The following is from the 2010 Barna Church Trends report:
“The Barna Group, a polling firm that specializes in American church culture and trends, recently released insights drawn from more than 5,000 non-proprietary interviews. George Barna, founder of the Barna Group, indicated that no less than six patterns were evident in the findings.
First, the Christian church is becoming less theologically literate. For example, Barna cites that most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, but only a minority of adults associate easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the fact that a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power, but not a living entity.
Another trend is that Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach oriented. Less than one-third of born again Christians planned to invite anyone to join them at a church event during the Easter season. Also, teens are far less likely to discuss Christianity with their friends than in years past.
Third, the data shows a growing number of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life. In other words, many Christians today way someone to tell them how to be comfortable and successful rather than how to be obedient and kingdom focused.
Ironically, while many are becoming more inward focused on a personal level, the interest in community action and involvement is also on the rise. this is largely due to the passion and energy of young adults. The expanded focus on justice and service has struck a chord with many believers.
Fifth, the idea of being tolerant is beginning to take over the church. This is partly due to the biblical illiteracy mentioned earlier. But what furthers the problem is that many American Christians lack the spiritual confidence to make strong, moral, or theological standards.
Finally, the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives has dwindled to being nearly invisible. While it is a historical fact that Christianity has added much value to culture, religion, philosophy, ideology, democracy, science and the arts, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. This is partly due to the nature of today’s media who focus on the failures of the church or leaders of the church while rarely mentioning anything positive.
Expanded explanations are available at http://www.barna.org.”
(2011). AFA Journal. February 2011. 4.
I don’t know about you, but I am ashamed. There is nothing in me that wants to admit that I am a part of this breed of weak, noncommittal Christians. However, the church is a body of believers, of which I am part. Thus, the responsibility for this sad statistical report falls just as much on me as it does the remainder of American Christians.
Reading this made me “spitting mad.” Yes, I get mad. Those of you who know me will not be surprised by this statement. Unfortunately, I must admit that my anger is often roused by trivial and insignificant matters. And, no, I am no perfect Christian. Far from it. For the last year, I have been a lifeguard and swim instructor at a local pool, clocking nearly 30 hours a week in a chlorine- and often emotion-filled environment. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job. Most of the time. Yet, as with all jobs where multiple people of differing backgrounds and personalities have to work together, there seems to be a lot of conflict. For a year I have heard language that I had committed never to say, and for a year I “succeeded” in my goal of staying true to my standards as a Christian. This week I failed. I failed big time. In one moment of reacting instead of responding I, the “lifeguard who never swears,” ruined a year of self-control and perhaps my entire testimony. As soon as I heard what I had just said, I melted with embarrassment and apologies. Did I mean it? Did I intend to use foul language? Did I purpose to get angry at work? Clearly, I was not planning on reacting, I just did. This is the problem. When I react instead of responding, it is my flesh. James refers to the tongue as an untrained horse, and hard to control. I have trained and ridden a lot of horses, but each one has one thing in common. I have never met a horse that reacted and could still be considered safe. In order for me to feel safe having students on my horses, I must test each horse to ensure that when frightened or stressed, that they will respond instead of reacting. A horse’s nature is to react. If frightened, you run. It is a reaction. It is automatic. It is not trained. As humans, we’re not so different. My nature is to react. If put under stress, I explode. No one ever told me that this was the right thing to do. In fact, a lot of people have told me not to explode under pressure. The flesh doesn’t require training to react. Yet, if I am to be a vessel of honor, that is “safe” for the Master’s use, I cannot afford to react. When stimulants trigger the characteristic anger, I must respond in meekness and humility, confidently yielding my right to protect myself.
What does any of this have to do with the Barna report? To be honest, I’m not completely sure. What I do know is that the body has some serious issues right now. Whether it is a sprained ankle, a broken arm, or a dysfunctional nervous system, it is clear that the American church is suffering. When one part of the body suffers, the rest of the body suffers with it. My reactions, selfishness, and pride create consequences not just for myself, but for the entire body of Christ. Because I exploded at work this week, my co-workers, who know I claim to be a Christian, saw that I am really no different than they are. My words of apology most likely meant nothing, because my actions in one moment spoke louder than my words ever could.
If you are a Christian, I need to apologize to you because I have let you down as a part of the Body by reacting, being selfish, being prideful, and focusing more on myself than on the One who gave me life.
If you are not a Christian, I need to apologize to you because I have let you down. I am only human, and I make mistakes, and react, and selfishly look out for my own wants. That isn’t Christianity. Christianity is about a God who gives. It is about a God who left His throne as King of kings, and came to earth as a man to experience humiliation and shame, and to be beaten and mocked, all for one purpose. He came to give of Himself. To give his very life and die on the cross for my sins: my selfishness, my pride, my foul language. But He died for your sins too. I am not asking you to believe in me. I am not asking you to believe in the American church. We are only human, with problems like everyone else. I am asking you to believe in the Creator who has given everything, that you might be loved, and accepted, and set free to live your life as a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords.