The controversy fueled by George Barna’s current best-seller, Revolution, has raised many questions about the nature of the people the California-based researcher labels “revolutionaries.” Defined as born again people who have made their faith in God the highest priority in their life, who believe that their faith has greatly transformed their life, and who often express and experience their faith through alternative forms the Church, Barna this week released additional data about the beliefs, practices and lifestyle of revolutionaries in comparison to those who fit a more tame spiritual profile.
Revolutionaries possess some attributes that fail to distinguish them from other born again Christians. For instance, they are just as likely to embrace new technology, view movies just as often, a similar proportion of them are overweight, and equivalent percentages of the two groups consider themselves to live a simple life, to feel at peace, and to be in control of their life. Even in the spiritual realm, they have identical profiles when it comes to the frequency of fasting and how often they talk to non-believers about faith matters.
However, Barna also outlined four areas in which revolutionaries are substantially different than other born again adults, and vastly different from adults who are not born again.
Integration of Faith in Life
Perhaps the aspect of life in which revolutionaries are most distinct from the mass of non-revolutionary born again adults relates to the integration of faith into lifestyle. Barna revealed the following differences between the two segments.
- More than seven out of every 10 revolutionaries are actively serving in their community, compared to 53% among non-revolutionary born again adults.
- The average amount of money donated by revolutionaries in 2005 was $2990. That surpasses the mean giving total among non-revolutionary born again adults ($1641) by 82%, despite household income levels that are similar.
- Almost two out of every three revolutionaries (64%) study the Bible every day. That’s close to three times the percentage of non-revolutionary born again adults who do so (23%).
- A majority of revolutionaries (54%) has a quiet time with God each day. Less than one-third of non-revolutionary born again adults (31%) follows that pattern.
- While close to half of all revolutionary families spend time each day studying the Bible together (42%), the same is true among just one out of every eight non-revolutionary born again families (12%). In fact, a majority of the non-revolutionary born again families admit to “never” or “rarely” studying God’s Word together.
- About six out of every ten revolutionaries (57%) experience “intimate, personally stirring worship of God” on a daily basis. The same held true for only four out of every ten non-revolutionary born again adults (39%).
- Non-revolutionary born again adults were just half as likely (15%, compared to 27% among revolutionaries) to engage in daily conversations with a mentor, friend or spiritual overseer in which they were held accountable for following the beliefs they possess.
- Most revolutionaries (56%) frequently commit their time and energy to helping disadvantaged people in their community. That substantially surpasses the level of involvement among non-revolutionary born again adults (40%).
- More than four out of five revolutionaries (82%) had shared their faith in Jesus Christ with a non-believer in the preceding 12 months. That was considerably more than the 54% among non-revolutionary born again adults.
Barna also pointed out that the startling difference in behavior between the two segments of the born again population is largely affected by their divergent beliefs. “Revolutionaries have a very different, faith-driven lifestyle,” according to Barna, “because they are more likely to take the Bible at face value, to feel a deep and genuine gratitude for what Jesus did for them on the cross, and because their beliefs lead them to attempt to be the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth. Your behavior is a result of what you believe, and the manner in which revolutionaries live corresponds to a Bible-centered perspective on life.”
Once again, the differences between the two groups are unmistakable.
- Almost all revolutionaries (97%) strongly affirm “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” Far fewer non-revolutionary born again adults (65%) join them in that perspective.
- Whereas eight out of ten revolutionaries believe that there is absolute moral truth, barely half as many of the non-revolutionary born again adults (43%) concur.
- The passion of revolutionaries is partially fueled by their belief that Satan is real. Two out of every three (65%) firmly argue that Satan is real and affects people’s lives; just one out of every three non-revolutionary born again adults (35%) buys that point of view.
- The importance of obedience to God’s commands and principles is driven home by the finding that two-thirds of revolutionaries (67%) strongly believe that “success in life is determined only by your obedience to God.” In contrast, a minority of the non-revolutionary born again adults (42%) embrace that thinking.
- Despite being unfairly criticized as “isolated” and “independent,” this research found that revolutionaries are more tuned in to the importance of community in spiritual life. Not only do they have a wider net of faith-based personal relationships that affects their spiritual development, but they believe that someone cannot become a “complete and mature” follower of Christ without being personally involved in a spiritual community. While four out of ten revolutionaries strongly endorse this notion, only half as many (21%) of the non-revolutionary born again adults do so.
- While a startling percentage of the non-revolutionary born again adults agrees that a good person can earn their salvation (even though they contend that their own salvation was based on grace, not good works), a large majority of revolutionaries (75%) strongly rejects the works-based or multiple-means-to-salvation arguments. (Only 44% of the non-revolutionary born again adults strongly asserts that salvation can never be earned.)
Regarding Faith Focus
Whereas revolutionaries are partially identified by placing their faith in God as the single, highest priority in their life, such a commitment is common to less than one out of every ten born again adults who is not a revolutionary (8%).
Perceiving oneself to be fully committed to God helps explain why 91% of revolutionaries view themselves as a “full-time servant of God” compared to only 72% among non-revolutionary born again adults.
The research also discovered that revolutionaries more frequently make use of Christian media on a daily basis as they strive to stay focused on God and their faith. Overall, a majority (54%) listens to Christian radio everyday; 42% of revolutionaries listen to teaching tapes or CDs on a daily basis; and one-fifth (20%) watch Christian television programming each day. In comparison, less than half as many non-revolutionary born again people tune in to Christian radio daily (25%), far fewer listen to teaching tapes or CDs each day (25%), and just 9% are exposed to Christian TV every day.
Revolutionaries were also more than twice as likely as non-revolutionary born again individuals to visit faith-related websites in a given day, and more than twice as likely to read a Christian magazine on a daily basis.
Transformation Is Evident
Apart from the overt evidence of the changes that their faith in God has introduced into their lives, the national research revealed that while all revolutionaries, by definition, contend that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith, the same perspective is found among far fewer of the non-revolutionary born again adults (67%).
Are Critics of the Revolution Ill-Informed?
After reviewing these and other data from recent studies, the author of the book on the growing revolution of faith in America (entitled Revolution,) suggested that the critics of this new movement of believers are criticizing without understanding. “Many of the critics of the Revolution probably have good intentions,” Barna reasoned, “as they seek to protect God from what they believe is heresy or compromise. The problem is that many of those critics are producing emotion-charged, ill-informed criticisms of people who are practicing many of the very things that Jesus Himself taught and practiced. It’s hard to fathom why so many church leaders are so viciously opposed to the passion and godly exercises of the revolutionaries.”
Pressed on the issue of the departure of many revolutionaries from congregational churches, Barna acknowledged that this is one of the hot buttons of the critics. “It’s important to remember that the Bible does not command us to ‘go to church.’ It commands us to live in a certain manner, to be connected to other believers in a life-shaping community and to engage in worship together. But keep in mind,” he continued, “that the dominant form of the Church in the New Testament era was the house church and that the family was clearly a center of one’s faith experiences during the early church times. It is mind-boggling that so many of today’s church and seminary leaders have launched incredibly uncharitable attacks on devout followers of Christ simply because they are meeting in different places and pursuing God through divergent yet biblical approaches. That same spirit of divisiveness and contentiousness has led millions of revolutionaries to flee organized churches for alternative faith communities where their energy can be poured into honoring God and loving people, rather than fighting about man-made preferences, routines and systems.”
The data in this report are based on interviews with 3,033 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, 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 ±2.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of Revolutionaries is ±6.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of born again adults is ±3.1 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.”
“Revolutionaries” were classified on the basis of meeting 11 specific criteria. They have a clear sense of the meaning and purpose of their life; describe their relationship with and faith in God as the top priority in their life; consider themselves to be “Christian”; read the Bible regularly; pray regularly; deem their faith to be very important in their life; contend that the main objective in their life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul; describe God as the “all-knowing, all-powerful being who created the universe and still rules it today”; have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; and say that their faith in Christ has “greatly transformed” their life.
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 (www.barna.org).
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.
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