6 Megatrends impacting the church today

The American church is quickly “morphing into something new.” This is the conclusion the Barna group drew after analyzing 5,000 interviews conducted in 2010 and identifying the following 6 patterns or “megathemes” from the research. (HT Charles Savelle)

  1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
  3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
  4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

Although I think the research done by the Barna Group is always worth noting, I do worry that their interpretation of the data tends to skew in a notably negative/pessimistic direction. As Bradley Wright argues in his book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media, we need to be much more careful with how we use statistical analysis to draw conclusions about the health of God’s people. So, we may need  a more nuanced look at some of these megathemes (particularly the last one).

I’d also like a little more explanation of what it means to say that the church is both “more ingrown” and more “interested in participating in community action” at the same time. Or, how the church can have a greater role in community action and yet still have a largely invisible impact on society. That’s an interesting juxtaposition of themes.

And, I’m a bit surprised by #2. Based solely on the churches that I’m involved with, I would have said that there’s a growing trend toward greater outreach (mainly “soft” evangelism and community action). But, that could be just my limited exposure to the church as a whole.

Nonetheless, these themes are worth reflecting on and clearly identify a number of “systemic” issues that we need to wrestle with today.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on January 22, 2011, in The Church and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Yes it is rather dreary news isn’t it, except for:

    Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.

    I suppose that’s good news, but I’m not sure if this is good or bad news….

    The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.

    ….not sure at all…..is this just evidence of the prevailing zeitgeist infecting the church, or is it a positive development?

  2. Having seen the Church in the UK, and the Church in America, even outside of Anglicanism. The Postmodern “tolerance” is not a good thing theologically. Perhaps we should look at how Eastern Orthodoxy has done in very oppressed places, and yet has kept their culture and theology? It is quite amazing that they have, though certainly often overt in their ethnic areas, kept to their history and theology. Not even the major history of the Reformation has effected them! Though certainly Postmodernism is effecting them somewhat also, especially in the West. And even now in Russia, as many in Europe.

  3. Interpreting these stats is a bit tricking. First, we have to consider geography, demographics, and the like. Second, the fact that megachurches are only about 5% of churches in America – hardly the picture! Third, it has been noted by others that missions giving is dramatically down, though a few churches are up on missions given.

  4. Information like this is negative if it is ignored. If it is heard and responded to properly it may be great news – not for what it says but for exposing a sickness so it can be cured. I happen to feel they are probably all right. At first I too saw a conflict between #2 and #4, then I realized they are talking about different things. Community action is seldom missional in the US. The gospel is preserved for internal audiences. The problem is that those sitting in the pews are supposed to already know this stuff. On the other hand, the community outreach takes the form of non or semi-religious efforts at things like education, food programs, and so forth – the whole helping hand thing. That sounds good, except it is also backward. The church should be first of all caring for its own sick and wounded first. Most churches shoot their own wounded, so to speak. The mission to preach the gospel should be external and the care for brethren should trump throwing pearls before swine. Does that sound calloused? I think it sounds like the first four books of the New Testament and much of what we know of the real practices of first century church.

  5. I agree with these summations about the Church.
    One thing I have noted is that as time has gone on there is less emphasis on “True teaching” and a increased life skills type sermons and messages.
    The other issue is that the Church is less out there telling “Old Old Story” instead sends their people out to be involved in secular style events and soft evangelism.
    Just look at the names on Churches these days…there is more mention of the type of Coffee they serve…that the Saviour they serve.
    Other issues the chasing after each new modern trend…the idea of the Church becoming the Kingdom of God on earth..instead of reading and pronouncing what Scripture says clearly.
    The idea life does not need to radically change upon becoming Chritian.
    The new statistics that show little difference in trends inside and out of the Church…divorce remarrage etc
    I dont see a lot of good trends at present except this one…that is the fastest growing unrecorded Church is the “Church of the unchurched” those who have had enough read enough and see enough to know the organised religion is the great whore of Babylon and need to flee for their lives.

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  2. Pingback: Barna Study – Theological Illiteracy | divinelogos

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