Jun 21, 2023

What Does it Mean to Be Spiritually Open?

Over the past few months, Barna has been reporting on spiritual openness in America and how churches can welcome spiritually curious people into their midst. But what qualifies someone as spiritually open?

In this piece, an excerpt from our fourth release in the Spiritually Open series, Barna offers some concrete definitions and starting points to help church leaders identify who is spiritually open and what the Church might have to offer spiritually open non-Christians. You can read the full release exclusively in Barna Access Plus.

Spiritually Open Series

Cultivating Curiosity & Conversation About Jesus

32% of U.S. Adults & Teens Are Highly Spiritually Open
To take a closer look at what spiritual openness looks like across the population and how its depth might vary, Barna created a four-point scale to place respondents into three categories: high openness, moderate openness and low openness. This scale was based on a combination of factors including: belief in a spiritual or supernatural dimension of life; belief in God or a higher power; positive feelings toward spirituality; and self-described spirituality that is “open,” “exploring” or “curious.” (See the Methodology for more details about this definition and scale.)

The general population roughly splits into thirds across these three levels of spiritual openness, with the plurality falling into a moderate level of spiritual openness.

Across all generations, the majority of people are spiritually open—even two-thirds of Elders (66%) are at least moderately spiritually open. Today’s teens are especially in a state of amplified spiritual openness, with nearly three in four (74%) qualifying as moderately or highly open.

Openness and Christianity are highly correlated, especially among the one in five adults who are practicing Christians (meaning they attend church regularly and say their faith is very important to them); 42 percent are highly open and another half (47%) are moderately open.

The U.S., however, is largely made up of nonpracticing Christians (47% overall), people who identify as Christian but otherwise don’t meet Barna’s “practicing” definition. Many nonpracticing Christians show a degree of spiritual openness; 79 percent are at least moderately spiritually open.

One-third of U.S. teens and adults are non-Christians (33%), just 16 percent of whom could be thought of as spiritually open (here, we’re referring to both high and moderate levels of openness).

In the fourth issue of our Spiritually Open series, we specifically explore this group of respondents. For pastors and Christians interested in outreach or evangelism among those outside the Church, this minority of spiritually open non-Christians might present some fertile ground for faith conversations. Barna data suggests that this group is not unfamiliar with faith in general or Christianity in particular—rather, they are sorting out the place of faith in their lives. It’s important to understand their backstories, their current spirituality and the hurdles that keep them from claiming the Christian faith as their own.

You can read the full release exclusively in Barna Access Plus.

Spiritually Open Series

Cultivating Curiosity & Conversation About Jesus

Additional reading and resources:

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.

Additionally, a survey among 511 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted online from December 13, 2021–January 3, 2023. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Proprietary Pastor Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

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.

  1. Do you think there is a spiritual or supernatural dimension to life?
  2. 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? [within the list of 30 items displayed, respondents chose either “curious,” “open” or “exploring”]
  3. Would you say that you, personally, have a positive or negative opinion of each of the following? Spirituality
  4. 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.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2023.

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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