Some of Barna’s findings affecting the State of the Church, 2011:
- Bible reading undertaken during the course of a typical week, other than passages read while attending church events, has declined by five percentage points. Currently an estimated 40% of adults read the Bible during a typical week.
- Church volunteerism has dropped by eight percentage points since 1991. Presently, slightly less than one out of every five adults (19%) donates some of their time in a typical week to serving at a church.
- Adult Sunday school attendance has also diminished by eight percentage points over the past two decades. On any given Sunday, about 15% of adults can be expected to show up in a Sunday school class.
- The most carefully watched church-related statistic is adult attendance. Since 1991, attendance has receded by nine percentage points, dropping from 49% in 1991 to 40% in 2011.
- The most prolific change in religious behavior among those measured has been the increase in the percentage of adults categorized as unchurched. The Barna Group definition includes all adults who have not attended any religious events at a church, other than special ceremonies such as a wedding or funeral, during the prior six month period. In 1991, just one-quarter of adults (24%) were unchurched. That figure has ballooned by more than 50%, to 37% today.
The only behavior that did not experience any real change was the percentage of adults who attend a church of 600 or more people.
Things seem pretty dire for the State of the Church over the past 20 years. The most startling change to me is the shift in people’s perception of the Bible:
In 1991, 46% of adults strongly affirmed that “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.” That has slumped to just 38% who offer the same affirmation today.
Could the future of the church be directly tied to the lack of Biblical teaching in churches today? Actually, the 40% who profess to read the Bible every week seems a bit on the high side to me. I think on a question like that people have a tendency to skew the truth a bit.
Ultimately, having so many “unchurched” folk in a nation that regularly professes to be Christian in the mid to high 80% indicates a severe dissatisfaction with mainstream Churches and how they operate. The 21st century church is in dire need of reform. We can’t just operate on a traditional paradigm or ecclesiology any more. We need to innovate. Be creative. Be genuine. Be relevant. Be biblical.