Barna Research Group conducts research on Christian issues in the U.S., and I would like to lay out some of their findings in their Year-in-Review for 2009. Their findings are summarized into four themes.
1. Americans are increasingly more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity.
Many of our basic assumptions are no longer firm or predictable. They say that "these days the faith arena is a marketplace from which we get ideas, beliefs, relationships, habits, rituals and traditions that make immediate sense to us, and with which we are comfortable." The actual components of our beliefs are a result of our momentary needs and perceptions.
Being a Christian is not as attractive to Americans as it once was, for two basic reasons: 1) the media has unfavorably depicted Christianity, devout Christians and churches, and 2) it is rare to find a person who is an examplar of the Christian faith.
The result is that there is less loyalty to a faith brand than to SELF. Most Americans are not out to discover truth or God, but to become happy, successful, comfortable and secure. Only 50% of adults say that Christianity is their faith of choice, and most who say they are Christian believe that non-Christian religions teach the same truths and principles as does the Bible.
2. Faith is now individual and customized.
Most Americans concoct a personal faith from a broad spectrum of moral, ethical and spiritual sources. "We become our own unchallenged spiritual authorities, defining truth and reality as we see fit." People are engaging in hybrid faiths where there is no right or wrong and all beliefs are considered equally valid. Critique of beliefs is considered rude and 'inappropriate.' There are no absolutes; everything is relative.
Almost 75% say they will develop their own religious beliefs rather than accepting a particular doctrine and believe that God motivates them through various experiences. Only 1/3 believe in absolute moral truth.
3. Biblical literacy does not exist for most people, nor is it a goal in the United States.
Little, if any, progress is being made toward teaching people to become biblically literate. There is amazingly little interest in knowing and applying scriptural principles in the lives of most people, nor is there much, if any, spiritual growth in understanding the basic tenets of scripture. Most people who open the Bible at all will pick out a short passage, and without regard for context, will look at the primary thought. If they like it, they will accept it. If not, they reject it as not relevant to their interests, and move on.
Barna notes that the assumptions of preachers and teachers of the Bible is not accurate, saying, "The problem facing the Christian Church is not that people lack a complete set of beliefs; the problem is that they have a full slate of beliefs in mind, which they think are consistent with biblical teachings, and they are neither open to being proven wrong nor to learning new insights. Our research suggest that this challenge initially emerges in the late adolescent or early teenage years. By the time most Americans reach the age of 13 or 14, they think they pretty much know everything of value the Bible has to teach and they are no longer interested in learning more."
Other results showed that 68% of self-identified Christians have heard of spiritual gifts, but only 1/3 can actually identify themselves with a gift. Less than 20% has a biblical worldview, and only half firmly believe the Bible to be accurate in its principles. Only 27% are confident that Satan exists and less than 40% believe that an individual can be influenced by spiritual forces. And yet 81% say spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules of the Bible.
4. Effectively measuring spirituality, either personally through self-examination, or through the church, is uncommon and unlikely to change in the near future.
"Our studies showed that almost nine out of ten senior pastors of Protestant churches asserted that spiritual immaturity is one of the most serious problems facing the Church. Yet relatively few of those pastors believe that such immaturity is reflected in their church....those pastors who made any attempt to measure maturity were more likely to gauge depth on the basis of participation in programs than to evaluate people's spiritual understanding or any type of transformational fruit in their lives. "
It seems pretty clear where the problem lies.
The report goes on to point out that individuals have an avid interest in themselves and how they compare to others, but that interest does not extend to spiritual things. From the quote above, it seems obvious that the lack of motivation lies with pastors and church leadership who do not understand spiritual depth themselves.
Not only was an interest in spiritual growth lacking in individuals, but a majority of Americans did not even know how their church would define it.
Barna adds: "It may well be that spiritual evaluation is so uncommon because people fear that the results might suggest the need for different growth strategies or for more aggressive engagement in the growth process. No matter what the underlying reason is, the bottom line among both the clergy and laity was indifference toward their acknowledged lack of evaluation."
And we wonder why our entire culture is falling apart? God help us.
"These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked ... He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches... " Rev. 3
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