August 24, 2013

Barna Poll: Only 14% of Today’s Christians Consistent with Jesus

As I've been looking into the subject of Christian authenticity, I noticed a recent poll regarding the perceptions of Christians in society. The Barna poll was published April 30, 2013 and asks the question, "Are Christians more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees?" The findings? Christians today are more like the Pharisees.

"The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians—using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians—qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.

On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus." 

While many Christians today hold correct doctrine as the highest priority in their church and in their personal lives, harping away on the subject of correct doctrine comes across as being a little self righteous for would-be converts who are more interested in seeing authentic attitudes and actions. For Christians who come to a church where people sing about love only to find that there are social cliques that are not very open or welcoming, again, this could be a turn off.

Barna compares a number of factors, including but not limited to compassion and social interaction, in order to formulate the final conclusion. Barna admits that no poll is 100% accurate, but these finding should be a wake up call to pastors and other Christian leaders.

One of the main reasons young people in the Millennial Generation do not want to be involved in today's churches is because they see a tendency wherein Christians are more concerned about being correct than being compassionate and active in society. One quote from the Barna survey seems reminiscent of the Laodicean Church in the book of Revelation:

"It’s a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns."

 When churches sink into patterns, it's likely unnoticeable by those who have been attending the churches regularly. However, when new people come to visit it's easier for them to have an objective viewpoint. The people within the church may not even realize, for example, that social cliques have formed that aren't exactly welcoming to newcomers. The more internalized the church becomes, the less likely it is to reach out to the neighborhood and to the world in a meaningful way. The Laodiciean Church is an example of a church that was self-satisfied, as noted in Revelation 3.17-18:

"Because thou say, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;' and knowest not that thou are the wretched, and miserable,and poor,and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy from me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment , that thou mayest clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (KJV).

In contrast to the Laodiciean Church, the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2.8-11) was materially poor and needy, yet Jesus offered no criticism of their attitude or behavior (kind of makes you wonder about the Word of Faith Movement).  This church was willing to take a stand for truth, even if it meant extreme persecution and death. The church of the martyrs experienced phenomenal identification with the masses and phenomenal growth because people could see the reality of the people's faith as they were even willing to die for their love of God.

We seem to be entering a phase of history where Christians in western society will increasingly be imprisoned and persecuted for believing in Christ and in scripture. Now that gay marriage has become a civil right in the US, this has far reaching implications. Just this week a court in New Mexico ruled that "the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony." It won't be long until there is jail time in the US for anyone who teaches the scriptural view that homosexuality is immoral. Will Bible-believing Christians be able to stand for both truth and love under these circumstances? We'll see.

Obviously, no one is perfect and exactly like Jesus. However, these types of polls can help us Christians to ask deep questions about ourselves and our churches and question in what ways can we become more representative of Jesus, as represented in scripture. For more information on the Millennial Generation and reasons why they tend to become disconnected from the Church, see article, "Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts"


  1. I know one of these 1 in 7 Christians. I good friend that I'll simply call Jay. After going over your last post in response to me he and I had a discussion about what you meant by god's eternal nature. I must confess I was not quite getting the point you were making. Well when I get more time I will write about that. However I must contemplate the ideas for a while. Anyway just wanted to say Jay is a good person as judged by his behaviour. He is not a bigot or any of the other negative stereo types that pop culture has come to associate with Christians. I suppose you could say as much as any man can live the example set he does.

  2. >After going over your last post in response to me he and I had a discussion about what you meant by god's eternal nature. I must confess I was not quite getting the point you were making.

    - I agree with William Lane Craig that the anchor of morality is based on God's eternal good nature. If there is no moral anchor then there will be some form of moral relativism, very weak systems based merely on subjective preferences and trends.

    Because God is necessarily the greatest being, logically, God is a good being. Stephen Law's Evil God Challenge misses the mark for a number of reasons. For one, it focuses on one characteristic of God and thus creates a straw-man God to knock down. You can read about it at the following link:

    I'm glad you have a friend who is a Christian and one that you like. While many Christians try to do their best to be good and set good examples, please understand that we are not perfect and have many faults. One of the main ideas of Christianity is that there is a differentiation between salvation and sanctification. Though a person may be "born again" seemingly instantaneously, the process of sanctification, becoming more like God, will not be fully complete in this lifetime. We are saved and changed only by the grace of God.

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