Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Surveys: America's Image of God and Twentysomethings Spiritual Shift

Yesterday I came across two interesting surveys about religious and spiritual beliefs of two segments of Americans. The first survey was wirtten by sociologists from Baylor University's Studies on Religion, as reported in an article in USAToday. It reported that "while 91.8% say they believe in God, a power or a cosmic force, they had four distinct views of God's personality and engagement in human affairs. The Baylor proffesors analyzing the survey data describe these views of the divine as Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical and Distant. While there is closer proximity between the Authoritarian and Critical views of God and conceptions of God in American evangelicalism, the survey hints at other views that may be just as popular. The survey also noted that belief in the paranormal still holds fascination for many Americans.

The survey has come into question given Baylor's Southern Baptist affiliation and whether the questions include a "conservative Protetant tilt." The article noted that the "questions often used 'church," with no mention of synogogue or mosque." Despite Baylor's assurances that the survey was not leading in its questions in favor of a Christian orientation at the expense of other religious or spiritual traditions, this blogger has reservations about extrapolating from this sampling to arrive at national implications. It may be that if the questioning were oriented differently greater numbers of respondents would have provided answers farther away from conservative evangelicalism and mainline Protestanism and toward Do-It-Yourself Spiritualities.

Another survey, this one by the Barna organization, looked at the move away from Christianity by twentysomethings even after great spiritual activity in churches during teen years. The Barna organization cites a statistic of 61% of today's young adults who fit into this category, adn that this is not a temporary phase before returning to church in later adulthood. Barna notes in this new study that this same group also engages in "at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity during their teen years." This survey is in keeping with Lynn Schofield Clark's work in this area described in her book From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural (Oxford University Press, 2003). As a result of these findings the article insightfully notes that "the current state of ministry to twentysomethings is woefully inadequate to address the spiritual needs of millions of young adults."

The conclusion of Barna's organization is correct, and with the survey results from Baylor the same might be said of older American adults as well. It would seem that our attractional and inward focus of church life independent of constant cultural engagement has failed to adequately prepare people for Christian spirituality in pluralistic America.


ron said...

John, interesting article. I have felt the same working in an inter-faith chapel on a university campus. I find " christianity " woefully lacking in engaging conversations around spirituality/spiritual experience. I think the " church " lost spirituality in it's engagement with modernity...formulating a system of belief, theological statements, doctrinal statements.Nothing wrong with that, but, the balance tipped so far spirituality fell right off the other end.
I think it is sad, for a faith that is about new creation, by means of the indwelling of the Spirit of God...that we have no voice in the matter. Pax...Ron+

jason said...

I have an interest in following this trend as well. Tom Sine sites this trend in the late 90's in "Mustard Seed vs. Mc World". There seems to be an exodus away from the church to the extent that I believe it's Barna (it's dangerous to cite studies and statistics w/o intimate knowledge, but I'll try anyway)who suggested that the population who participate in organized churches as we know them will drop in half in the next 25 years. I may be misciting the research, but the general idea is that the evangelical, mainline, and catholic churhces are hemorrhaging those of my generation (Gen-x) and younger.
On the flip side of that there seems to be a growing movement toward more informal church organization, see Neil Cole's book "Organic Church, Growing Faith Where Life Happens", an eschewing of the churches historically hierarchical model for one which is much flatter and relational. It's an intriguing set of circumstances and developments that will eventually affect every Christian in the West, and in this blog's context the US. The question that follows is "What will Chrstiantiy look like with the decline of the organizational Church?"

Steve said...

just found your blog, and seen this article. in the UK i have been charting the way this fall off has occured over the 20th century. there akways has been a dip in church attendence amongst twenty somethings but in the past many have retunred within a christendom pattern in which children were brought for baptism and then sent to church in large numbers. Barna here notes 80% of US teens are still closely connected to church. that was the case in the UK prior to the first world war. the figure is now about 15%. in the UK we have discovdered that those who find faith in adult life are 76% likley to have been closley conencted to church as children. i suspect this will be true in the US also. form another piece of research Barna notes that those who went to curch as children are twice as likley to send there own children. in the UK during the 20th century this pattern broke down, peopel stopped returning to church when they ahd their own children and stopped sending their children. this initially shows only a slight dip in numbers, but soon begins to accelerate as the falling rate of chilhood attendence is re-inforced by falling adult numbers in church and in turn an ever faster fall in childhood attendecne. the US firgures show what may be the slow begining of this downward slope in child attendence. this new Barna re-search seems to add another indicator that as i have syupected for a while US church attendence is running maybe 40 years behind the UK. OK it would be follish to assume that the US will simple be just like the UK situation, there are facotrs thjat mean it will chart it's own course. but i suspect that the US church might leanr a lot from what ahs happened in the UK.