Philosophy Lite: Research group looks at today's church, culture

Raymond Smith

It is a concern of many today that the institutional churches are losing ground while creative independent churches are thriving.

Our Christian faith has not changed, but the culture has.

Since 1984, George Barna has analyzed those changes as they relate to Christian churches across all denominational lines. His reports are issued regularly and are called updates.

Barna warns that "the United States is in a serious decline that shows no sign of reversal - and that it is not politicians, but the country's dominant faith communities that hold the key to restoring the nation to strength and stability."

From November 1999 to July 2010, the Barna Group issued 224 updates covering subjects, such as challenges faced by young people, Americans not concerned about their spiritual condition, the proliferation of house churches, atheists and agnostics take aim at churches and most churches neglect to screen those working with children and youth. Sign up for regular updates at Barna.org.

Barna is the president of the Barna Research Group, Ltd., a marketing research firm in Ventura, Calif. To date, Barna has written more than two dozen books about ministry, the culture and church dynamics.

Included among them are bestsellers, such as "The Frog in the Kettle," "The Second Coming of the Church," "User Friendly Churches" and "The Power of Vision and Marketing the Church."

Barna has taught at several seminaries and universities. He has served as pastor of a large multicultural church and has been involved in several church startups.

The polling and research he has done is invaluable. It opens a window on what people really think because it is rare that any church wants to hear critical evaluations of its operation.

One of his concerns today is that most who are called to the ministry are good at what they do, but lack leadership skills to lead members into a deeper spiritual life and ministry to community needs.

Several of Barna's updates describe the concern parents have about raising spiritual children in this decadent society. He also finds that many parents do not have times of family worship and prayer.

He stated, "Our studies show that the faith principles and practices that a child absorbs by age 13 shapes their spirituality for the duration of their life."

Another concern of his is that many Americans take their faith for granted and make little attempt to deepen their spiritual life or attempt to become a true disciple of Christ.

Barna does not think that the megachurch is the church of the future. He said there are a lot of them across America and they are having an influence, but his data suggests that people are moving away from them to the smaller churches where they can develop closer relationships.

The data collected by Barna is unbiased and pertains to all Christian churches. It would be helpful for all church members and church leaders to stay abreast of the trends in Christianity today.

Raymond F. Smith is president of Strong Families of Victoria