Barna’s Themes for 2009

Sam Rainer

December 26, 2009

Researcher George Barna recently offered a synthesis of his research in which he reveals four major themes of 2009.

The first theme is not a surprise: Increasingly, Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity. People say they have faith, but they are detached from Christianity. What’s surprising are Barna’s reasons for this detachment. Barna sees two major reasons why Christianity is no longer attractive. First, mass media has “unfavorably caricatured” the Christian faith. Second, it is rare to find “an examplar of the Christian faith,” so people have trouble embracing both the institution of Christianity and Christ.

The article does not breakdown which of the two reasons carry more weight. But our research on dropouts shows that the media carries little of the blame for people leaving the church. While this is not the same as an interest in Christianity, the two are linked. So I place more weight on his second reason—we certainly need more faithful Christians living out what they believe to be true.

Here are two of Barna’s stats that I find most relevant to this theme:

  • Just 50% of adults contend that Christianity is still the automatic faith of choice in the US.
  • Nearly nine out of every ten adults (88%) agreed either strongly or somewhat that their religious faith is very important in their life.

The second theme relates to post-modernity: Faith in the American context is now individual and customized. Americans are comfortable with an altered spiritual experience as long as they can participate in the shaping of that faith experience.

Since many people feel free from the orthodox bounds of Christianity, they create and shape a personal spiritual experience and become “their own unchallenged spiritual authorities.” While it’s heartbreaking (and frustrating), I believe this theme is a symptom of the next theme.

Here are three important stats related to this theme:

  • About half of all adults (45%) say they are willing to try a new church or even a new form of church.
  • 71% say they will develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination.
  • Only one-third (34%) believe in absolute moral truth.

The third theme, in my view, is the most destructive: Biblical literacy is neither a current reality nor a goal in the U.S. Barna states that people believe they’ve gleaned all they need from the Bible by their adolescent years. While this may be true to a degree, I believe that many spiritual people still have a desire for biblical depth. We simply need more preachers and teachers who are willing to go there.

Two conflicting stats point to the importance of raising the bar of biblical depth in our churches:

  • Just half of all self-identified Christians firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches.
  • An overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians (81%) contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible.

The fourth theme and the rest of the article can be found here. These themes are based on Barna’s research, but what themes have you seen in your ministry context in 2009?

2 comments on “Barna’s Themes for 2009”

  1. Ray Dymun says:

    Unfortunately, these will probably be the themes for 2010 as well. It seems to me the Great Apostasy is dawning, and we had better sound the alarm!

  2. mahabet says:

    It’s hard to come by educated people about this topic, however, you sound like you
    know what you’re talking about! Thanks

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