of error takes into account the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

Evangelical beliefs are defined using NAE Lifeway Research’s definition of evangelical beliefs based on respondents’ beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point forced-choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Those who strongly agree with all four statements are classified as having evangelical beliefs.

  1. The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe
  2. It is very important to me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior
  3. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only sacrifice that could take away the pain of my sin
  4. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation

About Lifeway Research

Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in investigations of faith in culture and issues that affect churches. For more information, visit

About Lifeway Christian Resources

In business since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is a leading provider of Christian resources including Bibles, Books, Bible Studies, Christian Music and Movies, Vacation Bible School and Church Supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest supplier of Spanish Bibles. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway operates as an independent nonprofit. For more information, visit

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