Global Research: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Religiosity

Blog July 13, 2018

…Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

– 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Our last few blogs (found herehere, and here) have examined different elements of growing in spiritual maturity.In addition to the Faith Maturity Index, which measures specific qualities of religious life, researchers under the direction of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research also surveyed members on the Intrinsic and Extrinsic religion scale as part of a 2013 study. This scale defines an extrinsically religious person as “one who sees religion as a means of obtaining status or personal security, for self- justification and for social ability, thus making religion more utilitarian and self-oriented.”((North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist Church Member Research Report, 2013, 25. Retrieved from On the flip side, “the intrinsically religious person internalizes beliefs and lives by them regardless of outside or extrinsic social pressure or other possible personal consequences.”((Ibid.))

Respondents were asked to respond to a series of statements which presented elements of both intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Intrinsic statements included the following items:

  • Q3.55. It is important to me to spend time in private thought and prayer
  • Q3.56. I have often had a strong sense of God’s presence
  • Q3.58. I try hard to live according to my religious beliefs
  • Q3.60. My religion is important because it answers many questions about the meaning of life
  • Q3.61. I would rather join a Bible study group than a church social group
  • Q3.66. My whole approach to life is based on my religion
  • Q3.69. Prayers I say when I am alone are as important to me as those I say in church

Extrinsic statements were as follows:

  • Q3.52. I go to church because it helps me to make friends
  • Q3.53. It doesn’t much matter what I believe so long as I am a good person
  • Q3.54. Sometimes I have to disregard my religious beliefs because of what people might think of me
  • Q3.57. I pray mainly to gain relief and protection
  • Q3.59. What religion offers me most is comfort in difficult times
  • Q3.62. Prayer is for peace and happiness
  • Q3.63. Although I am religious, I don’t let that affect my daily life
  • Q3.65. I go to church mostly to spend time with my friends
  • Q3.67. I go to church mainly because I enjoy seeing people I know there
  • Q3.68. I pray mainly because I have been taught to pray
  • Q3.70. Although I believe in my religion, many other things are more important to me.

Looking at behaviors that are indicators of an intrinsically religious person, an overall mean is 4.4. Respondents in the WAD ranked themselves overall at 4.54 – indicating that they very frequently engage in the intrinsically religious behaviors surveyed. The ECD (4.47) and SID (4.46) also indicated that they frequently engage in these behaviors. Members in the SPD ranked themselves as the least likely to engage in these behaviors, with an overall score of 4.09 on the intrinsically religious scale. All eight divisions surveyed had their scores on intrinsic religiosity above 4.

When it comes to the extrinsically religious items, the overall scores were lower, indicating that respondents perform those behaviors less often. The total mean was 3.7 for participating divisions. This is encouraging because this shows us that many members are internalizing their relationship with Jesus instead of relying on others to facilitate that relationship. The ECD ranked highest on these extrinsically religious items, with an overall score of 3.90. The WAD (3.90) and IAD (3.82) also scored fairly high in this category. The SSD had an overall score on extrinsically religious items of 3.41, the lowest score of all the divisions, although its intrinsic score was not the highest.

Analyzing results on extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity, some researchers have applied “a fourfold taxonomy based on splitting both scales into ‘high’ and ‘low.’ It has been found that while those who score high on the Intrinsic Religious Orientation Scale and low on the Extrinsic Religious Orientation Scale, known as ‘intrinsics’ show the benefits of devout (low in prejudice and dogmatism, for example), those who score high on both scales, known as ‘pro-religious’ display the opposite characteristics. Those who score low on both scales are called ‘nonreligious,’ and those who score low on the Intrinsic Religious Orientation Scale and high on the Extrinsic Religious Orientation Scale are known as ‘extrinsics.’”((Ibid., 47-48.))

If you evaluate your own spiritual experiences, do you feel that you are more extrinsically or intrinsically religious? As you meditate on this, it is important to remember that while extrinsic religiosity might make you “look good” in the eyes of your fellow Christians, when God looks at you, He is desiring an authentic connection with you. An intrinsic religious life involves a more real – and personal – relationship with your Creator.

Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.