Mar 27, 2006

From the Archives

Barna Survey Reveals Significant Growth in Born Again Population

A recent survey by The Barna Group found that more than four out of five Senior Pastors of Protestant churches consider their church to be “evangelical.” While that includes a large share of mainline Protestant churches, the shift in self-perception by churches may help to explain a new revelation from Barna’s most recent national survey. In that study, in which 1003 adults were randomly interviewed from the 48 continental states, the proportion of adults who can be classified as “born again Christians” based upon their beliefs (not  based on their adoption of that phrase to describe themselves) was the highest ever measured in the quarter century that Barna has been tracking that measure.

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Close to Half Are Born Again

The new research found that 45% of all adults meet the criteria that The Barna Group uses to classify people as “born again.” That number is up from 31% in 1983. The percentage hovered in the 36% to 43% range from 1992 through 2005. The current figure represents the largest single-year increase since 1991-1992.

The increase is largely attributable to a 16-point rise among Baby Boomers since the beginning of the 1990s. With 53% of Boomers currently meeting the born again criteria used by The Barna Group, that generation has now surpassed the percentage of born again adults within the preceding pair of generations, among whom 48% fit the standard. Slightly more than one-third of the younger generations – the Baby Busters and Mosaics – fit the criteria.

Other demographic comparisons indicate that women are 16% more likely than men to be born again. African-Americans are the ethnic group most likely to be born again (59%), while Hispanics were barely half as likely (32%). Residents of the South remain the most committed to Christ (57% were born again), while those in the West (33%) and Northeast (37%) were least committed.

Five Faith Segments

The Barna Group has tracked five distinct faith segments over the years, and the new downloadable report on the faith factors of the U.S. – The State of the Church: 2006 – shows the nature of the change in those categories.

Evangelicals, who are born again but also possess each of seven core beliefs that mirror those taught in the Bible, represent 9% of the adult public.

Non-evangelical born again adults – individuals who have made a personal commitment to Christ that remains important in their life and who believe they will go to Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior – constitutes 36% of the adult base. They do not meet the evangelical criteria by virtue of their beliefs related to the seven core biblical perspectives tested in Barna’s surveys.

Notional Christians – people who describe themselves as Christian but do not meet the born again criteria – have declined from 46% in 1991 to 36% today.

Adults who are aligned with faiths other than Christianity, and those who consider themselves to be atheist or agnostic, each comprise less than 10% of the population.

Moving in the Right Direction

The data show that the nation may be moving in the right direction, spiritually, according to researcher George Barna. “The same tracking survey shows us that people’s faith is not at all deep, but at least more people are becoming attuned to the importance of the life, death, resurrection and message of Jesus Christ,” the best-selling commentator on faith and culture explained. “Faith is a progressive journey, so we are hopeful that the recent surge in the number of adults who say they have committed themselves to following Jesus Christ is the first in a series of steps toward maturity in their faith and relationship with Christ.

“The worst thing,” Barna continued, “would be for millions of people to accept Christ as their savior, and then live the remainder of their life as if nothing had changed other than their eternal destiny. The challenge to faith communities, at this point, is to help people realize that you cannot be a follower of Christ by taking the free gift of salvation and then continuing to pursue the same life trajectory as before making that decision. Embracing Christ as your savior is not the end of the story. It’s the very beginning point of a transformed life that centers on constant worship of God, serving other people, investing personal resources in the values of God, deepening their relationship with God every day, and creating families that place God at the center of their shared experience.”

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Research Description and Definitions

The data in this report are based on interviews with 1003 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during January 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

“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 were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) 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.”

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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