How Post-Christian is America?

April 15, 2013 – The rise of the so-called “Nones”—the increasing percentage of adults who claim no religious affiliation—has been a much-discussed trend in American religion. Is the nation moving away from Christianity and other forms of conventional faith? To provide insight on this topic, Barna Group analyzed 42,855 interviews conducted in recent years, looking at 15 different measures of non-religiosity. In other words, the research explores the emerging post-Christian landscape of the nation.

 

Metrics of Post-Christian Culture
Currently, more than seven out of 10 adults describe themselves as “Christian” and more than six out of 10 Americans say they are “deeply spiritual.” Yet, just how deep do these labels go?

To shed light on this, the Barna team created an aggregate metric of post-Christian culture based upon 15 different measures of identity, belief and behavior. To qualify as post-Christian, individuals met 60% or more of the factors (nine or more out of 15 criteria). Highly post-Christian individuals met 80% or more of the factors (12 or more of these 15 criteria). These 15 factors are shown in the infographic below.

David Kinnaman, president and majority owner of Barna Group, explains the reasoning behind the post-Christian metric. “First, we wanted to expand the scope of secularization beyond what people call themselves. Faith-oriented self-descriptions are fine, but they are really only skin-deep in terms of understanding faith. In addition to identity, we also wanted to account for two other critical aspects of faith: belief as well as behavior.

“For decades, our research shows the variations of asking people about faith. For example, many self-described atheists also claim to pray to a deity. Long-time churchgoers often lack basic orthodox beliefs. People who effortlessly self-describe as ‘Christian’ may live like practical atheists in most other parts of their lives.

“Also, understanding secularization in the U.S. begins with realizing the enormous footprint of Christianity in this country. The Barna measure is designed to take an over-arching, aggregate view of society’s engagement with faith generally and Christianity specifically. While Barna Group interviews all U.S. adults in our polling, regardless of their faith, we have a unique vantage point on measuring engagement with Christianity. Therefore, our measure looks at the degree to which the nation is post-Christian.”

Post-Christian Totals
Based on Barna’s aggregate metric, nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (37%) qualifies as post-Christian. This includes 9% of Americans who are highly post-Christian—lacking engagement in 80% or more of the measures of belief, practice or commitment. And another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%), without engaging at least 60% of the factors.

Barna’s study includes a ranking of the nation’s largest 96 markets, from most to least post-Christian. The big picture is that the leading post-Christian markets are in the Northeast and in the West. The gap between the most post-Christian city (Albany, NY) and least (Shreveport, LA) is 63% to 12%, respectively. These city-by-city rankings can be found at the company’s new website www.cities.barna.org.

HOW POST-CHRISTIAN IS YOUR CITY >

Generational Change
The differences by generation are striking, and they suggest a less “Christianized” nation in the decades to come. The younger the generation, the increasingly post-Christian it is compared with its predecessors. Nearly half of Mosaics (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared with two-fifths of Busters (40%). One-third of Boomers (35%) and one-quarter of Seniors (28%) are post-Christian. These patterns are consistent with other studies that show the increasing percentage of “Nones” among younger generations.

What the Research Means
David Kinnaman, the author of unChristian and You Lost Me, put the findings in context.

  1. It is inadequate to look simply at one feature of religion to assess things like secularization. It is increasingly necessary to have aggregate indicators—that is, multi-dimensional research—that describe the rich and variegated experience of spirituality and faith. Additional study of post-Christianized culture, secularization and the “Nones” phenomena are necessary; Barna Group’s is just one glimpse of this trend.
  2. Understanding the nation’s post-Christian profile gives an important viewpoint on the population’s spiritual, moral and social future. There is a debate happening about how much the country is secular versus faith-oriented and whether this changes as people get older. The Barna data reminds observers that most Americans remain connected in some way with Christianity. Yet, the influence of post-Christian trends is likely to increase and is a significant factor among today’s youngest Americans.
  3. Our research suggests that most of the efforts of Christian ministries fail to reach much beyond the core of “Christianized” America. It’s often much easier to work with this core audience, than to focus on the so-called “Nones.” The data give evidence that some cities—and younger generations—are more Gospel-resistant than the norm. In part, Christian leaders have to realize that many efforts fall short because they imagine the post-Christian population is hanging on its every word. New levels of courage and clarity will be required to connect beyond the “Christianized” majority.

Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup

About the Research
Every year, Barna Group interviews thousands of U.S. adults and tracks dozens of theolographicTM factors among the nation’s population. This report is based on 42,855 random, representative interviews conducted among U.S. adults of all faith backgrounds from 2005 through 2012.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Barna: Cities project, please visit www.cities.barna.org.

Definitions
The level of irreligion in America depends on how you measure it. And the vitality of faith in America is much more than simply how people label themselves. Barna Group tracks the following 15 metrics related to faith, which speak to the lack of Christian identity, belief and practice.

post-Christian = meet at least 60% of the following 15 factors (9 or more factors)
highly post-Christian = meet at least 80% of the following 15 factors (12 or more factors)

1. do not believe in God
2. identify as atheist or agnostic
3. disagree that faith is important in their lives
4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5. have never made a commitment to Jesus
6. disagree the Bible is accurate
7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9. agree that Jesus committed sins
10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.

© Barna Group, 2013.