Saturday, April 16, 2005

The State of the Church

The Barna Group, led by researcher George Barna, released this week its "State of the Church 2005" report, which analyzes the results of a survey conducted in January of our country's religious beliefs and practices.

The annual survey, now in its 15th year, did find that nine out of 10 Americans take part in some sort of faith-related practice during a typical week and that more people are now . . . reading their Bibles outside of church. However, Barna's study indicates that most other areas concerning our religious life have showed little or no change over time.

"The meter hasn't budged for most of the trends we have been following over these 15 years," Barna notes on The Barna Group Web site. "The only discernible increases have been in the number of unchurched adults, those who are participating in small groups or cell groups, and the percentage of born again Christians who share their faith with non-Christians. The decreases relate to church attendance, Sunday school involvement, the percentage of people who align with Catholicism, and the number who have a biblical view of God’s character. In general, predicting next year's religious statistics is safer than foretelling whether the Cubs will win the World Series."

Barna believes these findings should be a wakeup call to the church and its leaders.

"One of the greatest challenges facing any ministry, no matter what its form is, has to do with what do you define as success," Barna told Allie Martin of Agape Press. "And we've got to break the [current] mold ... which says that success is about church attendance, and church budgets, and church programs, and church staff, and square footage and buildings.

"Jesus didn't die for any of that stuff. He died to see people's lives completely transformed so they try to be more like Him every moment of every day."

To bring about this transformation, Barna recommends that church leaders become more aggressive and be willing to take more risks, adding, "Merely tinkering with the existing system is a recipe for irrelevance and abandonment."

The survey also finds that, despite all the attention they received in the last presidential election, evangelicals make up only 7 percent of the American adult population, a figure that has not changed since Barna started measuring it in 1994. However, the survey does show that born-again Christians make up 40 percent of the population, with non-Christians (atheists, agnostics and adults associated with non-Christian faith groups) coming in at 21 percent and the remaining 39 percent being what Barna categorizes as "notional Christians," those who consider themselves Christians but are not born-again.


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