His Word ... a prophetic perspective


Americans religious faith in self and church, not Christ

        George Barna Surveys from 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007 reveal pertinent contemporary attitudes of professed Christians and their attitudes. Those surveys selected for this article reveal some things that reflect the current state of departure from the faith. Detailed statistics for each survey are in the articles on George Barna’s web site.
Excerpted from “Barna Reviews Top Religious Trends of 2005
        A second individual-oriented trend has reached what the Californian deems to be crisis proportions. “American Christians are biblically illiterate. Although most of them contend that the Bible contains truth and is worth knowing, and most of them argue that they know all of the relevant truths and principles, our research shows otherwise. And the trend line is frightening: the younger a person is, the less they understand about the Christian faith.” Barna mentioned several studies done throughout the year that explored beliefs related to the existence and nature of God, the holiness and authority of Jesus Christ, the need for and means of salvation, the key teachings of Jesus, the role of a community of faith, and other foundational elements of Christianity. “By and large, people parrot what their parents taught them. Sadly, with fewer and fewer parents teaching their kids much of anything related to matters of faith, young people’s belief system is the product of the mass media.”
        The investigation into this problem undertaken by The Barna Group indicates that people are oblivious to committed study of the Bible for various reasons. Among those are the fact that they think they know what is important to know; churches have de-emphasized Bible teaching; families have become too busy and have demoted Bible learning as a family endeavor and priority; most parents rely upon churches to provide Bible training for their children, but churches rely upon volunteers who are ill-prepared to provide meaningful, long-term Bible training; and the messages derived from cultural communications often directly conflict with biblical messages, causing confusion or an outright rejection of biblical themes.

Excerpted from “Barna Survey Offers a Profile of How Americans See Themselves
        Overall, the data were described by George Barna, the survey’s director, as showing that Americans have a generally positive and secure view of themselves. However, he also noted that the information shows some conflicting elements in their self-view (e.g., most people claiming to lead a simple life yet a majority noting that they are either in serious debt, are stressed out or are into the latest technologies).
        Barna also pointed out that while most people claim that their faith is one of the fundamental self-defining elements of their life, the data indicate that people’s perspectives are more likely to be influenced by their age and ethnicity than anything else.
        The survey also underscored the difference between those who are born again based on their beliefs about salvation and those who simply embrace the label without trusting Jesus Christ for their salvation. In total, one out of every five adults who claims to be “born again” does not believe that their salvation is based on their confession of sins and reliance upon Christ. Barna also pointed out that nearly one-quarter of the people who are born again, based on that criteria, reject the “born again” label.

Excerpted from “Americans Have Commitment Issues, New Survey Shows
        “These figures emphasize how soft people’s commitment to God is,” Barna explained. “Americans are willing to expend some energy in religious activities such as attending church and reading the Bible, and they are willing to throw some money in the offering basket. Because of such activities, they convince themselves that they are people of genuine faith. But when it comes time to truly establishing their priorities and making a tangible commitment to knowing and loving God, and to allowing Him to change their character and lifestyle, most people stop short. We want to be ‘spiritual’ and we want to have God’s favor, but we’re not sure we want Him taking control of our lives and messing with the image and outcomes we’ve worked so hard to produce.”
        Barna pointed out that one of the challenges these figures present to church leaders relates to building a more positive community experience. “It is obvious that most Christians in the U.S. do not see much value in a communal faith experiences,” commented the author of more than three-dozen books on faith and culture. “Even though the Bible is unambiguous about the importance of experiencing God through a shared faith journey, and Jesus’ example leaves no room for doubt about the significance of involvement in a faith community, Americans remain unconvinced of the necessity of the collective faith experience. This is partially because the typical church model esteems attendance rather than interaction and immersion, partially due to the superficial experiences most believers have had in cell groups or Christian education classes, and partially attributable to our cultural bias toward independence and fluid relationships. Developing a biblical understanding of the preeminence of community life will take intentional leadership, strategic action and time.”

Excerpted from “Commitment to Christianity Depends On How It Is Measured
        George Barna, whose company conducted the research, believes that the findings reveal several insights about America’s faith. “For starters, it appears that most Americans like the security and the identity of the label ‘Christian’ but resist the biblical responsibilities that are associated with that identification. For most Americans, being a Christian is more about image than action. Further,” he continued, “researchers and those who use research data must be careful how they portray people’s spiritual commitment. Such descriptions are greatly affected by the way in which commitment is measured.”

Excerpted from: “Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings
        The researcher stated that the difference in truth views between born again and non-born again adults was statistically significant, but not much to cheer about. “When a majority of Christian adults, including three out of four born again Baby Busters, as well as three out of four born again teens proudly cast their vote for moral relativism, the Church is in trouble. Continuing to preach more sermons, teach more Sunday school classes and enroll more people in Bible study groups won’t solve the problem since most of these people don’t accept the basis of the principles being taught in those venues. The failure to address this issue at its root, and to do so quickly and persuasively, will undermine the strength of the church for at least another generation, and probably longer.”
        Barna also reported that compared to a similar study his firm conducted a decade ago, the basis of people’s moral and ethical decisions these days is more likely to be feelings and less likely to be the Bible.

Excerpted from: “The Concept of Holiness Baffles Most Americans
        “Realize that the results portray a body of Christians who attend church and read the Bible, but do not understand the concept or significance of holiness, do not personally desire to be holy, and therefore do little, if anything to pursue it. However, the data identify a remnant that understands holiness, wants to live a holy life, and is engaged in its pursuit. The challenge to the nation’s Christian ministries is to foster a genuine hunger for holiness among the masses who claim they love God but who are ignorant about biblical teachings regarding holiness.”
        Pointing to data from several of his recent surveys on spiritual maturity in the U.S., Barna noted, “To initiate the education of people regarding holiness, we must arrest their attention and teach its importance. To align their hearts with the notion of being holy, we must move them away from a ‘cheap grace’ theology and replace people’s self-absorption with focus on God and His ways. To help them pursue holiness, we must help them comprehend and accept biblical theology regarding God, Satan, the purposes of life on earth, the nature of spiritual transformation and maturity, and the necessity of bearing spiritual fruit.”

Excerpted from “House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches
        “Americans are emotionally open to belonging to a house church, and surprisingly few have any real objections to others joining such a community of faith,” explained the author of three-dozen books on faith in America. “But the main deterrent to house church growth is that most people are spiritually complacent; they are not looking to upgrade their spiritual experience. Compared to conventional church attenders, house church adherents are much more likely to say that they have experienced faith-driven transformation, to prioritize their relationship with God, and to desire a more fulfilling community of faith.
        “Those who attend a conventional church are generally content to show up and accept whatever their church has on the agenda; they place the responsibility for their spiritual growth on the shoulders of the church,” according to Barna. “We found that most conventional church goers have no desire to help improve their congregation’s ministry, nor do they feel a need to increase their personal spiritual responsibility.”
        “On the other hand,” he continued, “the intimacy and shared responsibility found in most house churches requires each participant to be more serious about their faith development. Clearly, the house church experience is not for everyone.”

Excerpted from “Americans Reveal Their Top Priority in Life
        “Spirituality is in vogue in our society today,” he commented. “It is popular to claim to be part of a ‘faith community’ or to have a spiritual commitment. But what do Americans mean when they claim to be ‘spiritual?’ The recent Grammy awards were perhaps indicative of this breakdown between self-perception and reality. The members of the group that won the award for best song thanked God for the victory then immediately followed with profanities that had to be bleeped from the broadcast. It seems as if God is in, but living for God is not. Many Americans are living a dual life — one filled with good feelings about God and faith, corroborated by some simple religious practices, and another in which they believe they are in control of their own destiny and operate apart from Him.”
        Citing further evidence of this dualistic perspective, the author of more than three dozen books on faith and culture stated, “The survey also noted that among those who say their faith has ‘greatly transformed’ their life, just one out of four positioned their faith practices and pursuits as their highest life priority. It certainly seems that millions of Americans are fooling themselves into thinking that they have found the appropriate balance between God and lifestyle.”

        In summing up the points made by these surveys the following observations may be made: