The most influential figure among most Protestant church leaders today is not a great preacher or theologian, but a veteran analyst of church-growth problems, according to a recent survey.
Lyle E. Schaller, of the Yokefellow Institute in Richmond, Ind., was named most often (43%) by 1,497 national and regional denominational leaders in questionnaires answered in 1988 and early this year.
Following Schaller in overall influence were Roman Catholic writer Henri Nouwen (39%), religious historian Martin E. Marty (36%), theologian Robert MacAfee Brown (29%) and evangelist Billy Graham (29%), said sociologist William McKinney of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
McKinney said that the theological perspectives of the respondents determined who they named as the "most influential" writers or activists.
Schaller was the only person mentioned in the Top 10 by theological liberals, moderates and conservatives. Brown, who tops the liberal list, was mentioned by only 6% of conservatives. Graham, who led the conservative list, was cited by only 3% of the liberals.
Second to Graham in influence among theological conservatives was Christian psychologist-broadcaster James Dobson of the Pomona-based Focus on the Family Ministries.
McKinney, co-author of "American Mainline Religion" with Wade Clark Roof, said he sent 3,417 questionnaires to church leaders of six Protestant denominations and the National Council of Churches. He reported the findings at the recent annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Salt Lake City.
Asked what religious and secular periodicals they read most, theological liberals and moderates listed the ecumenical magazine Christian Century first, and the religious conservatives named the evangelical magazine Christianity Today most frequently. Second most frequently mentioned publications were the New York Times (liberals), Newsweek (moderates) and Reader's Digest (conservatives).