Christians at Work, Part 1: Erasing the Sacred / Secular Divide

Research Releasesin Work & Vocation•September 19, 2018

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Over the years, Barna has learned that adults want their jobs to produce passion, not just a paycheck. For Christians, this desire goes even deeper, driven by the idea that God gives each person specific gifts to do … something. As the world and our workplaces rapidly change, it’s never been more important for people of faith to think deeply about what they are made to do and why they do it—which is why Barna has embarked on a multi-year initiative focused on vocation, beginning with the new report Christians at Work, now available for purchase. (Read more about this vision from David Kinnaman, Barna president, and Bill Denzel, executive director of Barna’s vocation project.)

Conducted in partnership with Abilene Christian University, the Christians at Work study examines employed, self-identified Christians in the United States to offer a far-reaching, deeply introspective assessment of a sense of vocation in the Church, specifically through one’s profession (as distinct from other valuable yet unpaid forms of vocation, like volunteering, hobbies, parenting, homemaking, etc.). The report also introduces custom Barna profiles of Christians in the workforce—the faith­–work Integrators, Compartmentalizers and Onlookers—so that leaders can learn from those who experience an overlap of calling and career and better disciple those who don’t yet.


These next few weeks, will publish a series of central findings from Christians at Work. Overall, the data show that Christian workers seek (and often find) meaningful, purposeful employment—and that they don’t necessarily think ministry is superior to the marketplace.

Most Christian Workers Don’t See a Strict Spiritual Hierarchy of Professions
Though Christian workers more often associate religious and pastoral roles with being a “calling” or serving the common good, it may not matter to most Christians whether they or someone else works in a “sacred” or “secular” space. Barna asked whether it was better for a Christian to become a pastor or missionary, or to represent his or her faith well at work. In general, Christians are most likely to say that neither one is superior to the other (64%). After all, almost two-thirds of employed Christians (64%) agree on some level that it’s clear to them how their own work serves God or a higher purpose. This indicates Christians are prone to see spiritual value in any working context—or that perhaps the marketplace seems to them as urgent a mission field as any.

Almost two-thirds of employed Christians (64%) agree on some level that it’s clear to them how their own work serves God or a higher purpose. Click To Tweet

Ministry is not seen as superior to other work

Insights from Practitioners
“There are men and women who sit in our pews who walk into board meetings, classrooms, warehouses, offices and interactions with clients with a deep sense that God is there and that God is up to something in this world. They are teachers, lawyers, executives, non-profit leaders, social workers and healthcare professionals who have developed a sense that their work is not simply something to endure, but the very place they experience God’s presence and transforming power. Like the 70 sent in Luke 10, they go to their places of work expecting to find people of peace from whom they can learn and on whom they can depend. They see their work not as a means to an end—that is, a place to find people to bring to church; they see their work as the location where healing begins and God’s Kingdom comes near.” —Dr. Ben Ries, associate dean for vocational formation and director of the Center for Vocational Formation at Abilene Christian University

You On Purpose

Put It to Use: Questions and Actions for Church Leaders

  • How do your ministries provide opportunities for people with seemingly less pastoral roles or skill sets to worship or lead out of their strengths?
  • How can your church become more shaped and led by workers of various backgrounds and industries? What does the “priesthood of all believers” look like today, and how do you mobilize people around that vision?
  • Have you ever (even unintentionally) reinforced the idea of a hierarchy of professions or of “sacred vs. secular” work? In your private study and your public sermons or statements, how are you cultivating a broader imagination for what it looks like to participate in the Kingdom of God?

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Christians at Work

About the Research
A set of quantitative online surveys was conducted February 27–March 12, 2018, and April 18–May 8, 2018, using an online panel. The sample included 1,459 self-identified U.S. Christians who agree somewhat or strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and are employed (full-time, part-time or self-employed, including unpaid work for a family business). The margin of error for this sample is +/-2.3% at the 95% confidence level. Barna researchers set quotas to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors, and weighted the data by ethnicity, education and gender to reflect their natural presence in the working population (using U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data for comparison).

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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, 2018

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