George Barna's New Book: Revolutionary or Revolting?

The blogosphere has offered plenty o' chatter on George Barna's latest book, Revolution. For favorable comment, read my occasional-email-pal Andrew Jones (full disclosure: the Tall Skinny Kiwi once named me "Best Emerging Critic Ever"). For unfavorable comment, read Sam Storms or the re-posts by Kevin Michael Cawley (full disclosure: I ate lunch with Sam once and agreed with virtually everything he said, which must make him wise).

In my review in Christianity Today, I first tried to summarize the book's thesis:

Storm the barricades! According to researcher George Barna, we're in the midst of a "spiritual revolution that is reshaping Christianity, personal faith, corporate religious experience, and the moral contours of the nation."

Who's leading the coup d'?tat? Some 20 million people, dubbed Revolutionaries, who live "a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity, kindness, and simplicity" and who "zealously pursue an intimate relationship with God."

If true, this is amazing news, the best for American Christians in generations. But before we break out the party poppers, we should note that, like every revolution, this one has a loser: the local church.

Unlike the Great Awakenings, which brought people into the church, this new movement "entails drawing people away from reliance upon a local church into a deeper connection with and reliance upon God." Already "millions of believers have stopped going to church," so Barna expects that in 20 years "only about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their

faith." Down will go the number of churches, donations to churches, and the cultural influence of churches.

Are you worried about the church where you were baptized, taught, married, and given Communion? That's only a "congregational-formatted ministry," one of many ways to "develop and live a faith-centered life. We made it up." Writes Barna, "Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and, within boundaries, to God)." He doesn't reveal God's boundaries for church involvement, but they don't seem hard to get over.

Barna illustrates with two fictional characters who "eliminated church life from their busy schedules." Why? They did not find a ministry "that was sufficiently stimulating" and "their church, although better than average, still seems flat." Too bad for the lowly local church that people today insist on "unique, highly personalized church experiences."

So where are the Revolutionaries going? To "mini-movements" such as home schooling, house churches, Bible studies at work, and Chris Tomlin worship concerts. What matters is a godly life, so "if a local church facilitates that kind of [godly] life, then it is good. And if a person is able to live a godly life outside of a congregation-based faith, then that, too, is good."

January 11, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 30 comments

Rich Tatum

February 21, 2006  1:11am

This is a little late to the discussion, but it may add an important element in terms of isolating the working definition George Barna uses when thinking of exactly who a revolutionary is. As is typical when identifying classes of Christians in his surveys Barna has several criteria for identifying Revolutionaries in his sample. For example, when identifying a respondent as being "born again" or "Evangelical" Barna does not directly ask if they are "born again" or "evangelical." Instead he asks questions like, "Does Satan exist?" From his latest survey results, I noticed Barna included a section identifying the key traits of a Revolutionary: "'Revolutionaries' were classified on the basis of meeting 11 specific criteria. They had have a clear sense of the meaning and purpose of their life; describe their relationship with and faith in God as the top priority in their life; consider themselves to be 'Christian'; read the Bible regularly; pray regularly; deem their faith to be very important in their life; contend that the main objective in their life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul; describe God as the 'all-knowing, all-powerful being who created the universe and still rules it today'; have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today; believe that when they die they will go to heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; and say that their faith in Christ has 'greatly transformed" their life.'" The Barna Group: The Concept of Holiness Baffles Most Americans I'd guess there's a lot of Evangelicals out there who would self-identify with these criteria and yet who feel no urge to abandon their church. Is there a disconnect between this operating definition and what Barna described in his book? Regards, Rich BlogRodent

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January 29, 2006  11:44pm

I haven't read Barna's book. However, there was one comment here that is blatantly false and a misrepresentation of the history of the American church on so many levels that I want to scratch my own eyeballs out. "The First Great Awakening did NOT bring all new people into the "Church". The three major denominations were Congregational, Episcopal and Presbyterian. The first two were supported by taxes as "State Churches" that hated the new movements and resisted all that happened. The theology was Armenian and challenged the hyper-Calvinist ideas of the day and led to the American Revolution." 1. The church in America was booming after the Great Awakening. The New Light Congregationalists, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians all experienced extreme growth. Also, the Episcopal church didn't even exist yet. It was still the Church of England until after the Revolutionary War. 2. The greatest figures in the Great Awakening were Jonathan Edwards (Congregationalist)ield, Gilbert Tennent (Presbyterian), George Whitefield (Anglican/Calvinistic Methodist), and Ashael Nettleton (Presbyterian). I'm so glad that the Congregationalists and the Anglicans (Episcopalians) hated it. 3.Anyone who would call Edwards, Whitefield, Tennent, or Nettleton Arminian is either dishonest or just sadly mistaken. Arminianism piggybacked onto the movement later with the Wesleyan Methodist movement but was not a major contributing factor. In fact, when Charles Finney began holding his revivals, the Great Awakening actually began dying. Nettleton fought against this, but to no avail. (Granted, Finney was more Pelagian than Arminian, but many would claim him anyway.)The idea that Baptists were new movements that began meeting after the awakening is just plain silly. What about Roger Williams? What about William Kiffin? They were there beforehand. All in all, a better understanding of American history would benefit Christians. And just as a side note, I don't put much stock in anything Barna writes. His standards for placing someone in the "Christian" category when polling are so abysmal in comparison with Scripture, that I really don't think his statistics would do us much good.

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John King

January 20, 2006  7:00am

Admittedly I haven't read Barna's lastest but adsorbed a lot from this site. If the trend of "house churches" or cell churches is the wave of the future it certainly hasn't caught on yet. Our congregation (24 years old) has no property and meets in rented facilities. We have, maybe, 11 groups (??70 in attendance)and about 50 on Sunday morning in the very unattractive hall we rent. There is a lot being written about house churches but they really have not worked in America, with a few exceptions perhaps, according to what I can see and "experts" on the scene. Our church is probably the closest thing to a cell type movement, out of necessity. We have minimal structure and some don't stay for that reason. We are a part of a non-organized fellowship across the nation with many, many traditional churches. As a minister I have served in a number of the "traditonal" ones and found most of them non effective in the community and often painful to serve. But they were still the church of Jesus Christ. This congregation is a blessing to serve but we still have immorality and lack of commitment in the ranks. Restructuring to a house church doesn't change the nature of the beast - temptation and sin. But I must say the house church structure makes it difficult for the "marginal Christian" to survive as I have seen in the more traditonal congregations.

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Ron Wood

January 19, 2006  5:08pm

Maybe God is just changing things a bit. (Don't forget he has a sovereign hand in all this.) And what really is success or failure in the terms of ecclesiology? Is there a success "benchmark"? Maybe our soiety is so screwed up and sinful that no matter what we do only 20 or 30% of the people will become Christ Followers? I seem to remember reading about the "great apostasy" in the NT. Perhaps we are it. Maybe this whole dialog is just the futile flapping of a fish out of water.

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Alex Huggett

January 19, 2006  12:33am

If I can throw a bit of perspective as a non-North American who admitedly hasn't read the book... The quote that grabs my attention from Kevin's review is: 'Barna expects that in 20 years "only about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith."' As an Australian pastor in a 'non-revolutionary' (or whatever we'd be called) church - 30% looks pretty good! Especially if Barna is not counting emerging fellowships, house churches, whatever. We have less than 20% of the population attending monthly, and some constructive discussions arising between the traditional and emerging church thinkers. IMHO we need to spend less time arguing about the form of church (beyond ensuring we are biblically faithful), and more time doing the work of discipleship and evangelism.

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Mark Biel

January 18, 2006  10:50am

I just returned from a conference led by Reggie McNeal author of The Present/Future. The thought process,the trend issues and the conclusions appear to be in perfect concert with Barna's. I am a senior pastor who entered into the ministry - having come out of the "Jesus People Movement" In those olden days, it was vogue to be relational, real, and radical. The demise of the local church which is not relational, real and radical is most likely the work of the Holy Spirit. On the otherhand the revitilatization of the local church that is relational, real and radical is also most likely the work of the Holy Spirit. I remain excited about the future of the local church - large or small. An authentic expression of the virtues and values of the Christ is not just a 20 somethings dream - it resonates deep within the soul of us 50 somethings as well. "If your in a dead church get out of it" may leave us with alot of empty buildings for a season but the church that is built upon the foundation of His Word - adorned with the beauty of of worship in Spirit and Truth and that is held together with the fabric of intimate relationships is going to explode upon the scene. That church will bring transformation. This new revolution is just another wakeup call to a church that has been in a deep sleep for a very long time. Those who rise will shine. Mark Biel

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January 18, 2006  1:07am

Barna's direction seems like a natural consequence when there is no ecclesiology. Individuality reigns supreme and community goes missing. It is sad and unbiblical and makes us Christians especially susceptible to being so influenced by the forces at work in our culture... consumerism, individualism, image... etc.

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Tommy Brown

January 17, 2006  4:42pm

I haven't read the book yet, but if it's true , why the certain rise in Mega-Churches. I'm African-American and the churches in the area of Dallas I live in continue to increase in size. We are experiencing the rise in new larger and extravagant buildings as well as new fellowships forming looks like every other month to me. There may be a rise in whatever this is, but I don't know if I will call it Christanity. What ever a group of people who gather together to truly worship God want to call themselves is alright with me. But if the worship of the only true and living God is the object, guess what , your probably a church as the Apostle Paul new in the book of Acts when he recognized the church in specific homes.You may not meet in a "Church" but if Jesus is the Christ and you recognize him as your saviour and the rest of group are believers also, guess what, your part of the Church, and a " church" by any other name is still a church, a place where those who worship God in Spirit and Truth gather to do just that. The church I attend began in a personal home some twenty years ago and eventually need for more space gave rise to a "Church". I advocate taking the gospel to other venues and divers places but the need for a central place of worshiping will always be necessary for a healthy and well balanced believer. Jesus set the church up when he left this earth. He established the hierchy of the "Church" ; Apostles, Prophets , Evangelists, Pastor-Teachers for the perfecting of his body. So if your neglecting to assemble yourself with other believers under a sheperds care , how can you be truly honoring God.Don't leave the body , just a find a "church" where this is happening.

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Robert Hahn

January 17, 2006  4:37pm

George Barna began his career by writing about the non-Christians in church (people who attend but don't rely believe). Then he moved to getting non-believers into church (the seeker movement). Now he writes about true believers who don't go to church. First, let's understand George has a career at stake here. He needs to write the next book, come up with the subject for his speaking tour and training sessions (look for "How To Get Revolutionaries into Your Church" training). Finally let's remember that Biblical Community (the local church) is a product of the work of the Holy Spirit. When a group of people are Spirited-filled, as Barna claims the Revolutionaries are, church occurs almost spontaneously. Mr. Barna is wrong - the local church will remain - flawed yet beautiful. The church ain't going away until He returns to claim her.

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Bob Noah

January 17, 2006  3:34pm

We've gone through the periods, the Early Church, the Period of the Church Fathers, the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the Denominational era. In the Reformation, some thought it was best to hold on to as much of the old form as possible, changing only what was expressly forbidden in the Scripture. Some thought it best to abandon all but what the Scripture expressly requires. Some stayed with the Roman church. Others formed denominations, a church divided by doctrinal statements. Now we are shifting again. I don't think the denominations will fold up and quit. But the church is still on the move, moving out past those forms and structures. The Church is living still, within the Roman church, within the denominations, and in the new forms of the church that are emerging. Let every believer find his/her place in this exciting new era.

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