Change: George Barna stirs emotions in the evangelical world as he pushes for a more relevant church.
Los Angeles Times, Sep. 14, 2002
By WILLIAM LOBDELL
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Pollster George Barna, best known these days as the bearer of bad tidings about the state of Christianity in America, arrived in his Ventura office a few minutes late for a 10 a.m. appointment.
His hair was ruffled. His eyes were puffy. His shoulders slouched. Being the George Gallup of the conservative evangelical world is a heavy burden for Barna, who often works into the early morning, deciphering numbers generated by his surveys to find church trends.
The lanky, 48-year-old author of 30 books, who describes himself as a raging introvert, is a popular national speaker. And he produces enough in-your-face statistics and blunt talk to irritate pastors, cost him business and earn a reputation for having, as one magazine put it, “the gift of discouragement.”
His data undercut some of the core beliefs that should, by definition, set evangelical Christians apart from their more liberal brethren. Findings of his polls show, for example, that:
* The divorce rate is no different for born-again Christians than for those who do not consider themselves religious.
* Only a minority of born-again adults (44%) and a tiny proportion of born-again teenagers (9%) are certain that absolute moral truth exists.
* Most Christians’ votes are influenced more by economic self-interest than by spiritual and moral values.
* Desiring to have a close, personal relationship with God ranks sixth among the 21 life goals tested among born-agains, trailing such desires as “living a comfortable lifestyle.”
Barna also is in the early stages of an effort to establish a genuine and appealing Christian presence in secular entities: film, music, media and politics. He has identified these as the institutions that hold the most influence over Americans, a position once held by the church.
What is needed is the effort of “skilled professionals who love Christ and model his ways through their thoughts, words and behavior in enviable and biblically consistent ways,” he said.
For Barna, the need for better leadership and better Christian role models in the secular world was underscored by a poll his company released earlier this month.
The survey showed that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had virtually no lasting effects on America’s faith, despite a 20% rise in church attendance during the first few weeks afterward.
“We missed a huge opportunity,” he said, adding that, because of their own shallow faith, church regulars needed so much reassurance themselves that they couldn’t minister to newcomers.
This is the kind of comment that bothers others in the evangelical Christian community. Mike Regele, author of “ Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.