Although 73 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian, a much smaller number actually practice their faith. That is one insight found in Barna Group’s recently released report, “The State of the Church 2016.”
For the study, more than 5,000 interviews were conducted from January to April among a sample of U.S. adults over the age of 18.
Twenty percent of U.S. adults claim no faith and only 6 percent identify with Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism, with 1 percent unsure of their religious identification.
Majority to minority
When church attendance was added as a variable to the research, Barna found that the majority becomes a minority. If a self-identified Christian attends a religious service at least once a month and says his or her faith is important in his or her life, Barna considers that person a “practicing Christian.”
When looking at the combination of self-identification, affiliation and practice, Barna found only 1 in 3 adults are “practicing Christians.” The group believes that statistic represents the reality of the nation more clearly than the 73 percent that identify as Christian.
Despite the 31 percent of “practicing Christians,” more Americans are “churched” than “unchurched,” according to the research. Churched adults are those who have attended a church service with varying frequency within the last six months, excluding special events. Unchurched adults are those who have not attended a service in the last six months. Fifty-five percent, then, are considered churched and 45 percent are considered unchurched.
Of those who attend church, the largest group of churchgoers attend small- to medium-sized churches. Forty-six percent attend a church of 100 attendees or less, Barna found, and 37 percent attend a midsize church of more than 100, but less than 499. Eight percent attend a large church that has more than 1,000 attendees.
Another variable Barna looked at in the report was how Americans express their faith. The most common expression is through prayer, the research found.
Three-quarters of Americans claim to have prayed to God in the last week. Following prayer, attending a church service is the next most common way of expressing one’s faith, with 35 percent having attended a worship service in the last seven days.
Compared to previous results
When comparing these results with The State of the Church report from 2011, Barna research found then that 47 percent of those surveyed attended church at least once in the last week. That means within five years this statistic has dropped 12 percent.
This year’s research found that 34 percent claim to have read the Bible on their own and about 1 in 5 (19 percent) said they have volunteered at a nonprofit or church in the last week. In 2011, 22 percent said they had volunteered in the last week and 46 percent said they had read their Bible on their own (outside of a church service).
Responsibility to share
When those surveyed this year were asked whether they think they have a responsibility to tell others about their faith, 54 percent did not think they need to tell others and 46 percent think they do have that responsibility.
When it comes to good works and going to heaven, 55 percent agree with the statement, “Good works result in going to heaven,” and 42 percent “disagree somewhat” or “strongly disagree” with the statement.
From a list of options for ways to describe God, 57 percent of those surveyed chose that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and a perfect Creator who rules the world today. Thirty-three percent had other views about God and 10 percent chose, “There is no such thing as God.” (Barna)