Barna Reports Good News

Pollster George Barna is reporting good news in the latest state of the church information from his surveys. Here is a summary of some of his latest findings:

  • In this study, in which 1003 adults were randomly interviewed from the 48 continental states, the proportion of adults who can be classified as “born again Christians” based upon their beliefs (not based on their adoption of that phrase to describe themselves) was the highest ever measured in the quarter century that Barna has been tracking that measure.

  • The new research found 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 through 2005. The current figure represents the largest single-year increase since 1991-1992.

  • The most prolific jump in activity relates to Bible reading. Bible readership plummeted to a 20-year low of just 31% in 1995, and began to slowly climb back to higher levels, finally returning to the 40% mark in 2000. After several years of stalled growth, increases began again in 2004, continuing through 2006, when Bible readership hit 47% of adults reading the Book during a typical week, other than when they are at church. That is the highest readership level achieved since the 1980s, according to the Barna tracking data.

  • Church attendance has increased slowly in recent years. While we have not returned to the 49% of adults who attended in a typical week as recorded in 1991, there has been a significant rebound from the 37% recorded in 1996, climbing to 47% in 2006.

  • Involvement in small groups that meet for Bible study, prayer or personal relationships, other than Sunday school or Christian education classes, has reached a new high in 2006. Currently, nearly one out of every four adults (23%) is engaged in such a gathering during a typical week. A decade ago, one out of every six adults (17%) did so.

  • Church volunteerism, after experiencing the same mid-Nineties doldrums as most other religious behaviors, has returned to its 1991 level of 27%. Volunteering at a church has been one of the more stable measures during the past 15 years, ranging from a low of 20% to the current high.

  • Even adult Sunday school attendance has risen in recent years. Once a mainstay of Protestant churches, Sunday school lost its cache in the Nineties, but seems to be on the rebound as evidenced by attendance numbers that reached 24% in this year’s tracking survey. That is up considerably from the 17% mark recorded in 1995 and in 1996.

For a complete reading, see www.barna.org There is an online report that is available for sale. It was supposed to be released Friday, but as of yet, it is not released.

One caveat in interpreting this kind of data: people lie on surveys. For example, take church attendance. It you ask 1,000 Americans whether or not they attend church on a weekly basis, 47% will say, "yes." If you actually count noses on Sunday morning, you will come up with a number closer to 18% according to another survey I read recently. (My apologies; I don't remember the source.) Still, trends are trends. I don't think people are lying any more than they did 10 or 20 years ago, so it is the trend that is more important to me than raw numbers.

Also, many pundits are saying Sunday School is yesterday and small home groups are tomorrow. The data indicates both are on the increase, at about the same levels. Score one for old fashioned Sunday School.

I remember hearing Barna say years ago (and have quoted this often) that North America is the only continent on planet earth where the church is NOT growing. This is apparently not true any more. This is good news.

I am curious, what would you attribute this growth to? Go to my BLOG to answer at http://joshhunt.blogs.com/blog/