Jul 6, 2009

From the Archives

Survey Shows How the Faith of America’s Hispanics Has Changed

A few years ago the Hispanic population passed the African-American population as the largest ethnic group in the U.S. A new survey by The Barna Group indicates that Hispanics are assimilating the faith of the Caucasian population faster than anyone would have predicted, essentially mirroring the faith of the nation’s white population.

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Comparing the Faith of Hispanics and All Americans

An overview of the faith practices and beliefs of Hispanics and the total adult population shows that there are few significant differences between the two groups. The Barna study found that these segments have nearly identical profiles on the following:

  • Belief that their faith is very important in their life
  • Perceived accuracy of the principles taught in the Bible
  • A personal sense of responsibility to share their faith with others
  • Perception about the existence of Satan
  • Perception about the holiness of Jesus Christ
  • Understanding of the nature of God
  • Contending that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith
  • Belief that the primary purpose of life is to love God fully
  • Having made a personal commitment to Jesus that is important in their life
  • Levels of attendance at church services, Christian education classes, and small groups
  • Likelihood of having read the Bible in the past week
  • Incidence of having shared their faith with a non-Christian
  • Being unchurched
  • Involvement in a house church

How did the two populations differ spiritually? Based on the questions asked, gaps were discovered in just a handful of areas, including:

  • Hispanics remained somewhat more likely to believe that a good person can earn his or her way into Heaven
  • Americans, overall, were significantly more likely to claim that they are “absolutely committed” to Christianity (58% vs. 46%, respectively)
  • Hispanics are twice as likely as the aggregate adult base to be aligned with the Catholic church (44% vs. 22%, respectively)
  • Americans at-large were slightly more likely to be born again Christians (46% vs. 40%), based on their theological views (not based on self-identification as “born again” based on the definition explained in the About the Research section of this report).

Comparing Born Again Segments

When Barna separated out the born again Hispanics and compared them to the nation’s born again population at-large, relatively few differences were identified between the two groups. The differences that were statistically significant included the following:

  • Hispanic born again Christians were more likely to believe that even though their salvation was based on confessing their sins and accepting Christ as their savior, it was also possible for a person to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior
  • Hispanic born agains were more likely than all born again Americans to contend that they have been greatly transformed by their faith (85% versus 78%)
  • Hispanic born again adults were less likely than all born again adults in the U.S. to claim to be absolutely committed to Christianity (63% versus 74%)
  • Hispanic born agains were twice as likely as all born again adults to be aligned with the Catholic church (35% vs. 17%)
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How Hispanic Faith Has Changed

Barna compared the faith of Hispanics today to their faith profile of 15 years ago. That assessment shows that Hispanics have been rapidly moving toward adopting the mainstream beliefs and practices of all Americans. The study discovered 11 faith dimensions on which there has been substantial change during the past 15 years. Those areas of change include:

  • Alignment with the Catholic church (down by 25 percentage points)
  • Being a born again Christian (up by 17 percentage points)
  • Having made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today (up by 15 percentage points)
  • Church attendance (up 10 percentage points in an average week)
  • Claiming that their religious faith is very important in their life (up by 10 percentage points)
  • Claiming to have a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others (up 10 percentage points)
  • Believing that a good person can earn their way into Heaven (down 9 percentage points)
  • Believing that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who stills rules the world today (up 8 percentage points)
  • Believing that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches (up six percentage points)
  • Attending a church of 500 or more people (down by 6 percentage points)
  • Reading the Bible during a typical week (up by 5 percentage points)

Insights into Hispanic Faith and Life

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, commented on the changes in the faith of the nation’s Hispanic population.

“The research points out several important realities about the faith of Hispanics in America. First, Hispanics are becoming a more mainstream population in various ways – politically, economically, relationally, culturally – and this data reveals that they are assimilating in their faith perspectives and practices, as well. The influence of a dominant culture and its traditions has a powerful affect on people’s lives. While Hispanics have indisputably influenced American culture, these figures remind us that such transformation is a two-way street.

“Second,” Barna continued, “the study points out how significant faith is in the lives of Hispanics. Not only do most of them assert that importance, but the fact that so much is changing in their faith perspectives and practices underscores how much energy they devote to their spirituality.

“Third, you cannot help but notice the changing relationship between Hispanics and the Catholic church,” noted Barna. “While many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States with ties to Catholicism, the research shows that many of them eventually connect with a Protestant church. Even more significant is the departure of many second and third generation Hispanics from their Catholic tradition.”

The California-based researcher added that the study found that compared to national norms, Hispanics are somewhat less likely to describe themselves as “mostly conservative” on political and social matters, but were no more likely than others to say they are “mostly liberal” in such areas. In other words, Hispanics gravitate toward a middle-of-the-road ideological posture on social and political issues.

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About the Research

This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group among nine nationwide random samples of adults. In the course of the 9,232 interviews conducted, each respondent was asked if they considered themselves to be Hispanic. These surveys were conducted between January 2007 and November 2008. In total, there were 1,195 adults in the Hispanic category. The range of sampling error associated with the total sample of adults is between ±0.2 and ±1.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The range of sampling error associated with the sub-sample of Hispanics is between ±1.3 and ±2.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. These allowances do not include other types of error (known as non-sampling error) that can occur in surveys, such as errors arising from question wording, question sequencing, and the recording of responses.

“Born again Christians” were defined as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that was still important in their life today and who also indicated they believed that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website ( Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

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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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