America’s Christians are talking about revival. They’re praying for revival. They’re anticipating revival. But according to an annual national tracking study of religious behavior and beliefs conducted by the Barna Research Group, Americans are not yet experiencing revival.
Each year Barna conducts surveys about church attendance, Bible reading, Sunday school attendance, involvement in small groups that meet for religious purposes, volunteering at a church, and whether the person being questioned can be defined as a born-again Christian or evangelical Christian. For all seven of those measures, the responses from a national sample of 1006 adults questioned in 1998 were statistically identical to the responses from the 1997 survey. In fact, when compared to statistics for 1991, church attendance and Bible reading show lower levels of involvement (the other five measures are essentially unchanged from their levels of seven years ago).
A large majority of adults describe themselves as “religious” – currently more than two out of three adults (69 percent). This is up from six out of 10 (61 percent) in 1991. In fact, more than four out of five adults (83 percent) presently say that their religious faith is very important in their life. That has remained consistent over the last six years.
Other behavioral indicators have remained stable. Overall, slightly more than four out of 10 adults (43 percent) claim they attend church services in a typical week. That is identical to the 1997 figure. While there have been minor dips and jumps in this figure in the past six years, the level has stayed relatively constant since 1993. Church volunteerism and small group involvement have also remained stable. One out of four adults volunteer in a typical week (25 percent); slightly less than one out of five adults (18 percent) attend a small group that meets during the week for Bible study, prayer or Christian fellowship (other than a Sunday school class). Four out of five adults (80 percent) claim they prayed to God during the past week, a figure unchanged from the most recent prior measurement (83 percent in 1996).
Bible reading may be experiencing a bit of a rebound, even though the current levels are well below those experienced in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Today, slightly less than four out of 10 adults (38 percent) read the Bible during a typical week, other than when they are at a church. This is the third consecutive year in which minor gains have been registered for Bible reading – each year’s gain too small to qualify as a statistically significant increase. However, the 38 percent mark is the highest achieved since 1992, when 47 percent of adults said they had read their Bible in the past week.
The study also found that a significant proportion of adults plan to change their church in the coming year. Among people who attend a Christian church at least once a month, 11 percent said such a transition was likely. If true, that represents more than 15 million people changing their church home in the next 12 months.
George Barna, president of the research firm that conducted the survey, summarized the findings. “God and faith are still hot, but long-term or intense religious commitments are not. Despite their fascination with spirituality, most churched people are only moderately devoted to their current church and they are not deeply invested in spiritual growth.
– E.P. News