Far more interesting than Crosswalk's 2006 review is George Barna's list of the 12 Most Significant Religious Findings in 2006. I don't always agree with Barna, and sometimes find him quite irrelevant, but here are some gems in his report:
* "Although large majorities of the public claim to be “deeply spiritual” and say that their religious faith is “very important” in their life, only 15% of those who regularly attend a Christian church ranked their relationship with God as the top priority in their life. As alarming as that finding was, its significance was magnified by research showing that on average pastors believe that 70% of the adults in their congregation consider their relationship with God to be their highest priority in life."
* "The notion of personal holiness has slipped out of the consciousness of the vast majority of Christians. While just 21% of adults consider themselves to be holy, by their own admission large numbers have no idea what “holiness” means and only one out of every three (35%) believe that God expects people to become holy." (This should be particualrly alarming to those of us of Wesleyan tenor, who have for 250 years emphasized the idea of "scriptural holiness".)
* "Evaluating spiritual maturity remains an elusive process for clergy as well as individuals. Across the nation, the only measure of spiritual health used by at least half of all pastors was the extent of volunteer activity or ministry involvement. Adults were no more consistent in their self-examination of their spirituality."
* "Seven out of ten parents claim they are effective at developing the spiritual maturity of their children, but the Barna survey among 8-to-12-year-olds discovered that only one-third of them say a church has made “a positive difference” in their life; one-third contend that prayer is very important in their life; most of them would rather be popular than to do what is morally right. In fact, “tweeners” (those ages 8 to 12) deem their family to be vitally important in their life, but just 57% said they look forward to spending time with their family and only one out of every three say it is easy for them to talk to their parents about things that matter to them."
* "Relatively few people – just one out of every six – believe that spiritual maturity is meant to be developed within the context of a local church or within the context of a community of faith." (As Sting sang in 1991, "Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one.")
There are some real challenges here. I don't think the institutional Church is of much help in addressing these issues; our Charge Conference forms and statistical reports don't ask how we are dealing with these and other substantive issues, being far more concerned about the minutiae of how much money was collected in loose change as opposed to offering envelopes, and the like.
Thankfully, in Western PA Conference, our bishop seems to have the desire to lead change. He doesn't seem to want to free us from institutional shackles as much as redefine those "shackles" to include freedom, creativity, and a recapturing of the missional heart.
The concern, of course, is that we simply redfine the institution while still being shackled by its heavy responibilities (not all of which are negative, of course). So, a new year's prayer for Bishop Bickerton and the Conference is in order. Let's keep praying in 2007!
On to Part 3 (Western PA Conference) or back to Part 1 (Crosswalk).