Citation: Cadge, Wendy, and Amy Lawton (2023). “How Does the American Public Understand and Interact with Chaplains? Evidence from a National Survey and Interviews.” Chaplaincy Innovation Lab.

Abstract of “How does the American public understand and interact with chaplains?”

How does the general public understand chaplaincy? How many U.S. adults have interacted with a chaplain, and what were those interactions like? This paper aims to answer these questions with data gathered from a nationally representative survey (N=1,096) and 50 qualitative interviews with survey respondents.

The Gallup survey used the following definition of chaplain:

“The next few questions ask about chaplains. By ‘chaplains,’ we mean clergy or other religious guides or spiritual caregivers who serve people outside of churches or other houses of worship, in settings like hospitals, the military, prisons, or institutions of higher education, to name a few examples.”

Although 44% of survey respondents reported interacting with a chaplain, many of these responses were not about formalized spiritual caregiving in secular settings. “Chaplain” proved to be an ambiguous and elastic term. After careful analysis of both survey and interview data, we find that 18% of Americans have interacted with a chaplain, with the majority of interactions taking place in healthcare settings, including hospice and palliative care. Most people were either the primary recipient of the chaplain’s care (56% of respondents) or met the chaplain as a visitor or caregiver (55% of respondents). Chaplains commonly supported careseekers through prayer (81%) and listening (80%). The most commonly discussed topics were death and dying (53%), dealing with loss (51%), and dealing with change (49%). Survey respondents found chaplains to be moderately or very valuable (74%) and more helpful than harmful (72%).

We stress the importance of the chaplain’s role in a society with climbing rates of religious disaffiliation. A chaplain may be the only religious professional available to many people.

We thank Templeton Religion Trust for its support of this work on covenantal pluralism and the demand for chaplaincy. You can read more about this project here. You can also view a webinar on this project’s findings below.

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