Pastors must solve 'real problem' of 'low-propensity Christian voter,' activist says


Editors' note: This is part 6 of The Christian Post's year-long articles series "Politics in the Pews: Evangelical Christian engagement in elections from the Moral Majority to today." In this series, we will look at issues pertaining to election integrity and new ways of getting out the vote, including churches participating in ballot collection. We'll also look at issues Evangelicals say matter most to them ahead of the presidential election and the political engagement of diverse groups, politically and ethnically. Read part 1part 2, part 3,part 4 and part 5 at the links provided. 

Working to address the "real problem" of millions of Evangelical voters failing to vote in elections, a longtime political activist is urging pastors to mobilize their faith ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

A panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, last week titled "Honest Graft" focused on the role churches can play in getting Evangelicals not currently registered to vote to do so in time for Election Day.

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"I'm sick of losing," said Chad Connelly, founder and CEO of Faith Wins, an organization dedicated to "educating, activating and mobilizing faith leaders, helping them leverage their influence and impact within the governmental and political arena."

"We've been way too good at losing for the last few cycles," Connelly said. "We spent a billion dollars last cycle. The experts can't find the low-propensity Christian voter, the 30, 35, 40, 45 million people sitting in churches who don't vote. That's a real problem."

Connelly suggested television ads and digital outreach campaigns, like the ones used in the last cycle, are unsuccessful at reaching these voters.

"I've spent the last 15 years of my life totally focused on reaching the pastor, building relationships that are authentic," he said. "You can't do it by some far away digital ad saying, 'Oh, you got to go vote.'" 

Connelly cited research from noted Christian pollster George Barna that found "one of the biggest reasons people vote is … somebody they respect says 'this is a big deal.'"

As the Republican National Committee's first-ever National Director of Faith Engagement, he emphasized that "the pastor" is an important role people respect. 

Citing the estimation that between 40 million and 45 million Evangelicals do not vote, Connelly noted that "a lot of them are registered" but are "too busy."

"[T]hey're raising kids; they're taking their kids to the soccer matches, and they're not going to go vote," the activist said. "[W]e have to go after those people."

Faith Wins has hosted more than 17,000 pastors at virtual and face-to-face events with a focus on engaging their churches to vote "biblical values." The organization expresses optimism as it sees more pastors and church leaders engaged, holding voter registration drives and "sharing what The Word says about the issues we face in America," its website states. 

"We've spent our entire time with Faith Wins working in the states to build relationships with pastors from multiple denominations," Connelly said. 

As part of his efforts, Connelly has encouraged churches to "register everybody" and "don't leave anybody unregistered." He said churches must also "teach them to vote biblical values." 

"We do small meetings that become big meetings to identify and find those pastors who will lead the way," he explained. "We find that pastors who hear other pastors, they get empowered, they get activated, and … they're not just data points, they're multipliers."

He urges political consultants, candidates and advisors not to overlook the influence of pastors and churches. 

"That pastor there has 1,200 in his church," Connelly said, citing one example, adding that other pastors might have influence over multiple campuses. 

Panel moderator Hogan Gidley, a former White House deputy press secretary under Trump and vice president of the America First Policy Institute's Center for Election Integrity, said he and Connelly worked together ahead of the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election.

"As I recall, via Zoom and other ways, we were in 312 churches [and] registered 77,000 people," he said.

Gidley said Republican Glenn Youngkin only won the race by about 65,000 votes.

Connelly said the strategy in Virginia extended beyond voter registration.

"We picked out the places that liberals had won by a little bit, and we thought, 'Let's run up the score.' That's our whole plan. … Let's get all those discouraged people, and out of that, out of the 312 churches that did the registration, people said, 'What do we do?'"

"I said, 'I'll tell you what. You're concerned about election integrity? So we started recruiting poll watchers, workers.'"

Connelly said Faith Wins recruited 1,343 people in churches to serve as poll watchers.

"These weren't political hacks. They weren't experts. They weren't consultants. They didn't work for the campaign or the committees," he said. "They were people at Maple Street Baptist and Calvary Chapel down the street. And I just wrote a little 3x5 card: 'We're here to pray for you; I want to pray with you. What can we do to help? And, by the way, we'd like to see a copy of all the new registrants since last Friday night at midnight.'"

Connelly stated that the poll-watching campaign in Virginia looked for people who voted that were over 100 years old and households where more than six people were registered.

"These are not trained experts. These are church people," Connelly noted.

In one case, poll watchers discovered that a house with 17 people registered used a field as their address. 

Connelly added that people affiliated with Faith Wins in Michigan found that 67 of the first 200 people over the age of 100 who were registered to vote had obituaries written about them.

"There are God-fearing, flag-wearing, taxpaying Americans who love this nation, and they're sick and tired of what's going on. But you've got to talk to them authentically, so we're going to be in every state we can possibly afford to be in to find those pastors, to embolden them to say, 'I want to get involved,'" he vowed. 

Toward the end of the discussion, Connelly pushed back on the idea that the activities he encourages churches to engage in are "political." He assured a pastor who expressed such concerns by saying, "I want you to be biblical" rather than political.

"If we just wake up the Church a little bit, just a little bit, 40 to 45 million non-voting Christians. And I know people want to go after this bright, shiny object, whatever's sexy and fun and all that stuff. Go find the low propensity voters in the churches, and the way to access them is the pastors, through relationships," he concluded. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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