Barna on 2010

The worldwide respected Barna group wrote an article on the six themes in churches today. This is the subject of my new book that will be out in a few weeks. I think it is something christians need to seriously look at. I am a part of what is being called the Emergent Church and I see the results as a negative aspect of the church and a damning future.

“The religious environment in the U.S. is morphing into something new.” So says a new report by the Barna Group assessing the top six overarching themes uncovered by their research in the Church during 2010. The report found the following patterns developing in  the Church this year:

1. Less theological literacy. Barna says the basic truths of the faith are largely unknown to today’s Americans, especially to young adults. For example, most Americans cannot associate Easter with the resurrection of Christ, a majority see the Holy Spirit as a symbol rather than a living entity, and few see their faith as the central focus of their lives. “The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency,” the report said.

2.  More ingrowth and less outreach-orientation. The report noted that Christians are becoming more and more spiritually isolated from non-Christians. Barna found that less than one-third of Christians had planned to invite anyone to Easter services in 2010, teens are much less apt to discuss their faith with their friends than was true in past years, and a majority of Christians this year converted because of a traumatic life experience rather than because of an outreach effort. The report warned that atheists are becoming more and more strategic in their outreach, and with the “increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration,” Christians will become increasingly reticent to engage in faith-based outreach efforts and conversations without intentional intervention.

3.  Greater interest in practical solutions rather than spiritual principles. Faith has taken a back seat to accomplishments, according to Barna’s 2010 research, especially to teens. People’s interests are growing in areas of lifestyle comfort, success, and personal achievement; teens prioritize education, career, friends, and travel. Both consider achievement of goals and survival in the present more important than spiritual growth and issues of eternal significance. “The turbo-charged pace of society leaves people with little time for reflection. The deeper thinking that occurs typically relates to economic concerns or relational pressures,” explained Barna’s researchers. Americans continue to compartmentalize their faith away from other aspects of life, becoming “practical to a fault.”

4.  Increased interest in community service and social justice for its own sake. Christians are more interested in community service projects and participating in social justice activities than in the past, largely driven by young adults. But the good works and services performed have little spiritual basis; rather, they are engaged because it is “the socially esteemed choice at the moment.” The report urges churches and Christians to instead support such action with a biblical perspective and be “recognized as people doing good deeds out of geniune love and compassion” in the name of Christ and as a display of the value of the Christian life to others.

5.  Increased tolerance. “Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental,” researchers explained. “The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.” Barna research shows there are fewer and fewer subjects about which Christians feel they should be morally absolute, and many equate “love” with “lack of conflict.” The challenge for the future will be balancing truth and love while understanding which tenets of their faith are non-negotiable and worth defending.

6.  Little visible impact of Christianity on culture and individual lives. Researchers say Americans today have a difficult time specifically identifying any particular value Christianity has added to the country’s culture; they can quickly name its faults, however. “The Christian Church is in desperate need of a more positive and accessible image,” says the report. In other words, Christians must display the fruit of their faith more often and more vividly, in public and in private, especially in the face of vast amounts of competing ideas and rapid communication available in today’s world. Only then will people’s observations of Christianity in action help them see the faith accurately and shape their perceptions of the faith in a positive way.

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