Church: By the numbers
Barna is founder and directing leader of The
Barna Group, a marketing research company in Ventura,
Calif. The Barna Group, founded in 1984, conducts primary
research to help churches and ministries carry out their
vision by providing information and analysis regarding
the intersection of faith and culture. Barna spoke recently
with Staff Writer Isaac Olivarez about The Barna Group
and today’s church in the United States.
What is the spiritual atmosphere of the United States
People are interested in spirituality but they’re
not necessarily interested in changing their life to
conform to any kind of spiritual norms or principles.
It’s an interesting time because many Americans
feel as if they really are the ones who dictate what
happens in their life, as if they’re in control
and God is not. When you compare what they claim they
believe with how they behave, how they live and how
they act, it becomes pretty clear that there’s
a gap between those. We’re still living in a culture
where there’s some social desirability to describing
oneself as spiritual or perhaps even as Christian. But
in terms of being willing to make the sacrifices Christ
calls us to make and to be willing to commit ourselves
to living in ways that reflect His holiness and His
righteousness, that’s a whole different issue.
What are Christians most concerned about right now?
The same issues that are of great concern to the typical
person in America would be true for the average born-again
Christian. Major issues right now would be the war on
terrorism, the economy, jobs and things of that nature.
What do you feel is the biggest threat to the church’s
health as a whole?
One is the lack of gifted and called leadership. The
second is the absence of a commitment to developing
and living in harmony with a biblical worldview. Only
9 percent of all born-again adults have a biblical worldview.
A third element has to do with our consistent lack of
focus or emphasis upon the importance of ministering
to children in substantive and significant ways. A fourth
one has to do with our resistance to new models or formats
of how the church can be the Church in this culture.
In terms of evangelism, how would you describe most
Willing to let Billy Graham do the job for them.
Is there anything that leadership at local churches
can do to change that?
There’s very little that can’t change if
you have appropriate leadership and a meaningful and
viable strategy or plan for bringing about that change.
All of that of course must be drenched in prayer and
driven by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we’re
just trying to make programs and events work on our
own power and for our own purposes, it may or may not
work, but who cares? If we’re really determined
to hear the voice of God and to commit ourselves to
doing what He leads us to do, then yes, there’s
a lot that can change. But we really have to be focused,
not on building programs and ministry programs and attendance
figures. We have to be committed to doing what God has
called us to do.
got some really committed Christians throughout the
country, but most of the people who are sitting in churches
or small groups or Sunday School classes are just going
through the motions. Their Christian faith is about
fourth or fifth on their list of priorities in their
life. So they squeeze God and biblical principles in
when they remember or when they can or when it’s
comfortable or when they have no choice. But apart from
that, their faith really is not the driving factor in
their life. And that’s such a critical element
that has to change if we’re really going to become
What are some things you see that believers are doing
We’re really good at raising money for buildings.
We are actually pretty good at soliciting volunteers
for different tasks within churches. We are blessed
right now with a lot of kids consistently coming to
church. There’s a myriad of opportunities that
come out of that. We’ve become pretty adept at
selling Christian products to people in the Christian
community whether it’s books or Bibles or videos
or whatever the product might be. The quality of worship
music has improved greatly in the past two decades.
And churches have some of the best communicators in
the country articulating God’s Word and principles.
Why did you see a need to start The Barna Group?
It was really a call from God. I had been working in
the market-research industry for a while. I had the
opportunity to start to work with some clients who were
in Christian ministries and that got me excited about
using information for the church at large. After working
with a number of those clients, I felt the Lord was
calling us to start a company that would focus on trying
to provide current, accurate and reliable information
at reasonable costs and in bite-sized pieces so that
ministries could make strategic decisions. God has been
incredibly faithful to us over the 20 years we’ve
been trying to do this.
How did it begin?
It was, from a business point of view, incredibly stupid
because we went into it with no money, no clients and
no equipment — just a vision from the Lord. And
like I say, He has been very true to His Word to me.
Our first month in business, out of the blue we got
a call from Disney, from the woman who had just become
their new vice president of research. It was a woman
I had worked with previously in a secular market research
firm. She said, “George, I heard on the grapevine
you’ve just started your own firm. I don’t
know what you’re up to, but would you like to
work for Disney?” The thought had never occurred
to me because that wasn’t our focus. She said,
“Well, truth of the matter is I just finished
interviewing and studying all the different research
suppliers we use here and one thing that I’ve
discovered about all these firms is that I can’t
trust any of them. And the one thing I know about you
is I can trust you.” The irony of our whole existence
as a ministry is that Disney, of all places, essentially
funded our ministry for the first seven years we were
If you’re not doing interviews, researching or
nurturing your business, what are you doing for fun?
Playing with my kids. I have daughters who are 10 and
13. We play basketball, we watch movies and we play
board games. We love to go to the beach. We read books.
We listen to music together and study the Bible together.
My time with them is what’s the most fun.
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.