His finding was announced as the Barna Group released its end-of-the-year top six trends in American faith for 2011.
One of the most favorable discoveries by pollsters was that three-quarters of Americans see churches as a positive factor in their communities. Only 5 percent consider the church’s influence to be negative. However, “Americans are struggling to determine how faith, Christianity and church fit into modern life,” reports Barna.
Among 2011’s other trends:
“Forty-one percent of Americans are unable to identify who they consider to be an influential Christian,” reported Barna. When surveyed about their Christian heroes, many Americans came up blank.
“Only Billy Graham, the Pope, Barack Obama and Joel Osteen were mentioned by more than 1 out of 50 adults as the most significant Christian leaders,” reported Barna.
“Another way in which Christianity hit the mainstream radar was prominent discussion about hell,” reported Barna. “This issue sparked so much controversy and vigorous debate in part because America is
essentially split down the middle on most issues of universalism and religious pluralism. For example, 43 percent of Americans said it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons; 54 percent of Americans disagree. Half of Americans believe that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God no matter what they do, while 40 percent disagreed.
“With the nation’s population so divided, expect to see these issues continue to stoke lively conversations,” said Barna.
Pollsters also found “a great deal of openness among millions of Americans to overtly supporting Christian business and brands. In fact, nearly half of all adults (including all faith groups) said they would be open to purchasing from a business or brand that operates according to Christian principles.”
A consistent theme from Barna Group’s research this year is Americans’ growing acceptance of limitations.
Will these kids stay in church?
“Compared to the experience of economic surplus of recent decades,” he writes, “residents are living within a redefined American dream. For many, this includes lowered expectations, rethinking spending habits, and relearning savings.
“One reason for their modest outlook on life is that three-quarters of adults claim to have been personally affected by the economic downturn. Another reason: Americans have come to accept that the economy is not recovering anytime soon. They are settling in for the long haul. Seven out of 10 Americans believe it will be two or more years and nearly half say it will take three years or longer. One out of 17 Americans now believes the economy will never fully recover, up from one in 50 two years ago.
“One of the unfortunate consequences of these changes is a reduction
in charitable giving,” writes Barna. “Three out of 10 adults have reduced their giving to churches and four out of 10 have downgraded their giving to non-profits. One of the measures of generosity is tithing, or giving 10 percent or more of one’s income.
The tithing indicator, too, has dropped from 7 percent to 4 percent of all Americans. The patterns of giving and generosity suggest a tough year ahead for non-profit and church leaders.
What does it take to make church relevant?
Another key theme from Barna Group’s research in 2011 is the new generation gap hitting the Christian community. Many of today’s congregations are struggling to remain connected with Millennials. The faith journeys of teens and young adults are often challenging for many parents and faith leaders, who often misunderstand how and why young people become disconnected.
Barna cites six reasons that young adults leave church as well as five common myths about church dropouts.