We’ve been exploring what spiritually open people hope to get out of their conversations about faith. But what do they bring into those conversations?
For Christians or church leaders who are engaging with non-Christians, it’s important to grasp the public’s existing baseline of beliefs about God, Jesus and more. This article features data from our latest Spiritually Open release to offer pastors and church leaders an understanding of how non-Christians view God, something that can go a long way in building trust and connection through conversations or sermons.
36% of Spiritually Open Non-Christians Believe that God Is the Creator of the Universe
In general, spiritually open non-Christians tend to be more accepting of foundational Christian beliefs about God as well as Jesus, heaven and the Bible than those who are not spiritually open. (You can refer to this article for more details on how we defined these categories. Here, we’re referring to the 48 percent of non-Christians who fall into high or moderate levels of openness as “spiritually open,” while those who are “not spiritually open” are the 52 percent of non-Christians who scored low on this metric.)
For instance, spiritually open non-Christians are significantly more likely to believe in God or a higher power than those who are not spiritually open. While, overall, 58 percent of non-Christians hold this belief, nearly all of spiritually open non-Christians (87%) do so, compared to only 23 percent of non-Christians without this openness.
While a significant 30 percent of non-Christians who are not spiritually open is simply unsure what they believe about God, about half (47%) firmly do not believe there is a God or higher power. When prompted elsewhere to identify what or who, exactly, God might be, these more spiritually closed non-Christians are consistent in their conclusions: 42 percent say there is no such thing as God. There is a whopping difference on this point, as only 4 percent of spiritually open non-Christians do not believe there is a God.
Instead, spiritually open non-Christians are more likely to lean toward a more traditional Christian understanding of God. More than one-third (36%) believes “God is the all-powerful, all knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today.” Only 14 percent of non-Christians who are not spiritually open agree with this statement.
On the other hand, a sizeable number of spiritually open non-Christians tend to embrace more relativistic or pluralistic beliefs about who God is. It’s possible, they say, that God represents a state of higher consciousness (17%) or that everyone is god (17%). There are many gods (14%), they suggest, or godhood could be something found in the realization of human potential (11%).
While a general spiritual openness leaves ample room for Christian beliefs about God, it is clearly not exclusive. This tracks with spiritually open non-Christians’ confidence that many religions can lead to eternal life (43% strongly agree).
Some of the patterns in non-Christians’ beliefs relate not only with their general spiritual openness but their specific connection to the faith or to Jesus—in the past or present. We’ve noted that many spiritually open non-Christians have a Christian background. In fact, two in five spiritually open non-Christians (39%) say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important to them, something that is rare among other non-Christians (13%). It’s also important to remember that the U.S. is still culturally Christian. Christian figures, themes and references are ingrained in much of our American history and norms. Exposure to Christianity is high, even if affiliation has declined; in fact, 72 percent of people in the U.S. say they were raised Christian.
Those in the Church can’t assume they are the only ones for whom certain Christian beliefs hold deep and personal meaning. The spiritually open non-Christian tends to trust that Jesus is real, important and sacred; for what purpose, they are less certain.
What does this mean for Christians who are communicating, conversing or building relationships across lines of faith? The latest article in our Spiritually Open series explores this further, also offering a field guide for faith leaders to help them turn these insights into action. Check the issue out in Barna Access Plus today to learn more.
About the Research
The Spiritually Open project is based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers (ages 13-17) conducted online from December 13–22, 2022 via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.
Defining Spiritual Openness
The following four questions / statements were used to create a four-point scale of “spiritual openness,” specifically those highlighted. All respondents were scored against them to determine how “open” the person is to spirituality. Researchers intentionally selected statements that did not heavily bias towards “Christian” beliefs in order to more accurately understand “spiritual” openness rather than just “Christian” openness, though there is significant overlap between the two.
- Do you think there is a spiritual or supernatural dimension to life?
- The following is a list of words and phrases a person may use to describe their spirituality. If any, which would you use to describe yourself? [a list of 30 items was displayed]
- Would you say that you, personally, have a positive or negative opinion of each of the following? Spirituality
- Do you, personally, believe in God or a higher power?
- People with high spiritual openness meet all four characteristics.
- People with moderate spiritual openness meet three of the characteristics.
- People with low spiritual openness meet two or less of the characteristics.
When Barna refers simply to an “open” group, we mean they are at least moderately or highly spiritually open and will report on that combined group.
© Barna Group, 2023.
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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