Blog Post

Nov 23, 2020

Jill Kinnaman’s Passing and What It Means for Barna Group


Dear friends and partners,

On October 28, my wife, Jill, passed away from brain cancer. As you may know, it’s been more than a three-year journey for her—and for all of us who were consistently buoyed by her kindness, love and resilience. We knew that her cancer was terminal, and we’ve had 41 months to prepare ourselves, but the loss is extremely difficult.

The depth of the grief we’re experiencing is hard to put into words, though we are finding comfort in time together as a family and with friends. We are holding tightly to the ultimate hope that Jill is with Jesus. (If you’re inclined to do so, you’re welcome to view Jill’s memorial service here.)

One way that Jill and I agreed to fight the good fight was a mutual decision that I continue serving the Church and Christian leaders throughout her ordeal. That includes, of course, leading Barna as president through all the challenges that 2020 has thrown at Christian leaders and organizations. In many ways, my own suffering and loneliness have fostered more patience, empathy and trust in God as I’ve served leaders who are attempting to move forward faithfully amidst the cascading crises of 2020.

Now, I’ve decided to take a number of months of bereavement leave: to grieve, to serve and love my children (Emily, 21, Annika, 19, and Zack, 16), to read and rest, to paint and work with wood and to allow God to fill me up in the many places I feel hollow and empty. That means I’ll be off the rest of 2020 and into the first month or so of 2021. I may pop up here and there to work, as it provides connection and gives me joy. For the most part, though, I’ll be out of pocket.

In the meantime, Barna Group will continue its stellar work, full speed ahead. We’ve built an incredible team, and they love serving Christian leaders.

Which brings me to my request of you: Please engage Barna and our team in the coming months. Subscribe, buy and pursue new work with us, if you’re inclined. That’d be helpful. More than that, let us know if you need something fixed or if you’ve got concerns. You’re not doing me or us a favor by keeping out of our way. The team is willing and eager to work with you!

All of this is undergirded by the fact that Barna Group aspires to play a key role in facilitating a faithful and fruitful Church, especially as we finish such a pivotal year. We consider it a privilege to serve Christian leaders who are trying to navigate change. And this has been a year unlike any other. I believe—our whole team believes—that a new future for the Church is bubbling up in all this crisis and chaos and loss that we’ve experienced. God is at work even and especially in 2020!

At Barna, our team of experts is well equipped to help Christian leaders understand the trends, know the people they are serving, measure their impact, strengthen their teams and discern best practices. These kinds of capabilities are going to be even more essential going forward.

While I am out, Todd White will serve as Barna’s interim president. He’s been our CFO for five years and my friend for 20+ years. In addition, Barna Group will be well supported by several key partners as well. Carey Nieuwhof will continue to host the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast. And we will also continue our partnership with Scott Beck and the awesome team at Gloo, which includes Barna Access Plus and more. These partners (and many others!) have sustained me personally and professionally this year. Now, Carey and Scott are committed to being there for me and for Barna as I take time off.

To be honest, it feels weird stepping back, slowing down and resting when there’s so much at stake for the Church. Yet I’ve come to realize with startling clarity that it’s exactly for this reason that rest and renewal are critical to me as a leader and for the long-term health of the company.

I am heartbroken at the loss of Jill. Beyond her investments in family, home, church and neighborhood, our marriage served as the foundation for 11 years of my leading Barna and 25 total years of my working here. Her death leaves a massive hole in that partnership.

Jill and I decided at the earliest hours of this wild ride—when we first discovered the brain tumor in 2017—that we’d live open and courageously, allowing most of the details of our journey to be “public.” We wanted our faith, strong at times and rickety at others, to be visible for others to see. I am humbled that she and I have been able to offer glimpses into the road of sorrow and suffering, so that Jesus would be glorified.

Despite all we’ve lost, I have deep confidence in the Lord. That today he’s preparing the way for the future Church. That he desires to take each of us even deeper toward himself. That Isaiah 61:3 can, indeed, be my portion and for all of us who have suffered much this year.

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

The Lord has been comforting me with this scripture since Jill’s passing, and it’s my prayer for you as well.

With grief and gratitude,

David Kinnaman

November 2020

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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