Nov 8, 2005

From the Archives

Commitment to Christianity Depends On How It Is Measured

Four out of every five adults in the United States consider themselves to be Christian. How committed are they to the Christian faith? It depends on how you measure commitment. That’s the conclusion of a new report from The Barna Group, based on nationwide surveys with a random sample of 4015 people conducted this year. The research explored eight different measures of people’s commitment to their faith and found that the outcomes ranged from a low of 16% to a high of 72%.

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Eight Measures of Commitment

The indicators of commitment that showed the broadest attachment were those that assessed people’s psychological commitment to their chosen faith. Those types of measures included the following:

Who’s Most Committed?

A demographic analysis of the eight measures of commitment showed highly consistent trends in relation to gender, age, region, ethnicity and faith subgroups.

Women were more likely than men to express a higher level of commitment to the Christian faith for all eight of the factors studied. On average, women were 36% more likely to register commitment regarding the factor in question. A majority of women expressed commitment in relation to six of the eight factors; in comparison, a majority of men noted personal investment in their faith in relation to just three of the eight measures.

Adults who were 40 or younger – i.e., those in the Baby Bust or Mosaic generations – were less likely than older adults to indicate commitment to their faith in relation to each of the eight measures. In addition, the survey found that the older a person was, the more likely they were to be committed to the Christian faith in connection with six out of the eight measures tested.

Residents of the South were the most likely to express significant commitment on seven of the eight measures. Adults residing in the Northeast and West were the lowest on the commitment scale for seven of the eight measures.

Blacks emerged as the ethnic group most likely to be committed to Christianity. They had the highest score of any of the four major ethnic groups in relation to seven of the eight measures tested. On average, Blacks were 39% more likely to register commitment than were whites, and 53% more likely than Hispanics. Asians were lowest on the commitment continuum in relation to seven of the eight measures. In fact, there was only one measure for which a majority of Asians exhibited commitment: 52% said their religious faith is very important to them, lagging the 68% among whites, 72% among Hispanics, and 89% among African-Americans.

Out of more than sixty subgroups studied in this research, evangelical Christians were the top-ranked people group for each of the eight measures of faith commitment. The most dramatic differences were found in relation to making their faith the highest priority in their life (55% of evangelicals claimed to do so, versus 16% of the population at-large) and demonstrating an active faith (73% had attended church, read the Bible and prayed during the preceding week, compared to 29% nationally).

Protestant adults had higher scores than did Catholics on all eight measures of commitment. On average, Protestants were 66% more likely than Catholics to say they were committed to their faith in the manner posed by the survey question.

Interpreting the Findings

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, believes that the findings reveal several insights about America’s faith. “For starters, it appears that most Americans like the security and the identity of the label ‘Christian’ but resist the biblical responsibilities that are associated with that identification. For most Americans, being a Christian is more about image than action. Further,” he continued, “researchers and those who use research data must be careful how they portray people’s spiritual commitment. Such descriptions are greatly affected by the way in which commitment is measured.”

Barna also encouraged Christian leaders to reflect on the implications of the relative lack of commitment among young adults and key ethnic groups. “Hispanics and Asians are the fastest growing ethnic groups in the country, but they are also substantially less committed to Christianity than are Caucasians relative to six of the eight measures tested. Add to that the widespread complacency toward Christianity among people under 40 and we have what amounts to a crisis of commitment facing the Church of the future.”

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Source of This Information

The data reported in this summary are based upon telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 4015 adults conducted in 2005. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample in each of these surveys is ±1.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All non-institutionalized adults in the 48 contiguous states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of respondents in the survey sample corresponds to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. The data were subjected to slight statistical weighting procedures to calibrate the survey base to national demographic proportions. Households selected for inclusion in the survey sample received multiple callbacks to increase the probability of obtaining a representative distribution of adults.

“Evangelicals” are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, in which people say 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, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; contending that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Further, respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.” Being classified as “evangelical” is not dependent upon any church or denominational affiliation or involvement. Evangelicals represent 7% of the adult population.

The “Baby Bust” refers to the generation of people born from 1965 through 1983. The “Mosaic” generation includes all people born from 1984 through 2002. In this study, only those Mosaics born from 1984 through 1987 were included – that is, those who were 18 or older.

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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