Are Americans Exploring New Ways of Experiencing God?

How do you experience God?  According to the Barna Group, Americans’ attitudes towards this area of their lives are changing.  In a poll of over 1000 people, here is what the data shows that people think about their faith:

88% of American adults say that “my religious faith is very important in my life.”

Faith is not going away despite the prolific media attention devoted to the demise of traditional faith practices and beliefs. Nine out of ten adults admit that their faith plays a meaningful role in their life. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest that this is likely to change in the foreseeable future.

75% say they sense that “God is motivating people to stay connected with Him, but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past.”

There is a growing sense of release from traditional religious practices in this country. People are suggesting that they want more of God and less of the stuff that gets between them and their relationship with God. This mindset is equally common among Catholics and Protestants.

45% say they are “willing to try a new church.”

A staggering number of Americans – almost half of the nation’s 230 million adults – are open to changing their church home, demonstrating their lack of connection with their present community of faith and their desire to have a more significant connection. It may also be a reflection of people’s increasing lack of loyalty to both organizations and personal relationships, and the growing sense that there is always something better available if you can simply find it.

64% say they are “completely open to carrying out and pursuing your faith in an environment or structure that differs from that of a typical church.” 

Two out of three adults contend that they are not tied to a conventional church setting as they seek to experience and express their faith. This openness to new contexts, processes and structures is especially common among Baby Boomers (68%). Interest in pursuing faith is similar in all areas of the nation with the exception of the Northeast (56%).

50% say “a growing number of people I know are tired of the usual type of church experience.”

It is not just the survey respondents who indicated their willingness to change churches or to consider different forms of church experience. Half of all adults said they are aware of such a willingness to experiment on the part of people they know because those individuals are tired of the common church experience. This awareness was especially acute among blacks (59%) and Hispanics (58%). 

71% say they are “more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.”

Levels of distrust toward churches, church leaders and organized Christianity have been growing over the past two decades. That concern – along with the heightened independence of Americans and the profound access to information that has characterized the past decade – may have led to the emergence of a large majority of adults feeling responsible for their own theological and spiritual development. Other studies have shown an inclination for people to view a local church as a supplier of useful guidance and support, but not necessarily a reliable source of a comprehensive slate of beliefs that they must adopt.

Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church. Specifically, Barna discovered that women were more likely than men to pursue their faith in a different type of structure or environment (68% of women, 59% of men); to sense that God is motivating people to experience faith in different ways (79% vs. 60%, respectively); and to be willing try a new church (50% vs. 40%).

What are your thoughts?  Are we seeing a shift towards new ways to experience God, church, and develop our beliefs?  Is this for the better or worse?

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2 Responses to Are Americans Exploring New Ways of Experiencing God?

  1. Jeff Lahr says:

    I think American’s have shorter attention spans than in the past. The church needs to understand and respond in ways that appeal to the contemporary culture without diluting the Gospel. If the traditional church fails to be relevant to the community around it, then the church is an icon of the past.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    Jeff:

    I think the traditional church focuses too much time and energy defending non-essential things that are more a part of the tradition than anything else. When we are too busy trying to maintain our traditions, we fail to focus on proclaiming the gospel, which leaves those on the outside wondering what we are all about and why they would want to be any part of it.

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