Study Finds Spiritual Growth, But Not Church Growth

"Growth activities are those that do not take place at a church"
( [email protected] ) Mar 03, 2004 06:11 PM EST

A new survey released by the Barna Institute found that religious activity in the U.S. was growing, but not within the church. The study, released on March 1, showed that over the past two decades, participation in small religious gatherings and prayers increased significantly, but at the same time, church attendance, church-related worship and church-related gatherings remained stagnant, at least among the 1,014 polled.

"Notice that the growth activities are those that do not take place at a church," BRG president George Barna said. "The church-oriented endeavors showed no movement. This may be an early warning sign that we are entering a new era of spiritual experience - one that is more tribal or individualized than congregational in nature."

Positive growth was discovered in:

--Bible reading climbed up by 7% over the last decade, from 37% in 1994 to 44% in 2004.

--Participation in small groups for prayer, bible study or spiritual fellowship outside of church increased by 6% from 12% to 20%.

--Prayer activity increased by 6% from 77% to 83%.

The areas that remained stagnant since 1994 were in:

--Church attendance grew by only 1%; up from 42-43 percent

--Volunteering to help a church decreased by 1%; down from 25 to 24 percent.

--Attending adult Sunday School classes remained the same: both 1994 and 2004 showed 21 percent attendance

--Sharing one’s faith in Jesus with non-believers decreased 3% among born again Christians; down from 58% to 55%.

According to the Barna group, there were several identifiable groups that were changing more rapidly than others. The greatest increase in Christian activity was found among people of the West Coast -- California, Oregon, and Washington. Substantial change was also registered among people 58 and older. Protestants have also been notably more likely than Catholics to pick up the pace of their spiritual activity.

George Barna, president of the Barna Institute, mentioned that additional data will be soon released from the survey.

“Looking ahead at some of the other findings now being analyzed from our annual tracking survey, we find that in spite of increased religious behavior on several fronts, there is no concurrent rise in the percentage of adults who have embraced Jesus Christ as their savior – that is, no parallel rise in the proportion who are ‘born again.’ Churches face an imposing challenge: to not allow people to substitute religious busyness for genuine spiritual transformation,” said Barna.

On a similar survey, conducted by the British Broadcasting Company this February, the U.S. was found to be one of the most religious nations in the world.

More than 70 percent of US residents said they were willing to die for their God, and 67 percent said they pray to God regularly.

For more information on the Barna survey, please visit: