Barna Trends: What’s New and What’s Next


Articles in Culture & Media • December 15, 2016

Barna conducts tens of thousands of interviews every year that span dozens of topics affecting people in every sphere of life. While some of this research is available to readers on the website and in our reports, we realized we didn’t have a place where all this research existed together. Barna Trends 2017 is that place—and in its 240 pages, readers can see how all of the research fits together and paints a more comprehensive picture of today’s social landscape. In celebration of this first annual release, here is a preview of the biggest and best insights from the past 18 months of Barna’s research, spanning the categories of culture, life and faith.

Trends in Culture

More than 45 pages of articles, Q+As and infographics covering mindsets and movements within the broader public, from the internet to the voting booth, including these highlights:

The Tension and Polarization of American Politics
(Pages 32-39 in Barna Trends)
Deep ideological tensions continue to divide our nation. The growing gap between liberals and conservatives has come to define the American political landscape, and seems unlikely to change any time soon. Barna has witnessed deep tensions on a number of political and social issues including immigration, race, healthcare, the environment, abortion, and same-sex marriage. For example, Barna asked American adults whether they believe immigrants and refugees take jobs from Americans. Their answers demonstrate this stark divide: Seven out of 10 conservatives (70%) either strongly or somewhat agree with this statement compared to only one-quarter of liberals (27%).

America’s New Moral Code: Self-fulfillment
(Pages 50-53 in Barna Trends)
Christian morality is being ushered out of our social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place—and the broader culture is attempting to fill that void. There is growing concern about the moral condition of the nation, even as many American adults admit they are uncertain about how to determine right from wrong, often opting to look within themselves rather than to any external, more traditional sources of authority. Barna has dubbed this new moral code, “The Morality of Self-Fulfillment” in which Americans value “finding themselves” as the highest good.

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How Mobile Technology and Social Media Have Already Changed Everything
(Pages 24-28 & 56-57 in Barna Trends)

The explosive growth of digital technology and mobile devices has fundamentally altered the way we communicate and engage with each other. Social media sites mediate our online presence and set new rules for digital interactions. Though it appears people are experiencing social media in mostly positive ways—after using social media 81 percent of women feel connected to friends, and 58 percent feel encouraged—it also has its downsides. “The pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it,” says Andy Crouch, Executive Editor at Christianity Today, in an exclusive interview featured in Barna Trends 2017. “We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether it will help us keep the promises we already made.”

Perceptions of the Black Lives Matter Message
(Pages 44-47 in Barna Trends)
Public outrage over the deaths of a number of unarmed black men, the divisive identity politics of the 2016 presidential election and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement have shed light on the often-unheeded reality of racial tension in the United States. But this movement has been met with a mixed response, reflecting deep division in how Americans view the problem of race in this country.

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What People Really Think of Immigration Policies
(Pages 48-49 in Barna Trends)
Immigration has been a major talking point of the 2016 presidential election campaign, exposing deep divisions in the American population. Barna’s research shows that although most Americans believe people from different cultures enrich America (3 out of 4 adults), a plurality favor stricter immigration policies. The two poles on either side of the debate are well represented by older, more conservative, and more religious folks on one side, and younger, more liberal, and less religious folks on the other.

Trends in Life

More than 65 pages of articles, Q+As and infographics covering a closer look at our workplaces, homes, schools and daily routines, including these highlights:

The Evolution and Proliferation of Pornography
(Pages 60, 63-64, 87-92, 120 in Barna Trends)
Pornography is not new, but the digital age has made it ubiquitous and more accessible than ever before. Smartphones and high-speed internet connections have fundamentally changed the landscape of pornography, and ushered it into the cultural mainstream where it enjoys increasingly widespread acceptance. “For now, porn is everywhere and is likely to stay that way, particularly considering its widespread acceptance and demand,” says Roxanne Stone, Barna editor-in-chief, in a commentary featured in Barna Trends 2017. “This presents a significant challenge to the Church, and we must respond.”

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America’s Favorite Books, Films, and TV Shows
(Pages 84-86 in Barna Trends)
Although fears of America becoming a post-literate culture may be overstated, they are not completely unfounded. Few Americans regularly read books, and with the surging number of cable stations and the rapid rise of subscription-based internet streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, television is experiencing a renaissance—and people are watching. Though the most critically acclaimed shows aren’t even close to being the most-watched, it’s actually shows like NCIS and Criminal Minds that have the largest audience.

What Millennials Expect From and Bring to the Workplace
(Pages 76-78 in Barna Trends)
Millennials have a paradoxical relationship with their work. They are tech savvy and ambitious, yet perceived by many as lazy and self-centered. They are passionate and serious about work, yet job-hop as they experiment with and explore where to meaningfully direct that passion. Even though Millennials desire a lot from their jobs, starting and building a career isn’t as important to Millennials as it was to previous generations. They have many other projects and priorities going on outside of their work, and they want the financial means and flexibility to pursue them. For instance, Millennials consider “family” and “personal interests” as more central to their identity than “career.” “We’ve seen Millennials demonstrate a consistent desire to make an impact in the world,” observes Roxanne Stone, Barna’s editor-in-chief, in a commentary featured in Barna Trends 2017. “Yet they are not limiting that desire to their occupations. While many would love to have that dream job through which they can change the world and express their personal gifts and talents, they also recognize the limitations of the workplace.”

The Growing Acceptance of Cohabiting Before Marriage
(Pages 101-102 in Barna Trends)
America is well beyond the tipping point when it comes to cohabitation. Living together before marriage is no longer an exception, but instead has become an accepted and expected milestone of adulthood. Most people believe it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before marriage, and though it may seem that couples would live together primarily for convenience or cost-saving, almost all adults see it as a rite of passage in the path to marriage.

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Why People Choose Where They Live and how it Defines Them
(Pages 106-109 in Barna Trends)
With new stages of life come changing priorities—including the people, places, and opportunities Americans want nearby when it comes to planting roots. The pressing concerns of life stages, from job hunting in younger years to failing health among senior citizens, are at work whenever people choose a home. For Millennials, work is the most important thing to have in proximity, but as people age, desire for proximity to their family and church increases, while desire for proximity to work decreases.

What Young People Want From Higher Education
(Pages 70-75 in Barna Trends)
Delayed milestones, the impact of technology, the disintermediation of institutions, shifting patterns of work, the rise of religious skepticism, and the new moral landscape are all shaping expectations of higher education. Young people are increasingly viewing higher education as vocational preparation—college is all about jobs. Almost seven out of 10 people agree that the purpose of college is to prepare for a specific job or career. These shifts and changing desires will continue to shape the direction and purpose of both secular and religious higher education institutions.

Trends in Faith

More than 100 pages of articles, Q+As and infographics covering the state of our spiritual lives, individually and collectively, in America and around the world, including these highlights:

The Modern Woman’s Relationship to Church
(Pages 152-155 in Barna Trends)
Because of competing priorities, busyness, changing family structures, and a lack of emotional engagement or support, many women are leaving church. Historically, men have been less likely to regularly attend church than women. Just over a decade ago, the gender gap was three unchurched men for every two unchurched women; fully 60 percent of unchurched people were men. Today, only 52 percent of the unchurched are men. “One of the greatest challenges for the Church today,” says Christine Caine, evangelist, activist and international speaker in an exclusive Barna Trends Q&A,“is to make the gospel relevant to women. We are hemorrhaging a generation of women who have often been made to feel that they have a limited role to play in the Church. The landscape has changed dramatically for many women in the western world when it comes to their inclusion in and contribution to all sectors of society and decision making—but there has not necessarily been a corresponding shift in church.”

Why Most Christians View Their Faith as a Force for Good
(Pages 180-181 in Barna Trends)
Though large numbers of people of faith believe they are misunderstood, persecuted, and marginalized in today’s culture, most feel as though their faith is not only essential, but a force for good in today’s world. “Believers are feeling significant pressure,” says David Kinnaman, president of Barna in a commentary featured in Barna Trends 2017. “There is a shared sense that the cultural tide is turning against religious conviction, and people of faith are starting to feel the effects of this growing antagonism in tangible ways. But it’s encouraging to see how many Christians still feel optimistic about the positive role their faith can play in society today.”

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The Faith Leader’s Place in a Post-Christian Culture
(Pages 185, 199-205 in Barna Trends)
Many industries and sectors of culture are undergoing tremendous change as digital tools and other factors are leading many to renegotiate their relationships with institutions. Along with everyone else, pastors—and their role in a culture of growing religious skepticism—are being impacted by these changes. Pastors once held a position of esteem in the public eye, but people are renegotiating their relationships with spiritual authority. Pastors historically mediated the transmission of knowledge to spiritual seekers, but now people consult Twitter, search Google, or ask Siri.

How the Church Can Play a Role in Racial Reconciliation
(Pages 164-169 in Barna Trends)
The Christian church in America remains segregated. This is driven in large part by a set of by unconscious racial biases, but Barna continues to find that the way different racial and ethnic groups live out their faith, and the way they define it, are radically different. For instance, twice as many black Americans than white Americans meet with a spiritual mentor. “As the Church at large seeks to bridge racial divides,” says Brooke Hempell, vice president of research at Barna in a commentary featured in Barna Trends 2017, “it would be helpful to begin by recognizing that there is not a monolithic understanding and practice of spiritual development. There is room to celebrate and learn from each other’s unique practices and beliefs.”

The State of Christianity in Secular Europe (and What it Reveals About America)
(Pages 210-219 in Barna Trends)
Barna is now exploring more global religious and cultural trends, and we’re beginning in Europe. Jesus remains a central figure in the American context—but cross the pond to the United Kingdom, and you’ll find a more secular environment, even though the Church of England is the established state church in England. When it comes to Scotland, the nation is much more divided. Half of all Scots describe themselves as Christian (51%). The power of Christendom’s cultural legacy remains strong, especially among older Scots, but the cultural trend to identify as Christian is in decline. Younger adults are much less apt than older adults to describe themselves as Christian.

Which Spiritual Practices are Actually Being Practiced
(Pages 138-139, 148-149 in Barna Trends)
Prayer and Bible reading remains the most important and commonly practiced spiritual disciplines among practicing Christians. These are closely followed by silence and solitude, worship, volunteering, communion and evangelism. A growing anti-institutional sentiment coupled with a broader secularizing trend has caused an overall decline in church attendance among the general population. But although church attendance has declined significantly, the drop in those who continue to call themselves Christian has not been as pronounced, creating an interesting group of “spiritual but not religious” Christians who still identify as Christian, but do not regularly attend church.

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Get all of this research and so much more in Barna Trends 2017. Order your copy today!

Barna Trends

About the Research
The statistics and data in this book have been drawn from a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. While most of the data is drawn from studies conducted from 2013-2016, some of the studies build on findings from nearly three decades of national studies to provide historical context. All of the studies referenced in this book were conducted by Barna Group, unless otherwise noted, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For a more detailed methodology for each study, see the appendix in Barna Trends.

About Barna Group
Barna Group is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. 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.


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