America has long been identified as a “Christian nation.” From the historically clear preference for Protestant and Roman Catholic spiritual practices by its citizens, to the infusion of biblical language in everyday conversations—think “go the extra mile” and “writing on the wall“—the influence of Christianity on American culture is extensive and long-lived. But will it stay that way? That’s the question taken up by the Barna Group, a Gallup-like statistical research organization that focuses on the church and religious practices in the United States.
Each year, Barna releases its “State of the Church” analysis, and the statistics presented in the 2016 update should come as no surprise to anyone taking even a casual look at American society. In short, Christian beliefs and church attendance have been trending down since at least World War II. (A related Gallup study on religion shows that church attendance for Christians had dropped from 91% of Americans in 1948, to just 61% by 2015.) The Barna report calculates that just 73% of Americans now self-identify as Christian, though only 31% of US adults qualify as “practicing Christian,” those who attend a church service at least once per month.
The report spends a lot of time discussing the idea of “post-Christian” Americans, those who meet at least nine of a set of fifteen religious qualities, including “do not believe in God,” and “disagree the Bible is accurate.” In the 2016 report, Barna puts 48% of American adults in this group, which means that a significant portion of self-identified Christians are in fact post-Christian.
Despite the gloom that believers might experience from the study, Barna includes moments of hope, pointing readers to non-congregational indicators that may paint a more positive picture. “While regular church attendance is a reliable indicator of faithful Christian practice, many Americans choose to experience and express their faith in a variety of other ways, the most common of which is prayer.” Such an emphasis is in line with the overall Barna understanding of the modern church. In his 2005 book Revolution, George Barna, the founder of the Barna Group, used his background in church statistics to predict a future for the American church that favored a more personal experience rather than the traditional congregational focus.
The “State of the Church 2016” report is now available for your review on the Barna Group web site. To obtain a copy of George Barna’s book Revolution, click the button below.
[Image Credits: Barna Group]