The American church is quickly “morphing into something new.” This is the conclusion the Barna group drew after analyzing 5,000 interviews conducted in 2010 and identifying the following 6 patterns or “megathemes” from the research. (HT Charles Savelle)
- The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
- Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
- Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
- Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
- The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
- The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Although I think the research done by the Barna Group is always worth noting, I do worry that their interpretation of the data tends to skew in a notably negative/pessimistic direction. As Bradley Wright argues in his book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media, we need to be much more careful with how we use statistical analysis to draw conclusions about the health of God’s people. So, we may need a more nuanced look at some of these megathemes (particularly the last one).
I’d also like a little more explanation of what it means to say that the church is both “more ingrown” and more “interested in participating in community action” at the same time. Or, how the church can have a greater role in community action and yet still have a largely invisible impact on society. That’s an interesting juxtaposition of themes.
And, I’m a bit surprised by #2. Based solely on the churches that I’m involved with, I would have said that there’s a growing trend toward greater outreach (mainly “soft” evangelism and community action). But, that could be just my limited exposure to the church as a whole.
Nonetheless, these themes are worth reflecting on and clearly identify a number of “systemic” issues that we need to wrestle with today.