The fastest-growing ethnic group in America continues to be the Hispanic segment. At projected growth rates, Hispanics will overtake blacks to become the second-largest population group in the U.S. within the next five years. In addition to their growing numerical stature, Hispanics will continue to have increasing influence on many aspects of American culture, including faith and lifestyle choices. A new report from the Barna Research Group, based on surveys among more than 4000 adults, shows that the faith of the Hispanic population is steadily shifting from its traditional Catholic-oriented spirituality to a more diverse spiritual hybrid.
In general, the spiritual practices of Hispanic adults are nearly identical to those of non-Hispanics. During a typical week Hispanics are just as likely to attend church (40%), volunteer at their church (24%), pray to God (81%), attend a Sunday school class (15%), and attend a small group meeting for spiritual purposes (15%) as are non-Hispanic adults. The only spiritual activity measured for which there was a significant distinction related to Bible reading. Hispanic adults are less likely than other adults to read the Bible during the week, other than during a church service (33% versus 40%, respectively).
Throughout the world, an overwhelming proportion of Hispanics are affiliated with the Catholic Church. While that relationship persists in the U.S. as well, the strength of that bond is rapidly deteriorating. As recently as one decade ago, two-thirds of all Hispanic adults (68%) said the church they attended most frequently was Catholic; today that proportion is down to just half (53%).
While many Hispanics are realigning themselves with Protestant churches, they are not attracted to the churches that often appeal to non-Hispanics. Baptist churches attract 20% of the non-Hispanic adult population, while mainline churches (Episcopal, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and Evangelical Lutheran) draw another 20% of the non-Hispanic segment. However, only 1% of all Hispanic adults attend either a Baptist or mainline church!
In fact, the presence of Hispanics greatly affects the relative standing of the Catholic and Baptist churches in the U.S. As matters currently stand, among the total adult population the Catholic church has the largest number of adherents of any denomination (22% of all U.S. adults attend a Catholic church). Among the non-Hispanic population of the country, however, Baptist churches have the upper hand, attracting 20% compared to 18% who associate with the Catholic Church.
There does not appear to be any single Protestant denomination that has a grip on Hispanics; the group is spread among dozens of evangelical and charismatic churches. There is a slightly above average tendency for Hispanics to attend charismatic and Pentecostal churches.
Almost nine out of ten Hispanics (87%) consider themselves to be Christian. Although more than four out of five assert that their religious faith is very important in their life, only one out of four Hispanic adults (26%) also claims to be “absolutely committed” to the Christian faith. Placed in context, that is substantially below the level of “absolute commitment” reported among non-Hispanics: 44%.
While Hispanics and non-Hispanics share a common perspective on God (70% describe Him as the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe who still rules the world today), there are other theological divergences that emerge. Hispanics are comparatively more likely to contend that Satan is not real, that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol of God’s presence or power, that Jesus Christ committed sins during His tenure on earth, and that if a person does enough good things, he/she can earn a place in Heaven.
Hispanic adults are much less likely than others to be born again. Currently, just 25% of Hispanic adults are considered to be born again, compared to 44% among non-Hispanic adults. Particularly interesting is the fact that the born again proportion has remained unchanged for Hispanics in the past decade, while there has been a small but statistically significant increase among non-Hispanics (from 38% to 44%).
George Barna, the researcher who directed the study, noted that the theological differences between Hispanics and others are very important. “Hispanics are struggling with the intersection of faith and culture. At the moment, pop culture is affecting their faith views more than their beliefs are impacting their lifestyle choices. The next five years or so will see fascinating dynamics occur as many Hispanics leave the Catholic church in favor of Protestant congregations. Those churches, in turn, will have to address the theological perspectives of these newcomers that are neither evangelical nor fundamentalist in nature. The tension between the excitement of experiencing increased attendance and the challenge of biblically discipling people who are not especially drawn to the Bible will reveal the ministry priorities of those churches. Either the incoming Hispanics will experience life transforming insights that reshape their theology and lifestyle, or the congregations will experience marketing success bought at the price of theological compromise.”
Barna also noted that his research among Hispanic teenagers suggests that growth within charismatic churches will continue to outpace growth elsewhere, and that departing from the Catholic church will be less of a struggle for many Hispanic teens than it has been for their parents and grandparents.
The data described in this report come from a series of four nationwide telephone surveys conducted by the Barna Research Group from its telephone facility in Ventura, California. In total, 4,038 adults were interviewed, including 468 who described themselves as Hispanic. All of the survey respondents were 18 years of age or older, lived within the 48 continental states, and were selected for participation through use of a Random-Digit Dial sample, which produces a probability sample of all adults. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is plus or minus three percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The distribution of the survey sample coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of obtaining a reliable distribution of adults.
“Born again Christians” were defined in the surveys as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who then indicated they believe 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 if they considered themselves to be “born again.”
The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. If you would like to receive regular e-mailings of a brief overview of each new bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (www.barna.org).
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.
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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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