In a recent conversation with a friend, the status of Christianity in America somewhat became a hot discussion item. Between our personal opinions and recent facts about social, cultural and political trends that are impacting our lives, I wanted to see what researchers have to say about this matter. What is your response to this question? What criteria are you using to support your position?
About the research
The most recent study on the state of the Church was done by Barna Group which was conducted via online and telephone surveys in January 2016. A total of 5,137 interviews were conducted among a random sample of U.S. adults, ages 18 years or older. Below is an overview of their findings:
America, a Post-Christian Nation
The most recent numbers suggest that nearly 73% [almost 3/4] of American’s identify as Christian, while only 20% [only 1/5] claim no faith at all [which includes atheists and agnostics]. Only 6% identify with other belief-systems such as Isalm, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism, while just 1% expressed uncertainty.
While this 73 % who identify as Christian, only 53% strongly agree that their espoused religious faith was essential to their overall life. A further analysis of this 73% group of Christians revealed a much smaller percentage of Christians when elements of living out their faith were called into question by the researchers.
- Barna considered a person a “practicing Christian using a variable of 1. Affiliation to a body of other believers. 2. Self-identification. 3. The practice of the faith one proclaimed.
When these three variables were applied to the 73% of American’s who proclaimed that they were Christians, the numbers dropped to around 1 to 3 U.S. adults were practicing Christians [31%]. This 31% represents a more accurate picture of the Christian faith in America according to researchers.
- Even though this study is two years old, one could argue correctly that America in 2018 is far more secular than a Christian nation. Also, it bears mentioning that America is a post-Christian nation. According to Barna Group, to qualify as “Post-Christian,” individuals had to meet 60% or more of the following factors (9 or more). “Highly post-Christian individuals meet 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of the 15 total criteria)
15 Question Criteria
- Do not believe in God
- Identify as an atheist or agnostic
- Disagree that faith is important in their lives.
- Have not prayed to God (in the last year).
- Have never made a commitment to Jesus.
- Disagree the Bible is accurate.
- Have not donated money to a church (in the last year).
- Have not attended a Christian Church (in the last year).
- Agree that Jesus committed sins.
- Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith.”
- Have not volunteered at Church (in the last week).
- Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week).
- Have not read the Bible (in the last week).
- Have not attended religious small group (in the last week).
- Do not participate in a house Church (in the last year).
Noted aspects of indicators of Faith practice
- Attending Church on a regular basis [46% attend a church of 100 or fewer members, 37% attend a midsize church of over 100, but less than 500 members, 9% attends a church with 500 to 999 members, 8% attend mega-churches of 1,000 or more attendees. [note the verbiage: attendees as opposed to members!]
Of the 73% of Americans who identify themselves as Christians, the researchers contended that there were more churched Americans than unchurched. [I wished the researchers would have noted the drastic overall attendance decline of the mainline Orthodox denominations in this report.]
- Churched adults were active churchgoers who have attended a church service-with varying frequency-within the past 6 months (not including a special event such as a wedding or a funeral). The unchurched adults have not attended a service in the past six months.
Under these definitions, a slight majority of adults (55%) are churched- though the country is almost evenly split with (45%) qualifying as unchurched adults.
Other spiritual disciplines reported as indicators of Christian faith practice
- Almsgiving [personal charity was reflected as one very important pillars of a healthy spiritual life of these three]
Americans give to churches more than nonprofit organizations [54%].
- 75% claim to have prayed to God in the last week.
- 35% attended church in the last week.
- 34% claimed to have read the Bible on their own.
- 19% either volunteered at a nonprofit or at church (18%) in the last week.
- 17% attended Sunday school.
- 16% attended a small group.
What do Americans believe?
- 35% were Born-again Christians
- 23% Bible-minded
- 7% Evangelical Christians [very active politically]
Conclusions and comments.
Based on this report of the State of the Church in America by the Barna Group, America is a secular nation that has a diversity of both spiritual and non-spiritual citizens that coexist in our culture. Those which were identified as Christians were further divided into two groups; those that were Christians in name only, and those who have practiced their faith via observable disciplines.
Of the measured observable disciplines that the researchers used to obtain these two Christian groups, the actual faithful practice of the Christians[31%] declined substantially, ie, church attendance, Biblical reading/literacy. Other than praying [75%] and almsgiving [54%] were the top two actions that accounted for the “practicing Christians” [31%.] All other spiritual disciplines were reported very low.
For me, looking at this analysis has raised some very important questions if not major observations:
- What is the very best description of those who attend churches in America, members of a church or a denomination or are they disciples of Christ?
- Is the church just another social-religious institution in the American landscape?
- If church membership is at an all-time low, what is it within our secular culture is shaping the identity of the Christians who are not biblically literate yet are both prayerful and generous?
- For the larger and even smaller grouping of Christians in this report, where is the actual alliance of the believer? Is it in the US Constitution, denominational affiliations, Nationalism, political party, wealth and power, or one’s class or ethnic group?
- If there is an about even amount of Americans who see themselves as Christian as opposed to those who don’t, what group will take the lead in making a stand for social advocacy against injustice, evil and human rights?
- Has the church lost the cultural wars against the secular, humanistic worldview?
- What group has the ultimate mandate to impact the culture? Or have a prophetic vision and voice for America, it’s citizens, the church, and our culture?
Barna’s criteria for assessing these individuals were very basic if not common as opposed to the very high standards that are in the Holy Scriptures. This is true of the role of the church as the Body of Christ and it’s role in culture.
My intent of reporting this data was only for informational purposes as well as a tool of critical analysis toward building up both the church and the Body of Christ during these most challenging times. May our Lord continue to keep His Body faithful and prepared for perhaps the greatest contest between opposing powers of Light and darkness.
Would love to get some feedback on this blog post, your views, and insights to the research and the content. May the Lord our God Bless and Keep you!
Grace and Peace