The reshaping of Americans’ lives is evident in various facets of their life, including the spiritual dimension. A new nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group indicates that while 56% of adults attend church services in a typical month, a much larger percentage is exposed to religious information and experiences through various forms of media. Radio and television are the most popular Christian media, but faith-related Internet sites as well as religious magazines, newspapers and books also enjoy significant exposure. Although these religious media are a supplement to a church experience for most people, millions of individuals rely upon one or more of these media as their primary source of spiritual input.
Christian Radio Has Declined
Nearly half of all adults – 46% – listen to a Christian radio broadcast in a typical month. The survey found that one out of every six U.S. adults (16%) listens to Christian radio on a daily basis, which is more than double the percentage of adults who use any other Christian medium that regularly. Overall, just as many adults (46%) said they never listen to Christian radio as said they listen at least once a month.
Born again Christians comprise the vast majority of the Christian radio audience. However, a large share of the audience is not born again: 28% of non-Christians adults listen each month.
The area of the country most likely to tune in such programming is the South, where 56% listen each month. The region with the least likely listeners is the Northeast, where only one-third (35%) does so. Christian radio broadcasts reach nearly nine out of ten evangelicals each month (86%), and about three-quarters of all born again Christians. Other groups that listen more often than the norm are African-Americans, women and people attending large Protestant churches. The people least likely to tune in include Asian-Americans, Catholics and mainline Protestants.
Besides reaching a large non-born again audience, Christian radio also reaches many adults who do not attend church. One-quarter of all unchurched Americans (23%) listen to Christian radio in a typical month. That represents a nationwide audience of 17 million adults who do not attend a church.
The total audience for Christian radio, however, has declined from 56% of the adult population in 1992 to its current 46%. While population growth has muted the effect of that decline, the bottom line is a net loss in listeners over the past 13 years. The research shows that the loss has been mostly among the non-Christian audience, which has dropped from 42% of the listening base in 1992 to just 28% today.
Christian Television Remains Stable
The percentage of adults who watch Christian television programming has remained unchanged since 1992, with an estimated 45% tuning in to a Christian program during a typical month. Relatively few adults (7%) watch Christian television on a daily basis. About four out of ten adults (41%) never watch such programming.
Christian television draws its strength from people in their 60s and older, females, residents of the South, African-Americans, people with limited education and income, and born again Christians. Two-thirds of the born again population views Christian programming each month, which is more than double the proportion of non-born again adults (30%) who follow that pattern. The segments of the public least likely to watch Christian TV include mainline Protestants, Catholics, unchurched people, Asian-Americans and college graduates.
More unchurched people watch Christian television than listen to Christian radio, although the margin of difference is small. Slightly more than one-fourth of the unchurched – about 20 million adults – tune in to these shows each month.
A decade ago, faith-related websites were not on the radar screen of Americans. That is changing in hurry, however. Today, one out of every six adults (16%) spends some time visiting faith-oriented websites during a typical month. This is especially common among evangelicals: 41% visit such sites, compared to 18% of all other born again Christians and 10% of non-born again Americans.
Not surprisingly, the research found that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to visit faith-oriented sites. Residents of the western states and African-Americans stood out as the groups most likely to check out these resources. The same people groups that resisted faith-based radio and television – mainline Protestants, Catholics, Asian-Americans, and the unchurched – were also the least likely visitors to these locations on the worldwide web.
Publications Retain A Consistent Audience Share
The percentage of adults who read Christian magazines in a typical month has remained stable since 1992. One out of three adults (35%) reads such a periodical during a typical month. Among born again Christians, however, half read such a magazine, while just half that proportion (25%) do so among non-born again adults. Approximately 13 million unchurched adults read Christian magazines each month.
The proportion of the adult population that reads Christian books, other than the Bible, during a typical month has also gone unchanged since 1992. Overall, one-third of all adults read a Christian book, a group that is composed of half of all born again adults and one-fifth of the non-born again public.
Trends Within the Audience Size Data
George Barna, who has conducted these national research studies since the mid-1980s, listed several patterns that emerged from the survey data.
- About one out of five adults absorb one or more of these Christian media on a daily basis. Approximately half rely on these media for spiritual input during a typical week. The proportion rises to some two-thirds over the course of a month.
- Christian radio has lost one-third of its non-Christian audience in the past 13 years.
- The Internet is the only mass medium among those tested whose audience share has grown during the past decade. The proportion of the population using the Internet for faith purposes has increased by two-thirds since 1998.
- People under 40 years of age show limited interest in Christian media of any type. Much of the stagnation or decline evident in the audience share statistics is attributable to the relative growth of the Baby Bust and Mosaic generations within the national population.
- More than two-thirds of the born again public – and well over 90% of evangelicals – have exposure to Christian media each month. Nearly half of all non-born again adults use Christian media during a typical month. Even a significant share of the unchurched market – more than one-third – utilizes these resources.
- The growth of the ethnic population in the U.S. suggests that Christian radio and publications, in particular, may be challenged to maintain their current levels of exposure.
“Our studies continue to show that people are using the Christian media to provide elements of ministry that are not adequately provided to them by their local church,” Barna explained. “For some people, these media complement their church experience. For others, a combination of these media forms a significant portion of their faith experience. As the Busters and Mosaics become the dominant population groups in the religious marketplace, combined with the continuing growth of ethnic populations as well, we anticipate more changes in which of these media dominate the religious market, how frequently they are utilized and how they are integrated into the person’s spiritual life.”
The California-based researcher and author also noted that the Christian media represent the most consistent means of evangelistic outreach by the Christian community. “With our studies showing that about half of all born again adults do not share their faith with any non-believers during the year, and that those who do share their faith talk about it with few non-Christians, the faith-oriented media have become the primary means through which the gospel message is presented to non-Christians on a regular basis.”
Research Source and Methodology
The data reported in this summary are based upon telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 1003 adults conducted in January 2005 by The Barna Group. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All non-institutionalized adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of respondents coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Households selected for inclusion in the survey sample received multiple callbacks to increase the probability of obtaining a representative distribution of adults.
“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys 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.” Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement.
“Evangelicals” are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, 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.
Generations identified in this report include the Mosaics, born from 1984-2002; Baby Busters, born 1965-1983; Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964; and Builders, born from 1927-1945.
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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