[Paleopsych] Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America's Religious Beliefs and Practices

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Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America's Religious
Beliefs and Practices

April 11, 2005

(Ventura, CA) - More than nine out of ten American adults engage in some
type of faith-related practice during a typical week. This is one of the
numerous findings revealed in a new report by researcher and author
George Barna, drawn from the national survey of religious beliefs and
practices that his company has been conducting every January since 1991.
The report provides information concerning 45 different faith-related
beliefs, behaviors and perspectives.

The data for 2005 were generated from a study in January by The Barna
Group based on a nationwide survey of a random sample of 1003 adults.
That survey asked the same questions about religious practices and
perspectives that his company has been tracking in national surveys each
January for the last fifteen years. With the release of the report,
entitled The State of the Church: 2005,   Barna revealed several of the
outcomes described in greater detail in the research.

Bible Reading Increases

One outcome described is the small but noteworthy increase in Bible
reading. Currently, 45% of adults read the Bible during a typical week,
not including when they are at church. That figure represents a minimal
increase over the past few years, but a significant rise from the 31%
measured in 1995, the lowest level of Bible reading recorded by Barna in
the past 15 years. The current statistic is still below the levels
achieved in 1980s and early 1990s, but the report shows that the trend
is upward.

The rise in Bible reading is largely attributable to increases in this
behavior among Baby Busters and residents of the western states. In the
early Nineties, about three out of ten Busters read the Bible in a given
week; today that ratio stands at four out ten. Meanwhile, just one-third
of people in the West read the Bible in the early and mid-Nineties,
whereas close to half of them do so these days (47%). Not surprisingly,
born again adults have led the return to God's Word since 1990. After
hitting a low of just 54% in 1997, the percentage of born again
individuals who have read from the Bible in the past seven days has
returned to a full two-thirds of that group (67%).

The group whose people are most likely to read the Bible during the week
are evangelicals. Nearly nine out of ten (88%) explore God's Word during
a typical week.

Evangelical and Born Again Christians

Despite the media frenzy surrounding the influence of evangelical
Christians during the 2004 presidential election, the new study
indicates that evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That
number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of
the evangelical public in 1994.

Barna surveys do not ask people to define themselves as "evangelical"
but instead categorize people as such based on their beliefs. In this
approach, evangelicals a subset of born again Christians. In addition to
meeting the born again criteria (described below) evangelicals also meet
seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very
important in their life today; contending that they have a personal
responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with
non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal
salvation is possible only through grace, not by being good or doing
good deeds; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth;
saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and
describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who
created the universe and still rules it today. In this framework, being
classified as "evangelical" is not dependent upon any kind of church or
denominational affiliation or involvement.

Several segments of the population are more likely than average to be
found within evangelical circles. The vast majority of evangelicals are
Protestant; less than 1% of Catholics fit the description. Similarly,
adults who describe themselves as conservative on social and political
matters are much more likely to fit the definition than are those who
say they are liberal in their thinking on such matters (17% versus 1%,
respectively). The largest concentration of evangelicals lives within
the South; the most limited number resides in the Northeast. Even though
all evangelicals are born again Christians, less than one out of five
born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.

The report also illustrates the comparatively enormous size of the born
again constituency. As with the term "evangelical", the phrase "born
again Christian" is not assigned to those people who call themselves by
that name. Barna's surveys categorize people as born again if they say
they "have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still
important in my life today" and also contend that after they die they
will "go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted
Jesus Christ as my savior." Four out of ten adults fit this definition.

When all of the atheists, agnostics and adults associated with
non-Christian faith groups are combined, they are only half as numerous
as the born again segment (21% compared to 40% respectively). The
remaining body of people - 39% of the nation's adult population - is
what Barna categorizes as "notional Christians" - people who consider
themselves to be Christian but are not born again. For more than a
decade, the sizes of the born again and notional segments have been
roughly equivalent.

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