Aug 6, 2007

From the Archives

Americans Not Concerned About Their Spiritual Condition

Most Americans value their faith and regularly engage in faith practices, surprisingly few say they have specific challenges related to the development of their faith. A national survey of Christian parents commissioned by Good News Holdings and conducted by The Barna Group discovered that four out of every ten Christian parents of children between the ages of 3 and 18 said they do not face any spiritual challenges in their life. Among those who identified the presence of any spiritual challenges, the most common issues related to the spiritual development of their children.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Wide Range of Concerns

When asked to identify their biggest personal challenges related to faith or spirituality, the most common response related to raising moral children or youngsters with a strong faith. In total, one out of every seven parents (14%) who identified themselves as Christian listed this as their spiritual challenge. Only one other response – the need to personally invest more time in religious activities, such as reading the Bible or praying – was mentioned by at least one out of every ten parents (10%).

More than one hundred different responses were provided by survey respondents, reflecting the breadth of spiritual issues that Americans struggle with. Other categories of concerns mentioned included the desire to more consistently exhibit faith-driven behavior (8%); the need to be more involved in a church (7%); effectively dealing with the declining moral values and inappropriate media content in our society (6%); handling various lifestyle challenges that weaken their faith (5%); confidently coping with health matters (4%); and having a deeper or more substantive faith (4%).

Specific Challenges Posed

Parents were also asked to rate the significance of each of eight specific challenges related to their faith. Overall, the responses suggest that most Christian parents do not perceive themselves to face major challenges regarding their faith.

One out of every three parents (34%) said having enough time to devote to their faith was a major challenge. Almost as many (30%) said helping their children to become more spiritual was a major challenge.

About two out of every ten parents listed each of the other six possibilities as major challenges. Those included enabling their spouse to be more spiritual (23%); growing spiritually, personally (21%); understanding what’s in the Bible (20%); finding a church or faith community that’s right for them (19%); getting a sense of direction from God (18%); and practicing the faith principles they had learned (18%).

George Barna, author of more than three dozen books about the faith and lifestyles of Americans, pointed out that a much larger proportion of survey respondents portrayed each of these challenges more significant than was apparent when those same people were asked earlier in the survey to identify their spiritual challenges. He explained that this is common when people are not conscious of such challenges and therefore are not seriously engaged in addressing those issues.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Differences Among Groups

The research showed that different subgroups of the population struggle with divergent aspects of faith.

Hispanics were far and away the ethnic group most likely to identify challenges related to parenting and family matters. One out of every three Hispanic parents listed such issues, compared to just one out of six white parents and one out of eight black parents.

Black parents were much more likely than others to name faith-driven behavioral challenges. One out of every five black parents did so, compared to one out of every eight whites and one out of every twelve Hispanics.

Participating in more religious activity was a challenge much more common to whites than others. One out of every four white parents mentioned this, versus only one out of every eight blacks and one out of every 100 Hispanics. White parents were also substantially less likely than parents of color to indicate that growing spiritually and understanding the Bible were major challenges.

An examination of various faith segments also demonstrated noteworthy differences in emphasis. Evangelical Christian parents were three times more likely than other Christian segments to identify responding to the declining morals and values of society as a major challenge. They were also notably more likely than other Christian parents to feel they failed to devote enough time to their faith – even though they invest a larger share of their time each week to faith-related activities.

Notional Christians – i.e., those who are not born again but consider themselves to be Christian – were twice as likely as born again parents to list attending church more often as a big issue, but only one-third as likely as born again parents to identify the need for more frequent or consistent engagement in other faith-related activities as a concern.

There were a handful of regional differences as well. Christian parents in the Northeast were the least likely to feel challenged to have enough time to devote to their faith and to feel that growing spiritually was a major personal challenge. Parents in the South were the most likely to feel that helping their children grow spiritually was a major challenge. Parents in the western states were among the least likely to feel that growing spiritually and that finding a viable church or faith community were major challenges.

Parents in the Midwest reflected the greatest dissimilarity from parents in other regions. Those in the middle states were the least likely to feel that helping their children grow spiritually was a major challenge; least likely to identify exhibiting spiritual-driven behavior as an issue; and were the least likely of all to say they had no faith-related or spiritual issues facing them. Midwesterners were also the most likely to list greater involvement in their church as a significant personal challenge.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Faith on the Back Burner

George Barna, who directed the survey, emphasized the importance of so many parents listing the challenge of spiritual training for their children.

“Our studies show that the faith principles and practices that a child absorbs by age thirteen boldly shapes their spirituality for the duration of their life,” the researcher stated. “Parents have a greater impact on that process than anyone else.” Barna also expressed surprise that the percentage of parents indicating such concern was so small. “This was a study exclusively of Christian parents with young children in their household. Given companion surveys showing that such parents often convey dismay over the eroding cultural environment for raising children, and how difficult parenting is these days, we anticipated a broader emphasis upon the challenges related to bringing up spiritually whole and healthy children.”

Having recently written a book on parenting and faith development, entitled Revolutionary Parenting, Barna further explained that there is no viable substitute for a parents’ spiritual imprint on their children. “In addition to making parenting a 24/7 priority, we found that parents must have an authentic and vibrant faith in order to provide meaningful spiritual guidance to their children. Children rarely embrace spiritual principles and practices that their parents fail to demonstrate in their lifestyle.”

According to Barna, the breadth of challenges mentioned by parents is a challenge to church leaders to truly know people’s needs and to address them individually. “A few broad programs will not meet the spiritual needs of most people,” he commented. “Ministry is most effective when it addresses the specific needs of each person on a one-to-one or few-to-one basis. The data underscore the importance of people knowing and ministering to each other in a very direct and personal way, recognizing the uniqueness of every person and their journey.”

Having spent a quarter century conducting studies regarding faith development, Barna said the findings indicate that personal spiritual development is a secondary consideration for millions of Americans.

“Many of the same people who claim that their faith is very important to them and that they are absolutely committed to Christianity also say that they face no spiritual challenges in life. Many other adults are only vaguely aware of such challenges, and do not put much energy into addressing them,” explained the researcher. “Americans focus on what they consider to be the most important matters; faith maturity is not one of them. The dominant spiritual change that we have seen – Americans becoming less engaged in matters of faith – helps to explain the surging secularization of our culture.”

Additional Reading and Resources

  • For more information about George Barna’s book, Revolutionary Parenting, or to purchase a copy, click here

About the Research

This report is based upon a nationwide telephone survey conducted by The Barna Group in October and November 2006 among 601 adults who were parents of children between the ages of 3 and 18, and who described themselves as Christian. These parents were selected randomly from households in the 48 continental states. The sample has a maximum margin of sampling error of ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The survey was commissioned by Good News Holdings, a media production and development company based in Sherman Oaks, California. Good News Holdings is committed to producing family-friendly media that entertain, educate and inspire people based upon Judeo-Christian principles. The survey questions described in this report were among the 151 questions posed to the survey respondents. The study focused upon the perceived spiritual needs of the children of the parents interviewed, as well as the media habits and spiritual state of those families. Good News Holdings plans to release additional data from the survey in the near future.

“Evangelicals” are people who meet the born again criteria (described below) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

Notional Christians are those who describe themselves as “Christian” but do not meet the born again criteria.

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.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.