Over half of all American adults say that their life has been "greatly transformed" by their religious faith, according to a new Barna study, but a significant number of born again Christians indicated no transformation.
Results from the new survey, conducted on more than 2,000 adults, showed that 51 percent said they have been greatly transformed, 28 percent said their faith has been helpful but has not produced significant transformation, and 17 percent claimed their faith has not made much of a different in their life.
Transformation paralleled closely with spiritual behaviors. Those who read the Bible and attend church regularly were more than twice as likely as those who do not to have been changed by their faith. Additionally, people who say they are "fulltime servants of God" and "deeply spiritual" were more likely than those who do not describe themselves in such a way to say they have undergone faith-based transformation.
The most frequently mentioned "influencers" that Americans named as a catalyst in their change process were the person's church, family members, other people, spiritual practices, special experiences and reading the Bible.
"Family and friends have the greatest influence on whether someone goes through a deep and life-changing spiritual experience," said George Barna, the research institute's founder. "More than institutions, events or programs, it is the personal touch and sincere love of others that sparks interest, facilitates trust and supports the perseverance integral to reaching a point of transformation. It seems that the ability to facilitate transformation through a personal relationship is enhanced by demonstrating serious devotion to one’s faith and a genuine concern for the person who is seeking a deeper faith experience or a more meaningful life."
One out of every four individuals who were classified as born-again Christians said that they had not experienced great life transformation by their faith.
"That questions the nature of their commitment to Christ," said Barna. "This represents more than 20 million adults who consider themselves to be devoted to Jesus Christ but who also claim that their life has not been dramatically changed by that relationship. Perhaps this suggests that the religious community has become more adept at marketing Christian principles than modeling a genuine, life-changing connection with Christ."
Among population segments, women were more likely than men to say they have been transformed by their faith, along with residents in the South compared to other regions and people who are usually conservative on political matters as opposed to those who are generally liberal.
The people group most likely to say they have been impacted by their faith were African-Americans (62 percent). Whites measured 50 percent, Hispanics 49 percent, and Asians 27 percent.
The survey also noted a significant age distinction with only 27 percent of Mosaics, or the generation born after 1983, having undergone serious faith-driven transformation, which was half the proportion associated with older adults.
"The faith journey of Americans is also clearly influenced by their age,” Barna stated. "While we cannot tell if the distinction in people’s journey is due to life stage or to cultural shifts over time, it is obvious that people under 25 are substantially less likely to have undergone serious change as a result of time spent reading the Bible. With America already struggling from serious biblical illiteracy, the noticeable absence of the Bible in the lives of our youngest adults is likely to generate dramatic consequences in the decades to come."
Influencers that affected the Mosaics were parachurch ministries, family members, their local church and the media. Older adults were more likely to be influenced in their transformation by spiritual practices such as prayer and Bible study rather than the work of an organization such as church, parachurch or media.
Broken down into religious groups, 80 percent of Pentecostals said they have been transformed, along with 79 percent of non-denominational adherents and 67 percent of those aligned with one of the Holiness churches. Denominational groups, however, showed lower numbers. Only half of the people associated with Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist churches said they had undergone transformation. Baptists were measured as the lowest in those transformed with 44 percent.
"Spiritual development is a process," Barna said. "You cannot program or force a person into transformation, nor can you predict when it will happen. Every person is unique and has a unique spiritual story."