According to a news release from Barna Research Group of Ventura, Calif., the story of the year was the Sept. 11 attack on America. But plenty of other changes and revelations occurred during the past year that merit recollection. Based on more than a dozen national research studies conducted by Barna during 2001, it is obvious that even the faith realm provided its fair share of drama.
In his annual review of the top religious findings, George Barna provided five lists of faith-related survey results: the most revealing, most controversial, most surprising, most significant-but-not-surprising, and most challenging faith-related insights.
"Other people would probably place some different outcomes on each of these lists," admitted Barna. "But based on our on-going assessment of the spiritual climate and religious gyrations in America, these 40 outcomes give a pretty dynamic summary of what happened in the U.S. in its religious life this year. Such lists are always subjective, but the breadth of revelations represented by these factors may be helpful in reviewing the true spiritual condition of America."
The 7 Most Important or Revealing Results
Poring over hundreds of statistics released during 2001 through The Barna Update, the bi-weekly report on American culture and faith, Barna chose the following seven outcomes as those that have the most significant implications.
(1.) When people who regularly attend Christian church services were asked to describe the importance of various spiritual endeavors, a minority of regular attendees described evangelism, having meaningful relationships with other people in their church, and giving 10 percent or more of their income to their church as very important endeavors.
(2.) After studying more than three dozen different faith practices and biblical beliefs, adults under the age of 35 were the least likely to have a biblical perspective or consistent participation in each of the factors examined.
(3.) Forty one percent of the adults who attend Christian church services in a typical week are not born again Christians - meaning they have not embraced Jesus Christ as their savior.
(4.) After exploring the religious life of adults attending a variety of Protestant churches, only three types of churches - Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and non-denominational churches - had a majority of adherents who had shared their faith in Christ with a non-Christian in the past year.
(5.) Based on people's reactions to a series of moral issues, Americans are comfortable legalizing activities - such as abortion, homosexuality and pornography - that they feel are immoral.
(6.) Religious teaching or values minimally affect people's moral choices. The major influences on such decisions are the expected personal outcomes of their choices, minimizing conflict over their choices, and the values their parents taught them.
(7.) Compared to two years ago, just half as many Americans believe that absolute moral truth exists, dropping from 38 percent in January 2000 to only 22 percent in November 2001.
Barna noted that this list suggests that "faith is just one component in people's lives that helps them to interpret and cope with reality, and it certainly is not the central shaping influence for most people. The data regarding young adults also pose the possibility that churches are losing ground in terms of influence and may need to consider new approaches to making ancient truths more vivid and comprehensible in a technology-drenched, relativistic global community."
7 Most Controversial Statistics
Based upon the letters, phone calls and e-mail messages received in response to the bi-weekly Updates released during the year, Barna identified the statistics that got the greatest number of people exercised.
(1.) Among adults who have been married, born again Christians and non-Christians have essentially the same probability of divorce.
(2.) Mormons are more likely to read the Bible during the week than are Protestants or Catholics.
(3.) Adults who attend charismatic or Pentecostal churches were more likely to possess biblical beliefs than were those attending other Protestant and Catholic churches.
(4.) By the end of the decade, 50 million Americans will seek to have their spiritual experience solely through the Internet, rather than at a church; and upwards of 100 million Americans will rely upon the Internet to deliver some aspects of their religious experience.
(5.) Roman Catholics represent the second-largest denominational group of born again Christians (as defined by Barna) in the nation - trailing the Southern Baptists, but way ahead of Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and others.
(6.) Although one-third of all born again adults claim to tithe their income, only 12 percent actually do so.
(7.) Just half of all home schooling parents are born again Christians.
"One of the greatest values of research is that it can identify myths that we hold on to - myths that often prevent us from seizing opportunities, or that prevent us from responding appropriately to the world around us," Barna explained.
"A lot of the anger that was expressed to us in reaction to these findings reflects the difficulty we sometimes have in changing our predispositions and coming to grips with a world that is rapidly changing and does not conform to the rules we believed were firmly entrenched. Knowing the reality, rather than the myth, can help us address reality and, if need be, redirect it."
(c) Barna Research Group: www.barna.org