Monday, January 16, 2006

Undiscerning Pastors Misjudge Their Immature Congregations

Some results from recent Barna research:

"On average, pastors contend that 70% of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities. Amazingly, as many as one out of every six pastors (16%) contends that 90% or more of the adults in their church hold their relationship with God as their top life priority!...In contrast to the upbeat pastoral view of people’s faith, a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults was asked the same question – i.e., to identify their top priority in life – and a very different perspective emerged. Only one out of every seven adults (15%) placed their faith in God at the top of their priority list. To make an apples-to-apples comparison, the survey isolated those who attend Protestant churches and found that even among that segment of adults, not quite one out of every four (23%) named their faith in God as their top priority in life. Some population niches were more likely than others to make God their number one focus. Among those were evangelicals (51% of whom said their faith in God was their highest priority), African-Americans (38%) and adults who attend a house church (34%). The people groups least likely to put God first were adults under 30 years of age, residents of the Northeast and West, and those who describe themselves as 'mostly liberal' on political and social matters. Regardless of how the population was evaluated, though, there was no segment of the adult population that came close to the level of commitment that Protestant pastors claimed for churchgoers....A question asking pastors to identify the specific standards they use to evaluate the spiritual commitment of congregants showed that few pastors rely upon criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God. Overall, only one measure – how many people are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity or ministry effort – was listed by at least half of all pastors (54%) as a measure of the spiritual health of their congregation. Only two other criteria – church attendance and some type of life change experience (usually meaning that a person has made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ as their savior) were named as important criteria by more than one out of every seven pastors."

There's a lot of other significant material in the article. I recommend reading it. I think that the following comments by George Barna are accurate:

"The nation’s adults deserve some credit for recognizing and acknowledging that God is not a top priority in their life. The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and to set the bar higher. People only live up to the expectations set for them. When the dominant expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having the kinds of life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited, at best. If churches believe in the life-changing power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, they must hold people to a higher and more challenging standard."