A veteran researcher with expertise in American faith trends said recent findings show the impact of COVID-19 on Christians and congregations is “much more extensive” than was actually expected.
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“Typically, you don’t find that religious beliefs change very much,” Dr. George Barna, director of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, told CBN’s Faithwire. “They’re probably the most stable of the factors in a person’s life, because they relate to a worldview that’s formed when you’re young, and it doesn’t change much as you age.”
But Barna said worldviews can shift and change when people encounter emotional or painful crises, noting the pandemic presented this very dynamic for millions of Americans. The results of his recent American Worldview Inventory 2023 survey through the Cultural Research Center confirm these claims.
“We found a number of things that changed in terms of their views of truth, their views about God, their own assessment of their spiritual commitment, some of their moral perspectives,” he said. “Even their ideas and their behaviors related to … personal religious activity, going to church, reading the Bible, acknowledging their sins, and asking for forgiveness.”
Barna said these indicators “shifted pretty dramatically.”
Watch him explain:
One of the most troubling findings was the proportion of Americans with a biblical worldview. Already sparse at just 6%, that proportion dropped to 4% in the latest survey wave. Barna explained the importance of worldview to each human being, helping people fully understand this measure.
“Every person makes decisions every moment of every day, and you have to make your choices based on something,” he said. “What we do to make sense of the world and who we are in it, how we’re going to behave, we create kind of a mental, emotional, and spiritual filter that looks at every choice in light of who we think we are, how we think the world works, what we want to do in the world, and how we’re going get there, et cetera.”
Barna said this constitutes a worldview, a lens and paradigm through which humans can comfortably see, make sense of, and respond to the world around them.
Considering the shocking Christian worldview decline from 6% to 4%, Barna said he has been pondering how in the world Christians lost ground when the baseline was already so low.
“It says to me, ‘OK, well, we can’t keep doing the things we’ve been doing, or we’ll keep getting more of the same decline,” he said. “We’ve really got to sit back and think intelligently and strategically about what are we doing.”
Barna said parents will be vital to getting kids back on a spiritual track as children develop worldview relatively early on; when parents let culture raise kids without the Lord, distorted worldviews abound. But there’s an uphill battle there as well, as even some born-again Christians have experienced sweeping theological changes in recent years.
Take, for instance, the 42% decrease in born-again Christian adults who believe they have a God-given purpose — something Barna said he rarely sees in his research.
“I almost never see numbers like that, no matter what I’m researching politically, economically, organizationally, whatever it is,” he said. “That’s an incredibly unusual number, and I think what that’s telling us is … during the pandemic, the fact that most churches were willing to be locked down, the fact that most faith communities, people that got together to discuss or share faith activity didn’t get together. They were on their own, and that really shook them up.”
As a result, the pandemic shifted beliefs on God and truth. Despite the dire results, though, Barna said he believes there’s still a “window of opportunity” to try and turn the ship around. He believes the key is helping people deal with the real issues they’re wrestling with.
Barna also spoke about the importance of grandparents standing up to the spiritual plate. With Millennials even less likely than the general population to have a biblical worldview, he said it’s likely these parents won’t be able to instill such values in their children.
“This is a great time for grandparents to step up,” Barna said. “It’s a great time for Christian schools to step … other people are going to have to really be helpful in this process.”
As for churches and preachers, Barna said the goal isn’t to fill seats but to “disciple people” and equip parents to raise their children with Gospel-centered perspectives.
“[It’s important to have] those kinds of relationships and having a good plan and strategy for how you can enable them to become worldview developers, disciple-makers,” he said.
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