Barna Examines Trends in 14 Religious Factors over 20 Years (1991 to 2011)


Research Releases in Faith & Christianity • July 25, 2011

George Barna, author of the new trends book Futurecast, has just released the first in a series of assessments of how America’s faith has shifted in the past 20 years on 14 religious variables. In the series of briefs, Barna explores not only the aggregate national patterns, but also digs into how matters have changed according to gender, ethnicity, region, generation, and religious segments.

Bible reading undertaken during the course of a typical week, other than passages read while attending church events, has declined by five percentage points. Currently an estimated 40% of adults read the Bible during a typical week.

Religious Behavior
An examination of six religious behaviors tracked over the past 20 years among American adults shows that five of the six experienced statistically significant changes during that time frame.

  • Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church.
  • Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
  • The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011.
  • The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.

The only behavior that did not experience any real change was the percentage of adults who attend a church of 600 or more people.

Religious Beliefs
The Barna summary included eight beliefs that have been tracked since 1991. Among those just three experienced statistically significant change.

  • The percentage of adults who can be classified as born again Christians, based on their belief that they will experience eternal salvation based on their commitment to Jesus Christ, personal confession of sins, and acceptance of Christ as their savior, has risen by five percentage points. In 1991, the national estimate was 35% of adults met those criteria. Currently, 40% of adults can be classified as born again.
  • When asked to choose one of several descriptions of God, the proportion who believe that God is “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” currently stands at two-thirds of the public (67%). That represents a seven point drop from the 1991 level.
  • The biggest shift has been in people’s perceptions of the Bible. In 1991, 46% of adults strongly affirmed that “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” That has slumped to just 38% who offer the same affirmation today.

Among the religious beliefs that have remained relatively constant over the past 20 years were the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christian (84%); those who say their religious faith is very important in their life today (56%); those who have made a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in my life today” (65%); the proportion who agree that Satan is not a living entity but merely a symbol of evil (56%); those who strongly believe that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others who believe differently (25%).

George Barna commented on the significance of these trends on his blog site, www.georgebarna.com, and indicated that over the next eight days he will release five additional summaries of how the fourteen factors tracked since 1991 have shifted among regions, generations, genders, ethnicities, and religious segments. He will also continue to provide commentary after each release on his blog site.

These Updates come shortly after the release of Barna’s newest book, Futurecast, which examines national trends in a wide array of areas including family, lifestyles, entertainment, technology, values, attitudes, demographics, and media consumption, in addition to religious beliefs and behaviors.

To read additional commentary about these trends, and to leave your own thoughts, go to www.georgebarna.com

The data from which the trends are drawn is based on the annual OmniPollSM survey conducted by The Barna Group each January of 1,000 or more adults. The 1991 survey included 1,005 adults randomly selected from across the United States. The comparable 2011 survey included 1,621 randomly chosen adults. Although the Barna Group has been conducting such research since 1984, it was not until 1991 that many of the core tracking questions used by the company were developed and then followed annually.

About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.

© Barna Group, 2011.

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