Apr 16, 2001

From the Archives

Researcher Predicts Mounting Challenges to Christian Church

According to researcher George Barna, the Christian Church is struggling to influence the nation’s culture because “believers think of themselves as individuals first, Americans second, and Christians third. Until that prioritization is rearranged, the Church will continue to lose influence, and biblical principles will represent simply one more option among the numerous worldviews that Americans may choose from.”

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Barna’s comments were made during an interview regarding his newest book, Boiling Point (published by Regal Books, Ventura, CA) that examines the nation’s current cultural condition and projects what life will be like a decade from now. Barna explained that he and co-author Mark Hatch wrote the book to help Christians anticipate the future and have a greater potential for directing the flow of the culture, rather than to be surprised and influenced by it.

Demographic Shifts

Barna noted that the continued growth of our nation’s population will bring numerous ministry challenges. His book identifies a series of trends that will require new ministry strategies. For instance, the United States will have the world’s third-largest population of senior citizens by 2010; a college education will increasingly be treated as the minimum credential for jobs that transcend the minimum wage, yet the cost of receiving a Bachelor’s degree from a private college will average more than $150,000; crime rates will rise throughout this decade; and racial animosity and race-related violence will escalate in the next decade.

Barna’s work also underscores the growing generation gap that has led Americans to define themselves in relation to how they differ from others rather than on the basis of shared attributes. The book outlines more than three-dozen dimensions on which the five generations in America differ. As examples, the author cited reactions to authority (older Americans accept it, Boomers want to control it, Busters ignore it), handling contradictions (elder citizens ignore them, Boomers strive to solve them, Busters appreciate them), and life fears (uselessness worries Seniors; Boomers fear being out of control and powerless; while Busters are troubled by emotional abandonment). Understanding the generational distinctions and perspectives will be critical toward developing viable ministry strategies and communities of faith, according to Barna.

Moral and Spiritual Anarchy

In a previous book, Barna warned that America was rapidly devolving into a society beset by moral anarchy. In his new volume he flatly states that moral anarchy has arrived and rules our culture today. The argument hinges on a substantial amount of attitudinal and behavioral evidence: record bankruptcy levels, frivolous lawsuits, the rapid growth of the pornography industry, highway speeding as the norm, income tax cheating, computer hacking and viruses, rising levels of white collar crime, rampant copyright violations (movies, books, recordings), terrorism and intimidation tactics, Net-based plagiarism, emotional comfort with lying and cheating, increasing rates of co-habitation and adultery, and so forth.

Moreover, in Boiling Point, Barna takes the argument farther and suggests that the United States is now in a state of spiritual anarchy as well. He mentioned that millions of people’s faith activity is no longer affected by parameters such as church loyalty, respect for clergy, acceptance of absolutes, tolerance of Christianity, reverence for God, a desire to strive for personal holiness, sensitivity to theological heresy, and appreciation of tradition. The rejection of these elements has created a void that has been filled by the customized spirituality that lacks biblical moorings.

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Future Faith

Virtually every dimension of people’s lifestyles is undergoing serious transitions, and the faith arena is clearly no exception. In one chapter, the religious researcher describes forthcoming models of churches, ranging from house churches and the cyberchurch to faith communes and marketplace affinity groupings. Barna predicts that the fastest growth during the coming decade will be among various non-Christian faith groups, while one of the dominant trends within the Christian community will be that of ecumenism. The California-based author acknowledged the widespread awareness of megachurches, but foresees a cooling down of the public’s appetite for large congregations, predicting a growing fondness for mid-sized congregations.

Providing a wealth of statistics from his national studies, Barna also pointed out that the spiritual beliefs of Christians are continuing to stray from biblical teaching. Among the specific beliefs alluded to in the book are the majorities who believe that the Bible teaches “God helps those who help themselves,” that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s power and presence but not a living entity, that Satan does not exist, and that there are many paths by which a person may experience eternal salvation.

Technology Rules

As the U.S. continues to shift into a service-based, information-rich, technology-driven economy, the signs point to every aspect of people’s lives being substantially reshaped by new advances in technology, medicine and communications. Barna projects coming changes such as a proliferation of smart houses, widespread acceptance of electronic money, global competition for local jobs, ubiquitous computing, real-time language translation software, the harvesting of body parts, gene therapy, chip implants, and life span expansion through genetic manipulation.

Based on his research, Barna suggested that among the numerous changes resulting from impending technologies, ministries will have to reconsider their event scheduling. “In a 24/7 world, Sunday at 11:00 a.m. simply won’t work for many people. Similarly, anchoring a church’s ministry offerings to a physical ministry campus won’t work for increasing numbers of Americans. Flexibility and creativity will be crucial ingredients to successful ministries in the future.”

Challenge to Christians

When asked why he and Hatch wrote the book, Barna replied, “We hope it will serve as an informative wake-up call to believers. The Christian Church is losing influence. Non-believers are unimpressed by sermons and events; they want to see what difference faith has made in our lives – and they are struggling to see that impact. If Christianity is to represent a viable and compelling alternative to the prevalent options available in our society today, then believers must model its application and effect for others.”

Barna also hopes the book will encourage Christians. “Realize that as difficult as it is for a Christian to demonstrate authentic Christianity, non-Christians are struggling with the same issues, pressures, concerns and challenges – but without a viable faith perspective to guide them. Christians have an incredible opportunity to help Americans face a daunting future with confidence and joy by showing the fruit of applied biblical truths and principles. But we cannot be effective unless we understand our context and boldly lead our culture to a higher plane.”

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About the Author and Research

George Barna is the CEO of the Barna Research Group, Ltd., an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The company’s research is self-funded as part of its continuous tracking of social trends, faith practices, religious beliefs, and church health in the United States. Barna has written 30 books regarding marketing, cultural trends, religious beliefs and practices, and church dynamics.

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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