What People Think About Their Faith
The Barna Group has new survey results on faith in America, which found in part:
88% of American adults say that “my religious faith is very important in my life.”Most Americans still find faith important, but what any given religious group thinks is irrelevant to their personal beliefs. This fits with a general deepening of individualism, right?
Faith is not going away despite the prolific media attention devoted to the demise of traditional faith practices and beliefs. Nine out of ten adults admit that their faith plays a meaningful role in their life. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that this is likely to change in the foreseeable future.
75% say they sense that “God is motivating people to stay connected with Him, but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past.”
There is a growing sense of release from traditional religious practices in this country. People are suggesting that they want more of God and less of the stuff that gets between them and their relationship with God. This mindset is equally common among Catholics and Protestants.
45% say they are “willing to try a new church.”
A staggering number of Americans – almost half of the nation’s 230 million adults – are open to changing their church home, demonstrating their lack of connection with their present community of faith and their desire to have a more significant connection. It may also be a reflection of people’s increasing lack of loyalty to both organizations and personal relationships, and the growing sense that there is always something better available if you can simply find it.
50% say “a growing number of people I know are tired of the usual type of church experience.”
It is not just the survey respondents who indicated their willingness to change churches or to consider different forms of church experience. Half of all adults said they are aware of such a willingness to experiment on the part of people they know because those individuals are tired of the common church experience.
71% say they are “more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.”
Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development. Other studies have shown an inclination for people to view a local church as a supplier of useful guidance and support, but not necessarily a reliable source of a comprehensive slate of beliefs that they must adopt.
Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church.
Don't we find increasing ways to be more unique and less a part of the herd? I can now make my own shirts or mugs or books or bumper stickers in quantities of 1 if I wish. I can create anything I want just for me. Technology makes this possible, but the desire to be individual comes from us, not the marketers.
In one sense, this is fine, we are individuals. We are each unique. But we are also made to be in community with one another. What I believe matters, but a church can and should also come together around what we believe ("We believe in God, the Father almighty..."). This matters less at some times of our lives, but when times get tough, we need others to stand alongside us. When we go through times of doubt, what we believe can sustain any one individual in our midst in a way that is important. Otherwise, we wouldn't have to bother with church and each could be a Christian on their own. But Christianity is a team sport, not a solo activity. And while it isn't essential for community that we hold all of our beliefs in common, but it does matter that we do hold much in common.
That's my take. What's yours?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor