Pollster George Barna has been collecting and analyzing data trends for many years, particularly from a Christian perspective. His latest book in this vein is Futurecast: what TODAY’S TRENDS mean for TOMORROW’S WORLD.
In this book, he discusses data on family life, goals, population growth, and demographics, but a major theme is religious beliefs and behaviors. As often happens, the actual data reveals trends that are sometimes disturbing and disconcerting. For example, “less than one-fifth (18 percent) believe that belonging to a community of faith is necessary to become a complete and mature person.” And less than one-fifth (17 percent) believe that their faith in God is meant to be developed primarily through involvement in a local church” (p. 145). This translates into a steady and seemingly relentless drop in attendance and participation in a church community in the past few decades.
Spiritual beliefs are becoming as independent as church membership has become. A majority of American adults “contend that the Holy Spirit is merely symbolic” (p. 141) and 59 percent believe that Satan is only a symbol of evil rather than a being who exists (p. 140).
Barna points to changing models of ministry such as multisite churches (with remote campuses) and home churches as ways to reach those who have rejected traditional church membership. Barna seems to have a bias in favor of home churches that appears in this book and other things he has written.
Barna suggests that there are five significant shifts happening in ministry in response to societal changes and the recent recession:
- from monologue to dialogue – more conversation with a place for questions and deeper discussion
- from authoritarian to team-based leadership – a more collaborative approach to ministry
- from observation and appreciation to ideation and participation – Barna suggests that the old 80/20 rule is shifting toward 70/30 with 70 percent of the ministry now being done by 30% of the congregation
- from assumptions to analysis – churches are increasingly looking at hard data rather than their own assumptions or guesses to evaluate what they are doing and what they need to be doing
- from legacy services to pragmatic value – a shift from people’s reliance on the church for marrying, burying, baptizing, and other rituals toward seeing the church as “facilitating personal ministry opportunities…, connecting like-minded people, and providing aces to facilities and programs…(p. 194).
Futurecast offers much food for thought for church administrators, but Barna’s intention is to motivate the entire church to pay attention to the trends and consider what each person needs to be doing to function effectively as a witness to the Gospel in the midst of such rapid social change. He concludes with a challenge: “Is Futurecast simply a book with information you find interesting, or is it a book that you will allow God to use to reveal the trends in your life and to challenge you to change the trajectory of those trends, first in your life, then perhaps in the lives of others, one life at a time?” (p.226).
The book is available in hardcover, ebook, audio CD, and MP3.