The Barna Research Group does a great service to the American church by trying to carefully and scientifically assess what the actual facts of Christian behavior are (which don’t always line up with our preconceptions or hopes). A recent study looks at a variety of behavioral questions, segmented along faith lines (evangelical Christian, non-evangelical born again Christians, “notional” Christians, adherents of non-Christian faiths, and atheists/agnostics).
George Barna’s summary statement bears repeating:
ï¿½The ultimate aim of belief in Jesus is not simply to possess divergent theological ideas but to become a transformed person. These statistics highlight the fact that millions of people who rely on Jesus Christ for their eternal destiny have problems translating their religious beliefs into action beyond Sunday mornings.ï¿½
One interesting factoid: those who fall into the Christian but not evangelical categories (non-evangelical and notional Christians) are more likely to purchase lottery tickets.
“Overall, 15% of born again and 23% of notional Christians purchased lottery tickets in a typical week, compared to just 10% of other-faith adherents and 12% of atheists/agnostics.”
It doesn’t say much about our faith if it isn’t strong enough to transform our attitudes about money, particularly the desire to get rich (which Paul describes as a snare, 1 Timothy 6:9), and our trust in God rather than in riches.
Smaller churches do as well as larger churches in 7 or 8 “health” categories, according to a recent survey of 1000 churches reported on in Leadership Journal. The one area of shortfall is “inspiring worship services”: not a big surprise, since it takes resources to stage these. And smaller churches outperform large ones in the percentage of people who practice their spiritual gifts.
This e-Church post on blogging and the participatory church got noticed by Dave Winer, which must be driving some new readers Tim’s direction (and he deserves it). I agree with Tim’s basic thesis: people should be participants, not spectators. Though blogging is one tool that can help, these days i’m wondering if the fundamental problem is a much broader, structural one: contemporary church organization, with professional leadership and a large group in attendance, can’t help but make spectators out of most people.
Though i find the bombastic style of their site a little grating, Open Church Ministries makes some similar points in arguing for participation in worship as a key missing ingredient in contemporary church life. In our community group last week, we were talking about how nearly every mention in Paul’s letters of the body of Christ includes injunctions to build up and grow: how can we do that, or the things listed below by Open Church, as part of a scheduled program in a big auditorium?
- Provoke one another unto good works.
- Confess your sins to one another.
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another.
- Bear one another’s burdens.
- Encourage one another and build each other up.
- Respect those who work hard among you.
- Warn those who are idle … encourage the timid.
- Pray for each other so that you may be healed.
I’m still trying to figure out the solution, but i suspect it happens in much smaller groups, where there’s both openness and an expectation of all members participating actively.