In his annual review of the top religious findings, George Barna provided
five lists of faith-related survey results. Other people would probably place
some different outcomes on each of these lists, admitted Barna. But based on
our ongoing assessment of the spiritual climate and religious gyrations in
America, these outcomes give a pretty dynamic summary of what happened in the
United States in its religious life this year. Such lists are always
subjective, but the breadth of revelations represented by these factors may be
helpful in reviewing the true spiritual condition of America.
Poring over hundreds of statistics released during the last year through The
Barna Update, the biweekly report on American culture and faith that gathers
statistics cutting across all denominational lines, Barna chose the following
outcomes as those with the most significant implications.
Subsequent lists tell the most important or revealing results, the most
unexpected outcomes, the most significant-but-not-surprising insights, the
greatest challenges churches face and what got people the most exercised.
Most important or revealing results
When people who regularly attend Christian church services were asked to
describe the importance of various spiritual endeavors, only a minority of
regular attenders described these very important endeavors: evangelism, having
meaningful relationships with other people in their church, and giving 10
percent or more of their income to their church.
After studying more than three dozen faith practices and biblical beliefs,
adults under the age of 35 were the least likely to have a biblical perspective
or consistent participation in each of the factors examined.
Forty-one percent of the adults who attend Christian
church services in a typical week are not born-again Christiansmeaning they
have not embraced Jesus Christ as their savior.
After exploring the religious life of adults attending a variety of
Protestant churches, only three types of churchesPentecostal, Assembly of God,
and non-denominational churcheshad a majority of adherents who had shared their
faith in Christ with a non-Christian in the past year.
Based on peoples reactions to a series of moral issues, Americans are
comfortable legalizing activitiessuch as abortion, homosexuality and
pornographythat they feel are immoral.
Religious teaching or values only minimally affect peoples moral choices.
The major influences on such decisions are the expected personal outcomes of
their choices, minimizing conflict over their choices, and the values their
parents taught them.
Compared to two years ago, just half as many
Americans believe that absolute moral truth exists, dropping from 38 percent in
January 2000 to only 22 percent in November Barna noted: This list suggests
that faith is just one component in peoples lives that helps them to interpret
and cope with realityand it certainly is not the central shaping influence for
The data regarding young adults also pose the possibility that churches are
losing ground in terms of influence and may need to consider new approaches to
making ancient truths more vivid and comprehensible in a technology-drenched,
relativistic global community.
Most surprising findingsBarna acknowledged that,
after more than two decades of conducting research on faith matters, its
unusual for surprises to emerge from the research. However, he listed the
following unexpected outcomes:
The percentage of U.S. Hispanics affiliated with the Catholic Church has
declined from 68 percent in 1991 to just 53 percent today.
Since 1993, the number of pastors who say they have the spiritual gifts of
preaching/teaching, pastor/shepherd, discernment and leadership has risen
A higher percentage of adults are against legalized abortion in all or most
circumstances (55 percent) than supports it (42 percent).
More than 50 percent of adults support the legalization of same-gender
sexual relations, and even one-third of born-again Christians support this
aspect of gay rights.
Four out of ten senior pastors [across all denominations] do not have a
Despite sales that top five million units,
The Prayer of Jabez was known to
only 13 percent of adults; and despite sales exceeding 20 million units, the
Left Behind books were known to
only 24 percent. In contrast, the Harry
Potter books were known to 69 percent of Americansthat was before the
movie release and related hype.
According to Barna: These findings remind us that American culture as well
as peoples faith is constantly changing, and assumptions need to be continually
re-examined to assess their validity.
Most significant but-not-surprising insightsSome
conditions have been assumed or anticipated, yet having factual evidence of
their existence does not diminish the significance of such knowledge. Among the
figures Barna cited that meet this description were these:
After the 9-11 attacks, religious activity surged, but within two months,
virtually every spiritual indicator available suggested that things were back
to pre-attack levels.
Just 12 percent of senior pastors say they have the spiritual gift of
leadership; only 8 percent say they have the gift of evangelism. In contrast,
two-thirds say they have the gift of teaching or preaching.
A fairly strong correlation exists between regularly reading the Bible and
having conservative theological, moral, social and political views.
Less than one percent of Hispanics attend a mainline Protestant church, and
less than one percent attend a Baptist church.
Barna noted: Sometimes, its the things that we have suspected but failed to
act upon due to lack of factual support that have the greatest potential for
impact in ministry. Some of these findings are perhaps obvious but are
nevertheless critical elements in facilitating strategic responses.
Most challenging outcomesBarna describes the greatest
challenges churches face based on the years research findings.
There has been a substantial deterioration regarding peoples understanding
of spiritual gifts, with a five-fold increase in born-again adults who are
aware of gifts saying God did not give them one, and half of all born-again
adults listing gifts they possess which are not among the spiritual gifts
listed in the Bible. Even one-quarter of all Protestant pastors listed one or
more gifts that they claim which are not identified in the Bible.
Financial support of churches dropped substantially between 1998 and 2000and
will likely decline again this year, as a result of changed giving patterns
related to the 9-11 attacks.
At least three out of ten born-again adults say that
co-habitation, gay sex, sexual fantasies, breaking the speed limit or watching
sexually explicit movies are morally acceptable behaviors.
Although attending church as a child increases the likelihood of a person
attending as an adult, that effect is declining substantially.
The religious beliefs of people who have attended church since childhood are
no different from those of people who did not attend when young but do attend
Compared to teens throughout the past 20 years, todays teenagers have the
lowest likelihood of attending church when they are living independent of their
Barna commented that such data underscore the magnitude of the challenges
facing American ministries. This is an exciting time to be alive for religious
leaders who understand the spiritual search that millions of Americans have
embarked upon and who are willing to engage with people who do not necessarily
accept pat answers or traditional solutions to spiritual problems.
Most controversial statsBased on the letters, phone
calls and emails received in response to the biweekly Updates released during
the year, Barna identified the statistics that got the greatest number of
Among adults who have been married, born-again Christians and non-Christians
have essentially the same probability of divorce.
Mormons are more likely to read the Bible during the week than are
Protestants or Catholics.
Adults who attend charismatic or Pentecostal churches were more likely to
possess biblical beliefs than were those attending other Protestant and
By the end of the decade, 50 million Americans will seek to have their
spiritual experience solely through the Internet, rather than at a church; and
upward of 100 million Americans will rely upon the Internet to deliver some
aspects of their religious experience.
Roman Catholics represent the second largest denominational group in the
nationtrailing the Southern Baptists, but way ahead of Methodists, Lutherans,
Presbyterians and others.
Although one-third of all born-again adults
claim to tithe their income, only 12 percent actually do so.
Just half of all home schooling parents are born-again Christians.
Barna explained: One of the greatest values of research is that it can
identify myths that we hold on tomyths that often prevent us from seizing
opportunities, or that prevent us from responding appropriately to the world
around us. A lot of the anger that was expressed to us in reaction to these
findings reflects the difficulty we sometimes have in changing our
predispositions and coming to grips with a world that is rapidly changing and
does not conform to the rules we believed were firmly entrenched. Knowing the
reality, rather than the myth, can help us address reality and, if need be,
Source: Barna Research Group, December 17, 2001
Research BackgroundAll of the data mentioned in this
report are drawn from previous Barna Updates released throughout 2001 and can
be referenced on the Barna Research website at www.barna.org. The specific statistics listed are from
nationwide surveys of random samples of adults, teenagers or Protestant pastors
conducted during 2000. The sample sizes of those studies range from 600 to
Born-again Christians were defined in these surveys as people who said they
have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in
their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they
will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus
Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as
born-again or if they considered themselves to be born-again.
The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company
located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends
related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular
tracking of the social, religious and political state of the nation. For more
information on these statistics and others, visit www.barna.org.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC