Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Bible-Minded" and "Post-Christian": Statistics from Barna

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate
for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4.2-4

The Word of God must remain central in the church.  It cannot be a treasured relic but, rather, must be seen as a trusted guide for ministry and living.  The Apostle Paul has just been talking about the fact that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3.16) and he now turns to admonish Timothy to “preach the word.”  Paul even instructs as to how this preaching should function; it should “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.”  This should be preaching that seeks to shape the behavior and heart-attitudes of the people of God.  Paul knows that there will be varying seasons and that the church is ever in danger of losing her desire for the Word of God.  Some will stop wanting the Word and will seek out teachers and teachings that “tickle their ears.” 

We are increasingly living in such a season of the rejection of the Word of God in our culture.  A couple of recent Barna reports evidence this rejection of the Word.  The first report concerns “America’s Most Bible-Minded Cities.”[1] 

Each year, in partnership with American Bible Society, Barna ranks the nation’s top media markets based on their level of Bible engagement.  Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded.  This definition captures action and attitude—those who both engage and esteem the Christian scriptures.  The rankings thus reflect an overall openness or resistance to the Bible in various U.S. cities.

The top ten cities ranked as “Bible-minded” are all in the Southern “Bible Belt.”  Chattanooga, Tenn. was ranked #1 with 52% of its population been seen as “Bible-minded.”  The city ranked last—100—is Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York with 10% of its population being “Bible-minded.”  Phoenix-Prescott ranked 92 with a rating of 16%. 

The second Barna report tracks the increase in those who are “post-Christian” and again Barna lists 117 cities as to their ranking.[2]  Barna looked at 15 different measuring standards and if a person met 60% or more of the factors (nine or more) then were counted as “post-Christian.”[3]  Over the past two years—from 2013 to 2015—the country as a whole experienced a 7% increase in those who qualify as “post-Christian”: 37% to 44%.   

Cities with the lowest percentages of “post-Christian” people were in the south of the country with Augusta-Aiken, Georgia coming in the 117th spot with 14% of its population considered “post-Christian.”  The top spot went to San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, California with a rating of 66%.  Phoenix-Prescott is ranked 26th with a rating of 51% of its population as being “post-Christian.”

Statistics and figures are not destiny but they do let us know the cultural temperature around us.  We live and minister in a city that is increasingly biblically illiterate and “post-Christian.”  We need to take this into account as we speak to non-believers and even to many believers.  We also need to look at our own lives—do we esteem and engage with the Scriptures on a regular basis?  Do we give ourselves to reading, meditating, and obeying the Word of God?  Let us pray together for an unleashing of God’s Word across our city and land—and in our church!  May God in his grace bring many to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.

[3] The 15 metrics are: 
1.               Do not believe in God
2.               Identify as atheist or agnostic
3.               Disagree that faith is important in their lives
4.               Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5.               Have never made a commitment to Jesus
6.               Disagree the Bible is accurate
7.               Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8.               Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9.              Agree that Jesus committed sins
10.          Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11.          Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12.          Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13.          Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14.          Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15.          Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)