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June 8, 2009Research

Americans Doing it Their Way

We Americans value independence, exploration and going out on our own... unless you're one of those new college grads who have moved back in with mom and dad because you don't want to get an unpleasant job and live in a small apartment and pay your dues. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Americans like to do things their own way. We always have, and that doesn't seem to be changing. In fact it continues to impact new areas of American life - like faith and spirituality.

A recent nationwide Barna survey points out that while Americans are tiring of traditional church forms and experiences, they continue to see themselves as deeply spiritual, open to religious experience.

The study showed that,

-88% of American adults say that "my religious faith is very important in my life."

-75% say they sense that "God is motivating people to stay connected with Him, but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past."

-50% say "a growing number of people I know are tired of the usual type of church experience."

-64% say they are "completely open to carrying out and pursuing [their] faith in an environment or structure that differs from that of a typical church."

-45% say they are "willing to try a new church."

Don't miss that one. The Barna Group notes,

A staggering number of Americans - almost half of the nation's 230 million adults - are open to changing their church home, demonstrating their lack of connection with their present community of faith and their desire to have a more significant connection. It may also be a reflection of people's increasing lack of loyalty to both organizations and personal relationships, and the growing sense that there is always something better available if you can simply find it.

71% say they are "more likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches."

People often call this approach to religious belief "buffet theology," where individuals simply pick and choose what they believe based on personal preference. "I'll take a little of this, none of that, some of this over here, I can't tell what that is so I'll leave that alone..." While that criticism is valid, we should also be asking why Americans are so distrustful of organized religion, systems, and meta narratives.

This recent survey offers a lot of interesting data, so check it out, but I'll point out one more thing.

Across the board, the research showed that women are driving these changes. This is particularly significant given prior research from Barna showing that women are more spiritually inclined, are the primary shapers of family faith experiences, and are the backbone of activity in the typical conventional church. Specifically, Barna discovered that women were more likely than men to pursue their faith in a different type of structure or environment (68% of women, 59% of men); to sense that God is motivating people to experience faith in different ways (79% vs. 60%, respectively); and to be willing try a new church (50% vs. 40%).

Check out the article and come back here to discuss.

How does the church respond to these trends? What should churches and church leaders do, do different, or so the same?

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