Apr 25, 2010

From the Archives

Americans Feel Connected to Jesus

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, many Americans feel more connected to people than ever, but a new national survey by The Barna Group shows that Americans are not just connected to each other. One of the dominant connections in people’s lives is with Jesus Christ. In fact, more people claim to be closely connected to Jesus Christ than have a Facebook page or Twitter account.

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Close Relationship

The Barna study, conducted among a random sample of 1,002 U.S. adults, discovered that two out of every three adults (67%) claimed to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus that is currently active and that influences their life.

While a majority of most demographic segments said they had such an active and personal relationship with Jesus, some segments were more likely than others to claim such a connection. For instance, women (72%) were more likely than men (62%) to do so.  Protestants were more likely than Catholics to cite such a relationship (82% versus 72%). People who describe themselves as mostly conservative on social and political matters were far more likely than those who see themselves as liberal on such issues to connect with Jesus (79% compared to 48%). And one of the most instructive findings was that the younger a person was, the less likely they were to claim to have an active and influential bond with Jesus. Specifically, while 72% of adults 65 or older and 70% of Boomers (i.e., ages 46 to 64) had such a relationship in place, 65% of Busters (i.e., ages 27 to 45) and only 52% of Mosaics (ages 18 to 26) did, as well.

Communication in the Relationship

For any relationship to be meaningful there must be effective two-way communication. While an overwhelming majority of Americans claim to pray during a typical week (more than 80%), the new Barna study points out that a majority also believes that Jesus speaks back to them. Overall, 38% said they are “completely certain” that Jesus speaks to them in ways that are personal and relevant to their circumstances. An additional 21% said they are “somewhat certain” that He does so, while 10% contend that Jesus speaks to them but they were not as sure about that communication. Eight percent did not know if Jesus Christ speaks to them.

In total, less than one-quarter of all adults (23%) stated that Jesus does not speak to them. Those people were most likely to be atheists and agnostics; under the age of 30; residents of the western or northeastern states; Asian-Americans; and those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on social and political matters.

According to Americans, Jesus speaks to them in multi-faceted ways. At least one out of every six adults contends that He communicates with them in the following manner:

  • 52%: by influencing or connecting directly with their mind, emotions or feelings
  • 41%: through the content of a Bible passage they read or which was read to them
  • 36%: by providing a sign
  • 34%: through sermon or teaching content concerning their immediate situation or need
  • 31%: through miraculous or inexplicable circumstances or outcomes
  • 31%: through words spoken to them by someone else who was speaking for God
  • 18%: through a passage they read in a book other than the Bible
  • 16%: through an audible voice or whisper that they could hear

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A Relationship with Feelings

A large majority of Americans (59%) also believes that Jesus gets personal in their lives, going so far as to feel their pain and share in their suffering. One-fifth (21%) believes that Jesus is aware of people’s pain and suffering but does not feel it or share it with them. The remaining adults either contend that Jesus is not aware of people’s pain and suffering (8%) or that He does not exist (5%).

Americans Wrestle with an Imaginary Jesus

The nature of people’s interacting with Jesus is a central focus of a new book by Matt Mikalatos, entitled Imaginary Jesus. In that story the main character encounters a wide variety of characters who claim to be Jesus, but who actually represent our diverse and ever-changing depictions of who we want Jesus to be and the roles we want Him to fill for our personal benefit. In his take on America’s theological confusion about their savior, Mikalatos gently and humorously exposes the errant views of Jesus that have undermined people’s perspectives about faith, morality, relationships and life purpose.

In his fast-paced, not-quite-true but not-quite-false story, Mikalatos provides a deceptively serious and significant inspection of how Americans’ views of Jesus and how we remake Him into our desired mold before we discard Him in order to move on to our next need. Introducing us to some of the countless Jesus characters we fabricate for our personal use – ranging from “King James Jesus,” “Magic 8-ball Jesus” and “Testosterone Jesus” to “Free Will Jesus,” “New Age Jesus” and “Meticulous Jesus” – this wild ride pushes the reader to consider the relationship and communication we have with Jesus – the relationship that two-thirds of Americans claim to have firmly in place and the communication that three out of five Americans say influences how they live.

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About the Research

This Barna Update is based upon nationwide telephone survey conducted among a random sample of 1,002 adults by The Barna Group during September 2009. Interviews were conducted with respondents based upon samples of both landline telephones and cellular phones. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.

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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