2016 was a year for the history books: the presidential election dominated the news cycle, we witnessed our fair share of terror attacks (and attempts) here and abroad, racial tension heightened surrounding a number of controversial killings of black men by police, and we’ve witnessed heightened conflict in places like Syria and Iraq. Throughout the year Barna has been tracking these trends and attempting to make sense of American public opinion. We conduct tens of thousands of interviews every year, and much of that research is released online, so to celebrate the end of 2016 we’ve compiled our top 10 most-read articles of the year from our website:
1. Teens & Young Adults Use Porn More Than Anyone Else
The most popular research this year—by a significant margin—was our study on pornography, particularly our article on porn usage among teens and young adults. The increasing “pornification” of popular culture means younger generations are coming of age in a hypersexualized cultural ecosystem. Smartphones, tablets and laptops have revolutionized the way people encounter images. Pictures and videos are easily accessible with one swipe or click; it takes very little effort to encounter sexually explicit content on apps like Snapchat and Instagram. Even mainstream media is infused with sexualized images and ideas. Teens and young adults, in turn, tend to be more open to sexual experimentation and self-expression—leading to further social acceptance of sexually explicit content. In our landmark study commissioned by Josh McDowell Ministry, Barna interviewed American teens, young adults and older adults about their views on and use of pornography. Among many notable findings, researchers discovered that teens and young adults have a more cavalier attitude toward porn than adults 25 and older. In addition, young adults ages 18 to 24 seek out and view porn more often than any other generation. Perhaps the biggest standout data point was the fact that teens (13-17) and young adults (18-24) believe “not recycling” is more immoral than “viewing pornography.”
2. 2016 Bible-Minded Cities
The second most-read article of the year was Barna’s annual Bible-Minded Cities data looking at Bible engagement in cities across the United States. The annual report, based on interviews with 65,064 adults over a 10-year period, shows how people in the nation’s 100-largest media markets view and use the Bible. Each year, in partnership with American Bible Society, Barna ranks the nation’s top media markets based on their level of Bible engagement. Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded. This definition captures action and attitude—those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures. The rankings thus reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in various U.S. cities. Where is your city ranked?
3. Porn in the Digital Age: New Research Reveals 10 Trends
Both of Barna’s releases based on our pornography research make the top three most-read articles of the year. In this second of our two releases on pornography, based on the same landmark study (now available to purchase) from the above article on teens and young adults, we look at ten of the most compelling findings from the study. Pornography is not new, but the digital age has made it more ubiquitous and accessible than ever before. The technological realities of smartphones and high-speed internet have fundamentally changed the landscape of pornography, and ushered it into the cultural mainstream where it enjoys increasingly widespread acceptance. Some of the top ten trends therefore show the increasing ambiguity toward pornography in our culture. For instance, most porn users say it doesn’t bother them to use porn, very few adults feel a sense of guilt when they use it, and few adults are actively trying to stop using it.
4. The State of the Church 2016
The fourth most-read article of the year was our annual “State of the Church” piece in which Barna examined affiliation, practice, and church attendance, and how those trends have shifted over the years. The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American life for centuries, but much has changed in the last 30 years. Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church. Based on a large pool of data collected over the course of this year, Barna conducted an analysis on the state of the church, looking closely at affiliation, attendance and practice to determine the overall health of Christ’s Body in America.
5. The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code
Fifth on the list was Barna’s research on the morality of self-fulfilment. Christian morality is being ushered out of American social structures and off the cultural main stage, leaving a vacuum in its place—and the broader culture is attempting to fill the void. Barna’s research reveals the growing concern about the moral condition of the nation, even as many American adults admit they are uncertain about how to determine right from wrong. This research reveals the degree to which Americans pledge allegiance to the “morality of self-fulfillment,” a new moral code that, as David Kinnaman, President of Barna argues in his book Good Faith, has all but replaced Christianity as the culture’s moral norm. The morality of self-fulfillment can be summed up in six guiding principles, which include “the best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself” and “to be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire most.”
6. Black Lives Matter and Racial Tension in America
Number 6 on the list was Barna’s research on the Black Lives Matter movement and racial tension in America. Public outrage over the deaths of individuals like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and others has brought to light the often-unheeded reality of racial tension here in the United States. The nation witnessed the pain, grief, and indignation among African Americans as protests began in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore and spread across the country sparking the “Black Lives Matter” movement. But this movement has met with a mixed response, reflecting a deeper divide on how Americans view the problem of race in this country. To explore the issue in more detail, Barna asked American adults about their experience with race. Though many believe the tensions exist, the research revealed deep divisions on how Americans view the experience of people of color, and their understanding of the reality of racism today.
7. Five Ways Christianity Is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist
7th on the list is Barna’s research on the broader culture’s view of Christianity. Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life. That is, there are intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills. Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion. The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society. In a major study for Good Faith, a book co-authored by Barna president David Kinnaman, Barna examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity. In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.
8. The Faith and Ideology of Trump and Clinton Supporters
8th on the list is one of our many election pieces examining the role of faith in the 2016 election. After Clinton and Trump secured their respective party nominations, Barna ran a major poll in October, which examined the faith and ideology of their supporters. Trump won over the majority of right-leaning faith segments and other conservative lifestyle segments, while Clinton won over less religious groups, and more liberal lifestyle segments. This research indicates just how divergent American faith segments are politically—and helps to explain how divided the nation is in its vision for the future.
9. What Americans Believe About Sex
The penultimate article on our list of most-read releases in 2016 is from a study on sex. From the modesty debate to the mainstreaming of “twerking,” the American public has a complex relationship with sex. Ever since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the liberalization of social and moral attitudes toward sex has met with a conservative backlash troubled by the impact of an increasingly sexualized culture. So what do Americans think about sex? What is its purpose, and where should we have it? And what do people think about traditional sexual ethics? Are they outdated? In this study, Barna asked about these and other questions related to sex—and discovered there is no broadly shared consensus among American adults.
10. Top 10 Findings on Teens and the Bible
Rounding out our top 10 most-read articles is a major research study done on teens’ practices and beliefs toward the Bible. The 2016 Teen State of the Bible research, along with The Bible in America study, commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by Barna, examined teens’ perceptions of the Bible, the role they believe it should play in American public life and their level of personal engagement with it. The research told us many things, but the top ten findings showed us that teens have a deep respect for the Bible and care about its relevance to the world in which they inhabit.
About the Research
The statistics and data throughout these studies have been drawn from a series of national public opinion surveys conducted by Barna Group. All of the studies referenced in this book were conducted by Barna Group, unless otherwise noted, among a nationally representative sample of the population identified. For a more detailed methodology for each study, see the research methodology in the “About the Research” section in the footer of each respective article.
About Barna Group
Barna Group 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.