Saturday, March 08, 2008

Church-going Behaviour

George Barna has tried to formulate a new way of counting and categorizing Christians and churched people. In a new study he has come up with five categories of church attenders and they reflect some very interesting characteristics - especially those he categoizes as "unattached" or those who had not attended either a conventional church or an organic faith community in the past year. They comprise 23% of the USAmerican population.

The other four categories are:
Intermittents (15%) - people who have participated in either a conventional church or an organic faith community within the past year, but not during the past month.
Homebodies (3%) - people who had not attended a conventional church during the past month, but had attended a meeting of a house church.
Blenders (3%) - adults who had attended both a conventional church and a house church during the past month.
Conventionals (56%) - adults who had attended a conventional church (i.e., a congregational-style, local church) during the past month but had not attended a house church.

The real interesting findings are whne regular churchgoers, are compared to the Unattached. Some of their (the unattached) characteristics are:

- more likely to feel stressed out
- less likely to be concerned about the moral condition of the nation
- much less likely to believe that they are making a positive difference in the world
- less optimistic about the future
- far less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in its principles
- substantially more likely to believe that Satan and the Holy Spirit are symbolic figures, but are not real
- more likely to believe that Jesus Christ sinned while He was on earth
- much more likely to believe that the holy literature of the major faiths all teach the same principles even though they use different stories
- less likely to believe that a person can be under demonic influence
- more likely to describe their sociopolitical views as "mostly liberal" than "mostly conservative"

Six out of ten adults in the Unattached category (59%) consider themselves to be Christian. Even more surprising was the revelation that 17% of the Unattached are born again Christians - defined as people who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that they consider to be very important in their life, and who believe that they will experience Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.

A significant proportion of the Unattached engages in traditional faith activities during a typical week. For instance, one-fifth (19%) read the Bible and three out of every five (62%) pray to God during a typical week.

The Unattached distinguished themselves from the churched population demographically, too. They are more likely to be single, male, and to have been divorced at some point. They are also less likely to be registered to vote, which is often a sign of people who feel less connected to or influential in society.

What does this say to me? It says that USAmerica is a very very Christian country (at least outwardly) - in spite of what is seen and heard on the media and in spite of the negative decisions being made in the courts. 62% attend at least once a month and 77% go at least once a year! And even those who don't attend church, 60% of them also consider themselves Christians! That means that 91% of the nation considers itself Christian! That is stunning at a number of levels. It means that most people who support abortion and gay marriage etc. consider themselves Christian. It also means that being Christian is much more about being American than being someone who is passionately obedient to Jesus. It may also mean that faith is much more about a personal sense of encouragement or comfort than about discipleship.

But then I'm probably not saying anything new or fresh.

I wonder what the statistics are in Canada if we used the same categories. My sense is that most people would self-identify as Christians (maybe as high as 80%0 but church attendance would be much lower (less than 40%). I'll have to look up some of Reginald Bibby's studies. Anyone have a link for me?

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