Feb 5, 2001

From the Archives

Awareness of Spiritual Gifts Is Changing

The Bible speaks about the followers of Christ receiving special abilities, known as spiritual gifts, to enable them to serve Him more effectively. During the past five years, millions of the nation’s born again adults have changed their views on the gifts. According to two new surveys released by the Barna Research Group, of Ventura, California, a growing number of adult Christians proclaim that God has not given them any spiritual gifts. Meanwhile, a companion survey conducted among the pastors of Protestant churches shows that there has been a substantial shift in the perception of which gifts God has granted them.

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Changes Among Adults

Among all adults, seven out of ten (72%) said they had heard of spiritual gifts, a proportion that has remained unchanged since 1995. Among born again adults, the awareness level is somewhat higher: 85% have heard of spiritual gifts, similar to the figure recorded five years ago.

The big change relates to people’s perceptions of what gifts God has given to them. Among born again adults, the percentage that say they have heard of spiritual gifts but do not believe God has given them one jumped from 4% in 1995 to 21% in 2000. The number who say they are not sure if they have a gift, or what it might be, has declined slightly, from 28% five years ago to 20% today.

The specific gifts that people claim God has granted to them has changed relatively little. The most commonly identified gifts among believers were teaching (listed by 9%), gifts and service (9%), faith (6%), discernment (5%), and exhortation and encouragement (5%). Three percent listed leadership as their gift.

One of the startling outcomes, however, was the number and range of gifts listed by born again adults that are not among the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible. Such “gifts” included a sense of humor, listening, patience, a good personality, friendliness, poetry, going to church, being likeable, drawing, survival, observation, and being a good person. In total, several dozen non-gifts were listed. Overall, the survey showed that among born again adults only 30% listed gifts found in the Bible; 8% listed a combination of biblical gifts and non-gifts; 16% listed only attributes that are not found in the Bible; and nearly half (46%) were either unaware of gifts, claimed they did not have one, or did not know the identity of their gift. Overall, about half of all believers (46%) mentioned at least one gift mentioned in the Bible, while about one out of four born again adults (24%) described a gift that is not among those listed in the Bible.

Among the interesting facets of the research was that just 1% of believers claim to have the gift of evangelism (down from 4% five years ago). The research indicated that 6% of the believers interviewed – or 16% of those who listed a gift described in the Bible – had one of the leadership-oriented gifts (i.e., leadership, pastoring, shepherding, apostleship, or administration).

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Pastors Have Different Gifts

Compared to a similar survey conducted among Senior Pastors of Protestant churches in 1993, there has been a significant change in how pastors view their spiritual gifts. The biggest shifts have been increases from 52% to 63% in those who claim the gift of teaching; a doubling in the proportion who claim the gift of pastoring or shepherding (from 12% to 28%); a three-fold increase in the gift of prophecy (up from 4% to 13%); discernment, which rose from less than one-half of one percent to 6%; and a doubling of those who claim the gift of leadership (from 6% to 11%). The only gift that experienced a statistically significant decline was mercy (dropping from 8% in 1993 to 2% currently).

One change that occurred in the past seven years among pastors was that a much larger proportion of pastors identified more than one spiritual gifts that they possess. However, like the laity whom they lead, many pastors listed gifts that are not included in the Bible. Some of those “gifts” were having a lot of friends, peace, flexibility, nurture, patience, relationships, empathy, dedication, a sense of humor, ministry, honesty and hard work. Overall, three-quarters of all Protestant pastors (74%) only listed gifts described in the Bible; 19% listed a combination of biblical gifts and non-gifts; and 4% claimed gifts that are not biblical. The remaining 4% said they either have no gifts or were not sure what those gifts are.

The pastors most likely to identify gifts that are not biblical included those who lead mainline churches (double the percentage among other pastors), pastors who serve in rural churches, and those who pastor churches of fewer than 100 regular attenders.

Room for Growth

According to George Barna, who directed the research, the results point out that there is ample room for growth in people’s knowledge – and application – of spiritual gifts. “Imagine what might happen if nearly half of all believers had a clear and firm conviction that God has given them a supernatural ability to serve Him in a specific manner. If more believers understood the nature and potential of that special empowerment, the global impact of the Christian body would be multiplied substantially. One of the functions of the local church is to help believers understand who they are in Christ, and how to live the Christian life more fully. Focusing on spiritual gifts – what they are, who has them, how to discover one’s giftedness, and how to use gifts most appropriately – could ignite a movement of service and influence unlike anything we have experienced during our lifetime.”

The researcher also pointed out that the 425% increase in the percentage of believers who have heard of gifts but claim they do not have one is cause for alarm. “The perception that God has prepared others for special service to His kingdom but has left them out of the process is not just inaccurate, but harmful to the Church. Some believers feel an acute sense of disappointment that they have been spiritually discriminated against, while others use the perception as an excuse to let the gifted believers serve. Educating those ignorant of God’s promise to provide them with special endowments for service could transform the self-perceptions and the personal ministry of millions of believers.”

Barna noted that this emphasis on gifts could enhance the ability of churches to make the most of the opportunities for service that President Bush’s is offering to churches. “The fact that the President is asking faith-based organizations, including churches, to step up to the plate and deliver compassionate outreach challenges churches to identify their resources more clearly and put them to use more effectively. Recognizing people’s giftedness and matching them with the expanding opportunities being made available would further expose non-believers to the true heart of Christ’s followers and the significance of the Church.”

The increase in the number of pastors who view themselves as a leader is a result of two changes in the ministry environment in the past decade. “Since the early Nineties, pastors have heard and read much about the importance of leadership, and have been told at conference after conference that as pastors they are leaders,” explained Barna. “While most Senior Pastors do not necessarily perceive themselves to have the leadership gift, per se, and other research we have completed recently suggests that pastors prefer other ministry functions to that of leadership, the emphasis on this topic has motivated many pastors to view themselves as leaders.” Barna indicated that another reason for the increase is that during the past decade several thousand clergy under the age of 40 have been elevated to the Senior Pastor post, and a higher proportion of those younger pastors claim the gift of leadership than was the case among those who have left the pastorate.

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Research Methodology

The data described in this report come from several national surveys conducted by the Barna Research Group. The most recent surveys described were a national study among a random sample of 1003 adults, conducted in June 2000, and a nationwide representative sampling of 601 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches completed in June 2000. The surveys used for comparative purposes were a national random sample survey of 1005 adults conducted in January 1995, and national representative sample of 1044 Protestant Senior Pastors conducted in June 1993. The adult surveys incorporated interviews with 313 born again Christians who had heard of spiritual gifts in 1995, and 373 of those individuals in the 2000 study.

All of the survey interviews were conducted by the Barna Research Group from its telephone facility in California. The surveys among adults included a random selection of people 18 years of age or older who lived within the 48 continental states. The distribution of the survey sample coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Each respondent was selected for participation through use of a Random-Digit Dial sample, which produces a probability sample of all adults.

The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate samples of 1003 and 1005 adults is plus or minus three percentage points at the 95% confidence level; the maximum sampling error among the 601 pastors is plus or minus four percentage points; and the maximum sampling error associated with the subsamples of born again Christians (313 in 1995, 373 in 2000) is approximately five percentage points. Multiple callbacks were made in each of these studies to increase the probability of obtaining a reliable distribution of respondents.

“Born again Christians” were defined in the survey 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 have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

The spiritual gifts are most clearly identified in the Bible in five passages: Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and 28-31, Ephesians 4:11-13, and 1 Peter 4:10-11.


The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. If you would like to receive regular e-mailings of a brief overview of each new bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.


Knowledge of Spiritual Gifts
born again adultsProtestant pastors
listed biblical gifts only30%74%
listed combination of biblical gifts
and other, non-biblical gifts
listed non-biblical gifts only164
claim they have no gifts or are not sure of their gifts464
sample size 455601
Spiritual Gifts of Believers and Pastors
born again
don’t know420
(adult base: have heard of spiritual gifts)



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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