Restoring Relationships: A Barna Digital Summit


Articles in Faith & Christianity in Leaders & Pastors • October 1, 2020

On September 30, 2020, Barna and Pepperdine University’s Boone Center for the Family partnered together to host a live digital summit to share findings from the Restoring Relationships report. This free event paired past data with recent research and expert interviews to help pastors get a broader glimpse at relational health in light of the 2020 disruptions, including the COVID-19 crisis, renewed conversations on racial justice and increased political divides preceding the upcoming election.

The event was sectioned into three segments, each focusing on an aspect of relationships within the Church, including a glimpse at the state of relational health today, a look at how relationships are under pressure and data on where people turn for support. Throughout each segment, Barna researchers presented data on the closest connections among practicing Christians, joined by fellow thought and faith leaders for commentary on the findings.

Below, explore highlights from the data and the webcast, which will be available on Barna.com as a free replay for a limited time before being offered in Barna Access, our new digital subscription service. To learn more about Barna Access, click here.

Segment One: What Is the State of Relational Health Today?
Barna data from Restoring Relationships show that at least half of all U.S. adults (58%) and practicing Christians (54%) say they have at least one relational or emotional / mental health issue that impacts their most important relationships. Barna president David Kinnaman notes that, in light of the challenges the United States is currently facing, these numbers (collected in 2019) should be taken as a conservative estimate. Recent Barna data, as well as data from other social research firms, show that many of the issues that cause relational strain—anxiety, depression, loneliness and more—have only been exacerbated as a result of the 2020 disruptions. Click here to read a blog post by Barna president David Kinnaman on four ways the pandemic is negatively impacting people.

Kinnaman explains, “People are quite open and transparent about relationships and mental health—and that’s a huge opportunity for the Church. … It’s never been more important for the Church to show the way toward healthy relationships and strong connections—a major first step is being honest about how we’re doing today.”

Kinnaman also shares recent data from Barna’s pastor surveys, noting, “Pastors are struggling as much as any time in the past 35 years. Christian leaders need to realize that they can’t lead people to health on their own, and they must take care of themselves, too.”

Barna invited the following leaders to discuss the state of relational health today and how the Church can help fortify its people in the midst of anxiety and compounded relational challenges.

If you’re pastoring a church, leading a church or in any kind of ministry, you are involved in relational tension. … I don’t see [relational issues] stopping, because we don’t disciple people in a way that is actually deep enough to get into your closest relationships. Right now, the younger generation is crying out for it and it’s becoming a real issue—but to me, it’s really a theological issue. … The heart of the mission of Jesus is to integrate loving God and loving people. Pete Scazzero, Founder of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship

At the Boone Center for the Family, we have this passion to help see the Church and mental health care practitioners work together—it’s such a beautiful combination. We tend to [ask], “In the life span of a church, how are relationship and mental health concerns being addressed? What can we do to help make the church relevant?” … I have a personal passion and belief that if a church is not addressing these issues, they’re missing a lot of what’s going on in people’s lives. Sharon Hargrave, Executive Director of the Boone Center for the Family

This segment also included discussions with Dr. Terry Hargrave, Professor of Marriage & Family Therapy at Fuller Seminary, and Ralph Delgado, Pastor of Community Life & Thrive at Christian Assembly in Los Angeles, CA.

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Segment Two: How Are Relationships Under Pressure?
Research from Restoring Relationships show that, on the whole, U.S. adults—practicing Christians especially—are generally satisfied in their relationships. Noticeable gaps do appear, however, when examining this satisfaction among married adults and those who are single, with some of the largest differences appearing in their emotions, such as feeling “safe” (92% of practicing Christian married adults vs. 84% of practicing Christian single adults), “loved” (89% vs. 78%) and “happy to be myself” (84% vs. 78%). Large gaps also appear among U.S. adults when comparing those who have not experienced trauma to those who have‚ again concerning feeling “safe” (90% of those who have not experienced trauma vs. 70% of those who have experienced trauma), “loved” (90% vs. 70%) and “happy to be myself” (86% vs. 67%).

Brooke Hempell, Barna’s Senior Vice President of research, shares, “Relational crises happen to just about anyone at just about any time: women and men, younger and older, single and married, Christian and non, we all can experience some sort of relational issue.”

Throughout the segment, Kinnaman and Hempell sat down with expert voices to discuss the specifics of which groups are more at-risk for relational strain and how the Church can support them.

Through the art of connecting, through the art of relationships of people who are younger, older or on the same plane, that is part of spirituality and relational health. We aren’t islands—so allowing ourselves to have the chance to connect with others that have lived life a little longer and connect with people who are coming behind us or those that are on the same level, that not only increases our connections but it increases our spiritual growth. —Michael Cox, M.A, LPC, Co-Founder of Whole Life Priorities

When we’re talking about singles, we’re talking about just over 50 percent of U.S. adults. So it’s critical that pastors are aware of this group and really seeking to minister and reach out to singles. [They should] include examples of people living the single life in their sermons or have programming that’s actually geared for singles. Kelly Haer, Relationship IQ Director at the Boone Center for the Family

I think the very mention of the idea of self-care can sometimes raise concerns for some pastors as [they perceive] it might mean abandoning the heart of sacrificial ministry for narcissism and laziness. … I think people give that a subtle pushback. But self-care of the leader is essential, because a pastor’s work involves giving of the self to care for the need of many others. —Frank Liu, retired pastor and Associate Dean at China Evangelical Seminary North America

If leaders and pastors do not take the time to care for themselves, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, one can easily become self-reliant instead of God-dependent. —Anita Liu, trained psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist

This segment also included interviews with Rebekah Lyons, co-founder of Q Ideas, speaker and best-selling author, David Robbins, President of FamilyLife, and Dr. Anita Phillips, LCSW-C.

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Segment 3: Where Do People Turn to for Support?
To wrap up the digital summit, Hempell presented data on where people seek help and healing for relational hardships. While half of all U.S. adults (54%) and practicing Christians (53%) turn to a loved one for support, one in three practicing Christians (34%) reports seeking the help of a pastor or priest (vs. 13% all U.S. adults) and one in four (26%) says they turned to a professional counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist (vs. 22% all U.S. adults).

Barna research show that a plurality of U.S. pastors and priests is more likely to preach on marriage and parenting than they are anxiety, depression or addition—issues that Christians identify as having an impact on their closest relationships.

Hempell and Kinnaman discussed these findings with both experts and pastors to discern a way forward for church leaders and the people they serve.

Even in our liturgy, [we should] bring up mental health. Even in prayers for your congregation, name the words “depression,” “anxiety,” and [pray for] those who are dealing with addiction or panic attacks. In your sermons, highlight these things … [In the Bible], we have the weeping prophets and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, [stories that] really highlight the humanity that is part of our quest for the sacred. If you just let the text speak, you will naturally address mental health. —Dr. Thema S. Bryant-Davis, licensed psychologist, ordained minister and sacred artist

What does physical touch look like when you’re not supposed to be touching anyone? Thinking through how we replicate being together—I think we want it to be perfect. But we need to accept that it’s not going to be perfect, it’s going to be what we have. We [have to] trust that God is still in the business of multiplication … so even when the things we do seem so small, somehow those small, simple gestures turn into something meaningful. —Luke Norsworthy, Lead Pastor of Westover Hill Church in Austin, TX

This segment also included interviews with Pastor Kalvin and First Lady Pam Cressel of Greater Mt. Sinai Church in Compton, CA, Kimberly Deckel, Associate Pastor at All Souls Church in Phoenix, AZ, and Shane Sanchez, Student Pastor at Gwinnet Church in Atlanta, GA.

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What’s Next?
If you missed the digital summit, want to watch certain clips or hope to share it with someone else, the replay will be available on the Barna website for a limited time (click here to watch). It is our hope that the insights presented throughout the live event help equip church leaders and their staff with the data needed to continue offering support and guidance as their people navigate their closest relationships.

Comment on this research and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup
Facebook: Barna Group

About the Research
The research from the Restoring Relationships study includes a total of 2,307 online interviews with U.S. adults ages 18 and older, including 1,003 interviews with all adults in the general population and an additional 1,304 interviews with practicing Christians. Combined with the number of adults who qualified among the general population (n=219), the total number of interviews among practicing Christians is 1,523. Interviews were conducted between March 27 to May 3, 2019. The margin of error among the general population sample (n=1,003) is ±2.9 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level. The margin of error among the practicing Christian sample (n=1,523) is ±2.3 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level.

The research also includes 656 interviews among U.S. clergy, including 604 interviews with Protestant senior pastors and 52 with Catholic priests. Interviews were conducted between March 19 and April 26, 2019. These pastors were recruited from Barna’s pastor panel (a database of pastors recruited via probability sampling on annual phone and email surveys) and are representative of U.S. Protestant and Catholic churches by region, denomination and church size. The margin of error among pastors is ±3.7 percentage points at the 95-percent confidence level.

About Barna
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2020

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