Monday, January 09, 2006

Confusing Churchianity with Christianity

The Barna Group just published findings of a study that compared pastors' assessments of the spiritual commitment of their congregations with the attendees themselves. The bottom line: pastors wildly overestimate the devotion to God of those attending their churches. Money quotes:
...the Barna study discovered that pastors believe a large majority of their congregants deem their faith in God to be the highest priority in their life. On average, pastors contend that 70% of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities...
...In contrast to the upbeat pastoral view of people’s faith, a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults was asked the same question – i.e., to identify their top priority in life – and a very different perspective emerged. Only one out of every seven adults (15%) placed their faith in God at the top of their priority list. To make an apples-to-apples comparison, the survey isolated those who attend Protestant churches and found that even among that segment of adults, not quite one out of every four (23%) named their faith in God as their top priority in life.
So Barna Group, why the discrepancy between reality and pastoral perception? Here's why:
Overall, only one measure – how many people are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity or ministry effort – was listed by at least half of all pastors (54%) as a measure of the spiritual health of their congregation.
Does this really surprise anyone? It gets better:
The unifying thread running through pastors’ responses to an open-ended survey question regarding how congregational health is assessed was that the most common measures do not assess much beyond the superficial participation of people in church or faith-related activity.
In other words, many pastors have conflated spiritual health with busy-ness at church. The more you take on at church, the more you demonstrate commitment to God. As the Barna Group summed it up:
Churches are prone to looking for indicators of serving people within the church more often than seeking signs that needy people outside the church are being cared for. In fact, for every two churches that consider the congregation’s breadth of ministry to people not connected to the church to be an indicator of spiritual health, there are five churches that focus on the amount of “in-reach” activity undertaken.
And I bring this to your attention with no further comment.


At 9:34 AM, Blogger DougieB said...

this really makes sense - and also makes me glad for the few churches that i think would stand outside of the norm that i have read about.

I heard a sermon from the pastor of the Imago Dei church up in Portland (also casually known as the church that Don Miller has written so much about) in where he talked about when people want to join the church, they simply ask them to participate in serving the needy and hungry.

it seems so simple, but, so far away, doesn't it?

I suppose it's nice to see some objective data that supports something i've always believed: going to church every week really doesn't mean much of nothing except that you have a mandatory weekly social engagement - unless you want it to be more.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger ninjanun said...

Well said, Zeke and dougb.

I would say this was one of my major frustrations at my former church, especially when talking with the pastor. He always painted such a rosy picture of things, and didn't really see community outreach or serving the needy and hungry as valuable beyond "getting people saved" (ie., getting butts into pews).

Thanks for providing this info!

At 7:14 PM, Blogger dorsey said...

It makes me laugh...ok, makes me spit fire to hear my pastor quote Barna when it suits him, but totally ignore statistics such as these.

You go, Zeke.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger SB said...

*There is no truth. There is only perception.* Flaubert
One of the troubling aspects of the statistics you cite is the church's apparent preference for perception over truth. I include myself in that indictment.
The statistics also call to mind another quote attributed to Flaubert: *To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.*

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Jody said...

good post, thoght provoking. i think that the more christians become aware of facts such as these and start to question the concept of church busyness not indicating depth of relationship with God the better. a living, breathing, "secular", spirituality that includes every part of our lives. holla...


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