Matthew R. Perry

Is George Barna’s group really that helpful?

In Church Life, Culture on March 27, 2006 at 2:54 pm

Barna Those of us in the evangelical realm have likely heard of George Barna and The Barna Group .  From their website, they describe themselves as the following:

The ultimate aim of the firm is to partner with Christian ministries and individuals to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States. It accomplishes these outcomes by providing vision, information, evaluation and resources through a network of intimate partnerships.

A noble aim indeed!  By conducting Gallup Poll like research, this group aims to help us understand the trends in the evangelical and cultural realm so the church may take this hard data they provide and use it in their ministry. 

The most recent issue of "The Barna Update" seems to give some rather encouraging news.  The title is, "Barna Survey Reveals Significant Growth in Born Again Population."  How encouraging is that!  He notes that

"45% of all adults meet the criteria that the Barna Group uses to classify people as 'born again.'  That number is up from 31% in 1983.  The percentage hovered in the 36% to 43% range from 1992 to 2005.  The current figure represents the largest single-year increase since 1991-1992."

For so many of us who lament the direction our country is taking spiritually, this should be encouraging news, right?  Well, I am an optimist by nature — but also a realist.  Notice the criteria the Barna Group uses to determine who is born again and who is not.

“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

Now, while all these components are good to have, is this truly all there is?  Have they repented and turned from their life of sin (Luke 13:5b)?  Do they see the Scriptures as the revelation of God with the centerpiece being Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?  Barna notes that the relationship with Jesus "must be important," but has Christ transformed them? 

He defines evangelicals in this way, but also adds seven other conditions:

  1. Their faith is very important in their life today.
  2. They believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians.
  3. They believe that Satan exists.
  4. They believe that eternal salvation is only possible through grace, not works.
  5. They believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.
  6. They assert that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches.
  7. They believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

As for #1, this is so entirely subjective that books could be written on it.  How does one codify what "important" means?  Asking the blessing over the food?  Going to church one time a month?  Just being a good moral person?  It is truly important define 'important!'

As for #2, this is good — taking Matthew 28:19-20 seriously and Acts 1:8 seriously.  But note how this is worded:  they believe they have a personal responsibility.  This is vague as well — I can know my responsibility to a number of things, but still not do them.  This does not answer the question as to whether they are being obedient to this responsibility — it is just saying they know they should do this. 

As for nos. 3 through 7, Satan could attest to these things as well (see James 2:19).  I do not think this is a good gauge.  This is just simply an intellectual assent to some facts about the Gospel and the Scriptures — it does not show if there is any fiduciary love, any trust, any commitment, any loyalty to all that Christ is and what He has done.  It does not show whether the Gospel has truly gripped their heart! 

What do you think?

  1. Yeah its often a shell game when you play with stats. 45% of America is saved? I bet at least 60% of Americans couldn’t even name a protestant church.

    “45%” (walking away muttering and shaking head)….

  2. A friend from another forum made this comment:

    “It depends what you use him and his info for. If you just want to know what the folks in the pew think (not necessarily christians, but church members/attenders) he can help. If you want to fix the percieved problem, I think he is useless. His answers are normally marketing ploys to draw a crowd and become more timely relevant. A pollster he may be (or maybe not as some of Matt’s article alludes to) but a theologian he is not.”

    Agreed — and I actually thought about that point later in the day. Thanks so much, Greg.

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