Barna Research Shows Religious Beliefs Remain Constant Over Past Decade

( [email protected] ) Mar 20, 2004 11:45 AM EST

The Barna Research Group today released the results of a poll they conducted late January and early Febraury regarding the religious beliefs of Americans. According to the survey, it was found that Americans build a system of beliefs early in life and most of them keep their beliefs for life, only few altered their beliefs during the past decade.

Barna observed the change among Christians who belong to three categories based on the beliefs they hold: evangelical Christians, non-evangelical born again Christians, and notional Christians.

The survey discovered that evangelical Christians constitute about 7% of the adult population, compared to 8% in 1995.

Barna labeled evangelical Christians as a subset of the born again Christian population, who have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, who believe in accuracy of the Bible and existence of Satan, and who believe eternal salvation is only through grace, not works.

Non-evangelical born again Christians constitute about 31% today, compared to 30% in 1995.

Barna labeled non-evangelical born again Christians as those who have made a personal commitment to Christ that is important in their life today and believe they will experience eternal salvation because they have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior. Born again adults do not, however, possess the other theological views of evangelicals.

Notional Christians, who are not affiliated with a Christian, hold neither beliefs of evangelical nor born again. This group represents 39% of the adult population and the number didn’t show much change over the past decade as well.

The survey also showed some dramatic change in demographics. Evangelicals, born agains, Republicans and Protestants turn out to be most likely to follow the teachings of the Bible, compared to the Northeast, Asians, Catholics and those who don’t have a party affiliation.

In terms of age, the Baby Busters (between the ages of 20 –38) less likely to correspond to the teachings of the Bible compared to the older adults. 18% of them claimed that their religious faith is very important in their life.

In terms of racial background, blacks were the most corresponding to biblical teaching, compared to other racial groups.

The study also found that on average women were 23% more likely to correspond to biblical teaching compared to men and Protestants were much more likely to believe more firmly in the Bible than the Catholics.

Based on the survey Barna made some predictions about number of born again Christians of the each ethnic group in America in 2050. Barna expects Hispanics will double from 10% today to 19.9% in 2050, Asians from 1.3% to 2.7%, Blacks from 15.2% to about 18.6% whereas white born again adults will decrease from 72.9% TO just 55.6% in 2050.

However The big loser in share will be white born again adults who are expected to plummet from 72.9% of the born again pie to just 55.6% in 2050.

George Barna, the founder of the group, commented on the results: “The consistency of people’s religious beliefs over time is a tribute to the fact that beliefs are formed when people are young and maintained for the duration of life. Recent studies we have conducted show that the beliefs a person holds at age 13 vary little during their adult years. The most effective way to influence such beliefs is by teaching people when they are young and still in a spiritually formative stage. Our studies find little impact from preaching, adult Sunday school and adult small groups upon the beliefs of adults.”

He also made some comments on the changing ethnicity of the Church. “If the projections by us and the Census Bureau hold true, the total number of born again adults will not only increase by about 20% by mid-century, but the nature of that segment will be radically reshaped. The three largest ethnic communities will gain 15 points while the white population will give up 17 points. That’s a huge swing and will result in massive transitions in the national faith arena. A new group of spiritual leaders will emerge, different language and communication styles will be embraced, the emphasis in facilities and construction will change, church planting will move in a different direction that that which dominates the scene today, the funding of global missions will be affected, and the community outreach efforts of Protestant churches will be quite different. Even the Christian media will be greatly impacted by the transition in the born again make-up. Of course, should there be any type of significant spiritual awakening in this country before then, those changes become even more apparent.”

The Barna Group pointed out some of the key findings of the survey:

· Nearly nine out of ten adults (87%) claim that their religious faith is very important in their life today. Three out of four adults strongly affirm that idea.

· Overall, roughly three-quarters of all adults (77%) are associated with the Christian faith. One out of eight (12%) are atheist or agnostic, while the remaining 11% are aligned with some other faith group.

· Americans possess many views about God. About seven out of ten (69%) believe that God is the “all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe who still rules that world today.”

· Six out of ten adults (60%) believe the Bible is “totally accurate in all of its teachings.” However, less than half (44%) strongly agree with that notion.

· Six out of ten adults also contend that Satan does not exist but is merely a “symbol of evil.” Only one-quarter of all adults (24%) strongly reject the idea that the Devil is only symbolic.

· Slightly more than half of all adults (55%) say that a good person can earn a place in Heaven. Only one-fourth of the population (28%) strongly disagrees with the concept of salvation by good deeds.

· Half of all adults (52%) agree that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with other people. Only one-third (35%) firmly believes in that responsibility.

· Among those individuals who are associated with the Christian faith, only half (50%) rate themselves as being “absolutely committed” to the Christian faith.

· Just less than half of the country (44%) believes that Jesus Christ committed sins during His time on earth. Forty-eight percent disagree with this contention. Two out of every five adults (39%) strongly oppose this idea.