The Barna Research Group, an independent marketing research company, summed their 2003 discoveries of the American faith and lifestyle under four critical outcomes: there exists a spiritual satisfaction as well as a confusion of faith, children are loved but overlooked spiritually, the demographic shift also affect the ethical values of the nation and an increase in religious activity does not correlate with the stagnant growth of faith.
The first outcome found by researcher George Barna was that contradictions and confusion pervade through the American religious realm. Studies conducted throughout 2003 on 10,000 people showed that while 84 percent vowed religious faith is important, 66 percent said religion is losing influence in the nation. Also, while 70 percent of the interviewees claimed their faith is growing deeper, there was a decrease in the involvement of religious practices such as Bible reading, prayer, and participating in church activities. Furthermore, despite the finding that 84 percent of Americans were Christian, a surprisingly large percentage of people said cohabitation (60%), adultery (42%), sexual relations between homosexuals (30%), abortion (45%), pornography (38%), the use of profanity (36%) and gambling (61%), are morally acceptable behaviors.
Perceptions regarding eternal salvation also showed inconsistent results. Nearly nine out of ten Protestant churches claim to be “evangelical,” almost six out of ten born again Christians claim to have shared their faith in Christ with a non-believer during the past twelve months, and virtually every Christian church says it pursues the Great Commission. Yet, although just 38% of the adult public have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, 99% said they would not go to Hell.
In terms of children, there was an increase in the range of public policies designed to protect and nurture the physical bodies of children, but there was an actually decrease in the willingness to improve their spirituality. The research discovered that tens of millions of parents are satisfied by simply enrolling their children in church programs; they demonstrate little concern about the quality or effectiveness of those experiences.
The discoveries underscored other findings that showed that the moral foundations of children are typically solidified by the age of nine, that lifelong spiritual choices regarding one’s faith and one’s relationship with Jesus Christ are generally made before they reach age 13, and that a person’s religious beliefs are usually worked out prior to becoming a teenager – and that those beliefs rarely change to any meaningful degree after age 13.
The demographic shifts as baby boomers hit retirement ages, showed a subsequent shift in the value systems of the general public. This year’s research showed that Busters are the adult generation least likely to embrace the existence of life after earthly death; least likely to maintain views related to moral behavior that are consistent with the Bible; least likely to devote time to serving people; least likely to engage in traditional religious activities such as Bible reading, attending church, praying to God, and attending religious education classes; and the least likely to tithe to a church. They are also the generation most likely to believe we can communicate with dead people, the most likely to engage in sex without being married, are far more likely to endorse postmodern lifestyle perspectives, and are the most likely to hold theological views that conflict the Bible. Busters generally describe themselves as “spiritual” but have less interest in church activity than do any other adults. As the current parents of most of the nation’s under-13 population, the long-term implications of their departure from orthodox Christianity are significant.
Finally, this year’s research showed that there were minimal gains attained by the increased religious activities. Although there has been no change in the percentage of adults or teenagers who are born again in many years, the fact that four out of every ten adults attends a church service in a typical week; that a similar proportion read the Bible outside of church services; or that eight out of ten people claim to pray to God during a typical week minimizes people’s sensitivity to other indicators of spiritual decay. Christian ministries will raise nearly $60 billion for domestic ministry in 2003, and there is an estimated $3 billion of new construction work occurring on church properties to facilitate expanded ministry activities. All of these figures lend an air of security and stability to the religious condition of the country.
“This has been an intriguing year regarding the spiritual character of the nation,” explained George Barna, whose firm conducted the various studies relating faith and culture. “The news was filled with stories that directly and indirectly related to faith and morality, including such high profile events as the war in Iraq, further allegations of physical abuse by Catholic priests, legal changes regarding the definition of family, pending splits over moral issues within several major Protestant denominations, questions about the Islamic faith and even challenges to the President’s policies in relation to his faith.
“Many of these incidents have pushed Americans to re-consider the content and the implications of their faith. Our research clearly indicates that Americans are aware of and, to some extent, connected to their spiritual side. One of the greatest challenges of 2004 will be to upgrade the priority of personal and communal spiritual development so that positive transformation may continue.”