Millennials and Lent: An Unlikely Pairing, by David Kinnaman

Part of Lenten series Spiritual Formation in Everyday Life 

Millennials are by far the least likely age group to be aware of Lent—but, interestingly, they are more likely than average to say they are planning to fast.  

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

ash-wednesdayEvery year, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday, millions of people celebrate the 40 days of Lent by giving up—fasting from—certain foods or activities. It’s a practice with a rich history among many Christian traditions. But how likely are believers today to participate in Lenten disciplines—and, if they do choose to fast, what are they fasting from?

The majority of adults (72%) are aware of the Christian tradition of giving something up for Lent. Even among non-Christians, awareness of Lent is at about the same level (70%). Yet in spite of this widespread awareness of the season, only 17% of all adults—roughly one-fifth of those who know about the season—have practiced Lenten fasting in the last three years. The same number (17%) plan to give something up for Lent again this year.

Not surprisingly, practicing Catholics are among the most likely to have participated in Lent, with just over two-thirds (65%) saying they have celebrated the fast in the past three years. But many Protestants have also adopted the habit: one in six practicing Protestants (15%) say they have fasted for Lent in the past three years, and about the same number (16%) say they plan to fast this year.

Each younger generation of Americans is less likely to know about Lent. Millennials, the youngest adult generation, are by far the least likely age group to be aware of Lent (57%)—but, interestingly, they are more likely than average to say they are planning to fast in 2014 (20% compared to 17% among all adults). By contrast, eight out of 10 Boomers (80%) are aware of Lent, but only 10% are planning to give something up this year. Those in the oldest generation, the Elders, are most likely to know about Lent (82%) and most likely to celebrate it, with one-quarter (26%) planning to fast in 2014.

Among those who plan to celebrate Lent this year, the most common abstentions include food or drink, such as chocolate (30%), meat (28%), sugar (28%), soda drinks (26%), alcohol (24%), fruit (14%) and butter or cream (11%). Although less common, many Americans who fast for Lent are planning to abstain from technology or entertainment. This includes curtailing use of social networks (16%), smartphones (13%), television (11%), video games (10%), movies (9%) and the Internet (9%). Activities that were mentioned by fewer than 2% of respondents include sex, smoking and swearing.  Unsurprisingly, Millennials are the population segments most likely to fast from technology.

What the Research Means
Roxanne Stone, a vice president at Barna Group and general editor of the FRAMES series, points out that the data belies established stereotypes about Millennials and traditions, “The conventional wisdom says younger people are anti-tradition—that young Christians rebel against rituals they may deem ’empty’ or antiquated. However, the data shows Millennial Christians express distinctive interest in this ancient discipline—even more so than among their parents’ generation.

“The ability for people to adapt this practice to daily habits such as television, social media, video games and other modern ‘idols’ is likely part of Lent’s current appeal,” Stone says. “It’s a tradition that can connect a contemporary believer to a very ancient and rich faith history, while still feeling applicable to the realities of modern life.

“This connection is an important one for church leaders to note: the more rituals and belief practices can be made pertinent—that is, can be shown to have a depth beyond mere tradition—the more likely today’s Christians are to see their validity and to engage them. Young Christians have come of age in a time when everything feels up in the air; when the newest thing is old in just a few days. The ancient practices of the Christian faith may hold a counter-cultural appeal to many Christians, including Millennials, as they seek to find a sense of rootedness in such a shifting cultural context.”

Read Complete Lenten Research


Five Trends Among the Unchurched, by David Kinnaman

More than one-third of America’s adults are secular in belief and practice

While barely half of the unchurched surveyed could name a single favorable impact of the Christian community in America, nearly three-fifths could identify a negative one.

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

Unchurched facing awaySince 1990, the percentage of unchurched adults in America has risen from 30% to 43% of the population. Even as this segment has grown, has their profile changed?

With the aid of more than two decades of tracking research—a sort of cultural time-lapse photography—Barna Group has discovered real and significant shifts in unchurched attitudes, assumptions, allegiances and behaviors. We’ve identified five trends in our research that are contributing to this increase in the churchless of America.

This new study of the unchurched population comes in conjunction with the release of Churchless, a new book from our veteran researchers George Barna. Churchless draws on more than two decades of tracking research and more than 20 nationwide studies of the unchurched.

1. Secularization Is on the Rise

Nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (38%) now qualifies as post-Christian (measured by 15 different variables related to people’s identity, beliefs and behaviors. Read more about our post-Christian metric here.). That includes 10% of Americans who qualify as highly post-Christian. Another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%). Examined over time, our research shows that the proportion of highly secularized individuals is growing slowly but steadily.
Barna-Unchurched Trends

In other words, in spite of our “Christian” self-descriptions, more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people—and presages a continuing rise in this population.

Among the churchless, the proportions skew even more heavily: Overall, more than three-quarters of unchurched adults fall in the heavy-to-moderate range on the secularization scale. That compares to about one out of eight among the churched.

As you might expect, the data show some striking generational differences when it comes to secularization. The pattern is indisputable: The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is. Nearly half of Millennials (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared to two-fifths of Gen X-ers (40%), one-third of Boomers (35%) and one-quarter of Elders (28%).

2. People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church

people-graphicsBarna research shows that the unchurched are becoming less responsive to churches’ efforts to connect with them. For example, conventional wisdom says the best way to get people to visit a church is to have friends invite them—and the conventional wisdom is right. The churchless we interviewed were most open to “a friend of yours inviting you to attend a local church,” with one-fifth expressing strong interest and nearly half willing to consider a church based on this factor. An invitation from a friend is the top-rated way churches can establish connections with the unchurched…

However, while the conventional wisdom remains true today, the road ahead shows challenging signs…

Continue reading

Download full color infographics.

Millennials: Big Career Goals, Limited  Job Prospects, by David Kinnaman

 Part of ongoing series: How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

With college debt at an all-time high and twenty-something employment at an all-time low, only 47% of Millennial graduates believe attending college was ‘worth it.’

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

BU-061014-info1As graduation season wraps up, newly minted college and high school grads are entering the job market, diplomas in hand, to make their way in the world. The traditional commencement speech platitudes that welcome students into the opportunities of adulthood—”the whole world is before you”; you just have to “follow your dreams” to “make a difference”—often ring hollow in this depressed economy.

Hundreds of thousands of graduating Millennials are discovering the world is not their oyster, and jobs are much harder to find than anyone had expected. Yet in spite of the bleak economic landscape, Millennials remain optimistic about their future prospects.

More than anything, this generation wants to be inspired. Finding a job they are passionate about is the career priority they rank highest. Barna Group’s FRAMES research reveals Millennials’ perspectives on the challenges they face as they join America’s workforce.


Alone Together: Barna’s Three Digital Life Trends for 2014, by David Kinnaman

Nearly half of millennials report that their personal electronics create distance between themselves and other people.

“We seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.”  -Sherry Turkle, Alone Together

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

article-thumbToday’s personal devices may be wireless, but digital users seem to be more tethered than ever. From computer to phone to tablet to television, Americans spend more time in front of a screen than ever and show no signs of slowing down.

The effects of this widespread digitalization of life, for better or worse, are widely debated. But there can be no doubt about one thing: the digital life is here to stay, and it is changing everything. Work, faith, relationships, the very contours of young adulthood—all of these and more are dramatically shaped by the realities of our screen age.

Barna Group’s latest study reveals three cultural trends emerging out of the “new normal” of digital life.

The Hyperlinked Life
Digital life connects—and disconnects—adults in life and faith.

In 2013, two images of Saint Peter’s Square captured the world’s attention. The first, taken in 2005, shows a crowd attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The second, taken in 2013 from an angle similar to the first photo, shows a crowd observing the election of Pope Francis—only this photo exhibits a particular glow. Nearly every person in the picture is holding up a digital screen to capture the event.


These images are emblematic of a larger cultural shift that has just begun. In the hyperlinked age, people now view life—from its smallest details to its monumental moments—through a digital lens. And through this lens, they experience faith as well.

In fact, there’s not much that adults today don’t experience through a digital lens. And while the benefits of technology are many—increased information, social connectivity and even communities and tools for spiritual growth, to name a few—the hyperlinked life also opens up new challenges.

Because the relationship to personal devices is so strong, it naturally affects personal relationships—for better and for worse. Social media, of course, lives up to its name. As Barna data show, more than one-third of adults (36%) stop whatever they’re doing to check their device when they get a new text or message. About the same number (35%) admit their personal electronics sometimes separates them from other people.

The hyperlinked life has its advantages and disadvantages for a life of faith, too. For all their hyper-connectivity, for example, only 21% of adults say they set aside time each day to connect with God.

Continue reading


Read the next two trends…

Authenticity in an Age of Spiritual Fact-checking: How Technology is Changing Millennial Faith, by David Kinnaman

Part of ongoing series: How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith

In an era of radical transparency, Millennials have a heightened sensitivity for artificiality and false promotion. Any leader or organization who wants to engage the next generation—whether from the pulpit or the classroom—must take care their messages are free of all false promises and exaggerations… or pay the price.

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

millennialstechnology-article-imageThey’re called digital natives for good reason. Millennials stand apart from other generations in terms of their technological savvy. They’re also in a class of their own when it comes to faith experience and practice.

The Church has always used regular habits and practices designed to help people worship. These habitual practices—such as prayer, Scripture reading, Sabbath observance, gathering every Sunday and more—have been part of the Church throughout the centuries.

Today there’s a new dimension that is reshaping personal spirituality, particularly among younger generations. The advent of the Internet and, more recently, social media have shaped personal habits significantly.

The first and last thing most people do every day is check their phones. When they want to know an answer to a question, they “Google it.” Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds has become a fixture of leisurely activity. This digital world is the playground of Millennials, or those ages 18 to 29 in this current Barna study. Millennials certainly stand apart in their unsurpassed digital savvy. They’re also in a class of their own when it comes to faith experience and practice.

Yet what happens when the unique spiritual characteristics and technological trends among Millennials collide? The latest study from Barna Group explores just that.

See the infographics

The Future of Faith in Film? Youth and Evangelicals Outstrip All Other Movie-going Audiences, by David Kinnaman

Part 2 in series The Future of Faith in Film and Television.  We asked observers in and around the entertainment industry to share their perspective on where faith is (or should be) headed in film and TV. Here’s what they said:

No one is surprised that 18-28 year-olds watch twice as many movies as any other age group.  What is surprising is that the average number of movies self-identified ‘evangelicals’ saw in 2012 is larger than followers of any other religion.  If Hollywood is listening then the future of movies could be greatly shaped by tastes of young Christ-followers. 

by David Kinnaman • President, The Barna Group

607-superheroes-presidents-and-a-girl-on-fire-2012-at-the-moviesOn the heels of massive box office performance from The Hunger Games and The Avengers, 2012 ended up setting a record for total box office sales (a staggering $10.8 billion), and also saw an incredible 1.36 billion tickets sold. With this weekend’s Academy Awards broadcast—the pinnacle of the film awards season—the cultural obsession with movies is at its peak. Viewership for the Oscars is still one of the larger of the year, and—in a year when most of the best picture nominees garnered over $100 million—arguments over who is (or isn’t) nominated and who should win are in full force.

But what are Americans’ true attitudes toward movies? Who sees them? Are Americans still going to the movies? Do Christians see more or less movies (or the same) as non-Christians? And, what do believers think of the movies they see?

Who Goes to the Theater?

If you’re a moviegoer, you might assume everyone goes to the movies. If 1.36 billion movie tickets sold in 2012, that means there were more than four movie tickets sold for every American. But, in actuality, a full 35% of the American population says they didn’t see a single movie in theaters in the last 12 months. And of people ages 67 and older, respondents report they’ve only seen, on average, 0.4 movies in the last year—meaning less than half of Elders set foot in the movie theater in 2012.

So who bought all those tickets? As you might expect, it was mostly young adults (i.e., Mosaics, ages 18-28) filling the darkened venues. Of that age group, the average Mosaic saw 3.4 movies in the theater over the last year—double the national average for all adults, which was 1.7 movies per person.



Does Faith Affect Viewing Patterns?

How does a person’s faith affect their movie watching habits? Well, in terms of the amount of movies seen at the theater, evangelicals saw 2.7 movies at the movie theater in the last year, a full movie more than the national, adult average. In fact, the average number of movies evangelicals saw is bigger than any of the age groups except for Mosaics. The only faith group that saw more movies than evangelicals were people who didn’t identify with any faith—that segment saw an average of 3 movies per person in theaters over the last year.

Which movies did evangelicals see? The year’s biggest film, The Avengers, was also a big hit among evangelicals. Over the last 12 months, 42% of evangelicals saw the film. That’s the highest rate except for people with no faith—43% of those surveyed who don’t identify with any faith saw The Avengers. Evangelicals also flocked to The Hunger Games (36% of them saw it in the last year) andThe Lorax (24%).



The biggest difference in movies between people of faith and people with no faith exists in movies like Skyfall and Argo. While 21% of people claiming no faith saw Skyfall, the most recent James Bond blockbuster, only 12% of evangelicals and 16% of non-evangelical born again Christians witnessed 007’s latest romp. And the highest group of people of faith who saw Argo—the story of a group trying to escape Iran during the 1981 U.S. embassy hostage crisis—were Catholics, at just over 4.5%. At the same time, 17% of people with no faith identification saw Argo.

Much has been made about how Hollywood influences the values and spirituality of Americans. And movies do affect how people think about faith and spirituality, but in smaller numbers than religious leaders might expect. For all the concern about the degradation of cultural values and Hollywood’s lack of a moral compass, just 1% of respondents say they saw a movie that changed their beliefs over the last year. Whether this is a perception or a reality is hard to say—but at the very least, people don’t think Hollywood is influencing their values and beliefs. In fact, only 11% of people say they saw a movie in the past year that made them think more seriously about religion, spirituality or faith.

However, 32% of evangelicals say they would seek out movies that dealt with more religious or spiritual themes. And with movies like Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe’s upcoming Noah adaptation and the ratings success of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s The Bible TV mini-series, it seems audiences might be getting their wish.

Or will they?

Next:  Vikings vs. The Bible: Why History Channel Won’t/Can’t Market Faith? by Craig Detweiler, PhD

See Also:

The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking: What is a Christian movie? by Screenwriter Mike Rinaldi

Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories

Why Most “Christian” Movies Suck, by Screenwriter Brennan Mark Smith

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories, by Gary David Stratton

Christians in Hollywood: A Mission Impossible Writer Offers a Treatment, by TV Writer Ron Austin




david-kinnaman-picture-smallDavid Kinnaman is the President of Barna Group and author of the best-selling books, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith, and unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity (with Gabe Lyons). Since joining Barna in 1995, David has designed and analyzed nearly 500 research projects for clients including Sony, NBC-Universal, World Vision, and Compassion International.  As a spokesperson for the firm’s research, he is often quoted in major media outlets such as USA Today, Fox News, New York TimesLos Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal).

© Barna Group, 2013. Used by permission. For more info from Barna Group study, click here.

What Christian Women Think About Lifestyles, Priorities and Time Commitments

Part 7 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

Women in American churches know how they want to be perceived by others: they want to be influenced by the Bible, and reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. But is this an actuality or merely an aspiration?                                                                                                     -David Kinnaman, President, The Barna Group


by The Barna Group

If spirituality were Olympic gymnastics, most Christian women would give their personal faith top scores. Three quarters of Christian women say they are mature in their faith (73%). The good feelings continue when it comes to ongoing spiritual growth, as more than one third (36%) of churchgoing women say they are “completely” satisfied with their personal spiritual development, and an additional 42% say they are “mostly” satisfied. Only one quarter (23%) of these women admit they are less than fully satisfied with their spiritual growth.

When it comes to their personal relationship with God, only 1% confess they are “usually not too close” or feel “extremely distant from God.” The vast majority of women claim to have an “extremely close” (38%) or a “pretty close” (43%) relationship with God. An additional 17% feel more ambivalent, saying they are “sometimes close and other times not close.” Perhaps this perception of intimacy with God is driven by the fact that slightly more than half (52%) of the women surveyed say they take time every day to intentionally evaluate the quality of their relationship with God.

Family Over Faith
Though women project a calm, confident exterior when it comes to their faith, the research suggests their spiritual lives are rarely their most important source of identity. That role is taken up by the strong priority Christian women place on family.

The preeminence of family was most overt for Christian women when it came to naming the highest priority in their lives. More than half (53%) say their highest priority in life is family. By contrast, only one third as many women (16%) rate faith as their top priority, which is less than the cumulative total of women who say their health (9%), career performance (5%) or comfortable lifestyle (5%) are top on their list of life objectives.

Despite the characterization of women as intricately connected to their peers, only 3% of Christian women say their friends are their top priority, equal to those who place finances (2%) and leisure (1%) at the top.

What a Woman Calls Herself
Women’s sense of identity very closely follows their priorities, with 62% of women saying their most important role in life is as a mother or parent. Jesus came next: 13% of Christian women believe their most important role in life is as a follower of Christ. In third place is their role as wife (11%).

Any other roles women identify with came in at similarly low rankings and far below that of a parent, including that of employee or executive (3%), that of church member (2%) and that of friend or neighbor (2%). American citizen, teacher and caregiver all rank with one percent each.

Goals in Life
Perhaps not surprisingly given where they place their identity, Christian women also point to family-related objectives as their most important goal in life. Raising their children well is the highest goal for Christian women (36%). While, roughly one quarter of Christian women identify faith-oriented goals as most important (26%).

Though women consider themselves family-driven, their marriages may be suffering from a lack of intentionality: only 2% of Christian women say their most important goal in life is to enhance their relationship with their significant other. Marriage comes in below several other goals, including health (6%), career (5%), lifestyle (4%), personal growth (4%), morality (4%) and financial objectives (3%). Only goals related to personal appearance, relationships outside the home and travel come in lower than marital goals.

Women Like Their Lives
Maybe one of the reasons women often fail to mention marriage-related goals is that they are generally quite satisfied in their marriages. While Christian women claim high levels of satisfaction in many facets of their life, they are most satisfied with their marriages (59%) followed by their parenting (51%). Although these findings cannot entirely explain women’s lack of marital goals, it does suggest many Christian women find some of their deepest contentment in life from their marriage.

Satisfaction levels drop somewhat when it comes to areas of life outside the home—particularly as they relate to serving people in the community (26% are completely satisfied with this area of their life) and to using their gifts and abilities (31% are completely satisfied). Personal spiritual development, career, relationships outside the family and involvement in church are all areas of life with which women are modestly satisfied.

Major Influencers
Most people recognize they are being influenced by outside forces—and in many cases, such influence is welcome, even invited. And then, of course, there are influences people would rather not admit affect them at all. Such is the case with the women surveyed. Christian women are more than willing to admit they are influenced by their faith—particularly through reading the Bible and listening to sermons, with 75% of those surveyed saying the Bible has influenced them “a lot,” and 51% saying the same about sermons. Most women also readily admit their husbands have an impact on their actions and decisions, with 63% of married women saying their husbands influence them a lot.

However, after those top three influencers, women are much more reticent to admit they are swayed by outside voices—particularly when it comes to friends and media. Only 10% of Christian women say their friends have a lot of impact on their decision-making (though 51% say their friends do have “some” influence on them). An even lower number of women will allow that the media has any influence on them, with only 5% admitting the media influences them a lot, 25% saying the media influences them some and a striking 70% claiming the media has “little” influence over their decision making.

What it Means
The president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, offers this commentary on the research. “Some may interpret this research as a false choice: can women be asked to choose between their role as a parent and that of their faith? They see motherhood as core to what it means to disciple and be discipled. Others may conclude this study shows too many women have created an ‘idol’ of their family, perhaps at the expense of their devotion to Christ.

“Between these extremes, perhaps these stats should help both moms and dads to consider the favorable—and potentially unfavorable—ways parenting has affected their faith journey. And church leaders, too, must wrestle with key questions: Has raising children and doing it well become central to the definition of being a good Christian? What happens to a mom who struggles in her role as a parent or to a woman who wants to but cannot become (or never becomes) a parent? Are these women somehow perceived as less Christian by fellow believers? Could a grace-based theology of faith in Christ be undermined if many Christians embrace a parallel works-based theology when it comes to their parenting? For church leaders and influencers the research underscores the complexity and importance of the God-given role of motherhood for millions of women.”

When asked to explain why so few women say they are influenced by media, Kinnaman adds: “In many ways, women’s self-perception revealed in this study seems to be aspirational. Women want to be influenced by the Bible, but they reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. So these aspirations may be reflected in the numbers. Still, the way women describe themselves reveals something: they seem to know how they want to be perceived by others. Other findings in the survey reflect this pattern: women seem to be laying claim to a life they want, even if it’s not always current reality.”


Next:  David Kinnaman Interviews Lisa Whittle on Women in the Church


About the Research 
The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.

David Kinnaman Interviews Scot McKnight on Women in Leadership

Part 3 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership
Scot McKnight (
Scot McKnight, an award-winning author, blogger, Two Handed Warrior contributor, and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL, has written extensively about women in the church, discipleship and the Christian life. Several chapters of his book, Blue Parakeet, are devoted to examining the biblical support for women in leadership. Additionally, his most recent book One.Life looks at what it looks like to live a life devoted to pursuing Jesus and kingdom living.
Here, David Kinnaman and McKnight take a look at the recent Barna research on Christian women today, particularly women’s levels of satisfaction within the church. Whatever your own take on women’s roles in the Church today, Scot offers compelling perspectives on the research.


Five Questions on Women in Leadership with Scot McKnight

by David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group

Q: You have written quite a bit in your book Blue Parakeet and in other places about women in church leadership. After you looked through some of the Barna research on What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church released last week—on how women feel about their role in church—what were one or two things that struck you most?

A: Some of us have been working hard for the church to recognize the call of God to teach for women. Our struggle for women creates friendships with fellow strugglers, nearly all women. The struggle and the friendships suggest things are not so cheery in the church as the Barna numbers of this recent study show. I have no access to satisfaction studies of women when it comes to leadership, so I admit this study led me to ponder—rather quickly, and early the day the Barna notice arrived in my e-mail—the results. My own immediate conclusion was that women being satisfied really ought not to surprise. The majority of “attenders” and even more “active participants” in a local church are women, and this must indicate women are more satisfied with church than are men. So, I embrace that number as telling an accurate story of church life today. (I would like to know what percentage of males are satisfied, too.)

But I would like to press into the number that 73% are satisfied. I wonder if this is high enough. And I also wonder if some of those 73% could be more satisfied if their church both taught about women in ministry from a more expansive viewpoint and permitted women to—and here is where the whole issue lies for me—preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

Now let’s consider the number from a different angle. What percentage of males in a church are satisfied? And even more importantly: What percentage of males in a church are called into pulpit preaching and theological teaching? I don’t think that number is very high; let’s say less than 5% of males are called into public teaching. So I wonder if the 27% of females who are not satisfied means there is a larger number of dissatisfied females who think they are called to teach/preach than dissatisfied males who think they are called to teach/preach.

Q: One thing we noticed was the different reactions to the research from inside and outside the church. While many Christians reacted with “Well, those numbers aren’t bad, most women are happy in church and with the roles they have.” The outside reaction (for example, this article by Hemant Mehta and this article in Washington Post) has been more of “How do any women feel as if they can’t be leaders in the church?”). How would you respond to both of those reactions?

A: Numbers are numbers for me. If the Barna number is accurate, then it gives us some factual knowledge about women and churches. Anyone who learns to reason on the basis of evidence instead of ideology or theology should embrace the facts.

Some who criticize are deciding for others what ought to make them satisfied. In Blue Parakeet and on my blog for years I have stated that I think a mutualist view of marriage and male-female relations in the church is the most biblically-faithful way to live out the gospel and the Bible in our world. But I have plenty of friends who are complementarians, some of them Christians and some of them not at all Christian, and I do not remonstrate [argue with] with them about their wrongness (in my view). When it comes to love and relationships, and when it comes to church and women, we have to approach others respectfully.

So, in marriage, my contention is that we let people love one another the way it is best for them. When it comes to Christian marriage we strive for a love based on the example of Christ and what the Bible teaches about God’s covenant love, which counters our cultural stance(s). In the church, we have genuine differences and I will defend the right of the complementarian to win the argument in his [their] church as I will also ask them to defend the right of the mutualist to win the argument in [their] church. But I admit to tiring when I hear those most committed to civil tolerance bash and trash those who differ with them, when they ought to respect the views of others.

Q: In our research, the vast majority of women say they believe they can be leaders in any role in church (and they also believe their church thinks this), but from experience you know this isn’t true. So, where’s the disconnect? Why do you think women believe this when it isn’t always true?

A: I don’t know what to make of this. “Any role” might already be defined as “roles appropriate for women,” and my own reading of that number in the Barna study immediately led to that conclusion. I could be wrong. So, perhaps another question to ask is this: What roles in your church can women play? So on the “My Church Does Not Allow Women To…,” I’d like to see another category: “Preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning.”

And, if I may push on this one, I’m not always sure what “leader” means: One might understand that to mean “I can be the leader I want to be because I want to be the leader of women’s Bible study.”

On this one I’d like to see a follow-up survey that asks questions connected to more traditional terms in the church: Can women be “elders” or “senior pastor” or “preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings” (on a usual basis)?

But, again, numbers are numbers. The majority of women are satisfied with what they can do in their local church. I have no desire to disrupt that satisfaction. Instead, I want to be an advocate for women who believe they are called to teach the Bible and are restricted by their local church.

Q: Where do you see the church needing to connect more intentionally—or perhaps in a more challenging way—with women?

A: In some ways I believe we are selling women short by not educating the church about the expansive ministries available to women. The call of God does not respect ethnicity, class or gender/sex. God calls whom God wants, and this is seen throughout the Bible—from Deborah and Huldah to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Priscilla and Junia. Furthermore, there are stories of women who are rarely told—Esther and Ruth being prominent examples. Time after time I asked students in my classes at a Christian college, students who grew up in churches, who some women were in the Bible—like Phoebe—and they had never heard of them.

So I believe churches need to re-commit to the women of the Bible and to do this we need churches across the globe teaching the passages about women in the Bible.

Then we need to tell stories about women in the church, women whose stories have not been told because male preachers and teachers have naturally gravitated toward stories of males. We hear plenty about Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Wesley, Billy Graham and rarely hear about women like Mary Bethune or Phoebe Palmer. Pastors and preachers and teachers and parents need to commit to reviving the stories of women whose stories have been neglected. This does not require a mutualist posture on women in ministry; it requires only the sacred recognition that God’s women have stories that need to be told.

Q: As you’ve observed the research we put out , are you encouraged or discouraged about what it says in terms of the state of Christian women today?

A: My first response is that I’m more informed. I’m also thinking we can sharpen the tool to ask some more precise questions that might shed more light.

But the overall conclusion is that in your survey field you find the conclusion that nearly 75% of women are satisfied with their church. That’s something to celebrate; any study that shows church folks are satisfied is news for much of the media today, so I’m glad for this.

This study showed to me again how few are actually called into the “ministry” as traditionally defined—so that the one-quarter or so who are not satisfied will reflect a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they want to exercise their perceived gift of teaching and preaching. The debate in churches over who gets to preach—males or both males and females—is a debate about a small percentage of actual males and females.

What this also shows to me is that we have to commit ourselves to focusing on what matters most: God—Father, Son and Spirit. The gospel, or the Story of Jesus—lived, died, raised, exalted and coming again—as the one true saving Story. Who preaches on Sunday morning matters, but Who gets preached matters even more.


Next Post in Series: The Bible and Women in Church Leadership: One Actress’s Perspective

See Also: How Men Changed Their Mind about Women in Ministry, by Scot McKnight

What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Church

Part 2 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

“There is an enormous range of experiences for women in today’s churches, from those who are very satisfied to those who feel as if the church is one of the least welcoming places for them to be.”                                           -David Kinnaman, President, The Barna Group


by The Barna Group

Women are the backbone of U.S. Christian churches. They are more likely than men to comprise the ranks of churchgoers, volunteers and Sunday school teachers. Yet, how do women feel about occupying these roles at their church? Do they feel valued? Undervalued? Are they satisfied with their level of involvement and their opportunity for leadership?
The Barna Group recently completed research into perceptions of Christian women in America, their views of leadership, church and their place in it.   Here is the raw data from the first round of that research.


Broadly speaking, the research depicts two types of experiences among Christian women. The first represents the majority of Christian women. Most express a great deal of satisfaction with the church they attend when it comes to leadership opportunities. Three quarters say they are making the most of their gifts and potential (73%) and a similar proportion feel they are doing meaningful ministry (72%). More than half say they have substantial influence in their church (59%) and a slight majority expect their influence to increase (55%).
Yet, the study also shows another experience for many other women. These women are frustrated by their lack of opportunities at church and feel misunderstood and undervalued by their church leaders. About three out of 10 churchgoing women (31%) say they are resigned to low expectations when it comes to church. One fifth feel under-utilized (20%). One sixth say their opportunities at church are limited by their gender (16%). Roughly one out of every eight women feel under-appreciated by their church (13%) and one out of nine believe they are taken for granted (11%). Although these represent small percentages, given that about 70 million Americans qualify as churched adult women, this amounts to millions of women in the U.S. today who feel discouraged by their experiences in churches.


A common stereotype is that women are not as likely as men to be leaders. But the research shows Christian women are equally likely as Christian men to consider themselves to be leaders. One out of every three Christian women use the term “leader” to describe themselves—the same proportion as among men.
On a positive note, many women leaders believe the church is a receptive place for their leadership. Women who self-identify as leaders most often find that role fulfilled in congregational settings (52%). Others say they serve as leaders on the job (31%), at home (29%), in their community (28%), in a school setting (18%), or at a non-profit organization (13%).
It is slightly more common for women to self-identify as a servant, a label embraced by half of today’s Christian women. Self-described servants say they embody this role by praying for other people (46%), encouraging others (24%), helping the needy (24%), sharing the gospel (23%), volunteering (21%), donating money (17%), and giving time to a non-profit (9%).
Even so, most Christian women feel the pangs of guilt and are motivated to do more with their life. Three quarters of women say they feel they can and should be doing more to serve God (73%).


The research also looked at how women perceive various aspects of their leadership opportunities within churches. The study highlighted a mixed set of perceptions among Christian women:
  • While most women (84%) say their church is either totally open to or mostly open to women fulfilling their leadership potential in their church, about one quarter of women (24%) still feel the role of pastor is not open to women.
  • More than three quarters of women (78%) disagree that the Bible prohibits them from being leaders in the church.
  • Most women say they are fully supported in pursuing leadership roles by the men in their lives, including their senior pastors (68%) and their husbands (63%). They are least likely to perceive this support from other male officers in their church (54%).
  • More than one third of women (37%) say their church would have more effective ministry if women were given more opportunities to lead.
  • Only half of women (47%) say the male leaders in their church are willing to change the rules and structures to give women more leadership opportunities.
  • Reflecting some of the challenges women experience in churches, 41% of women say they have more opportunities to lead outside of their church than within their church.
  • Overall, 82% of women say they can tell by its actions that their church values the leadership of women as much as it values the leadership of men.

Initial Comments from Barna President, David Kinnaman

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, says this study helps to give context to the ongoing debate regarding women’s roles and the Christian community. “It’s tempting to take the examples of those closest to us as representative of all Christian women today. Yet, the research shows there is an enormous range of experiences for women in today’s churches, from those who are very satisfied to those who feel as if the church is one of the least welcoming places for them to be.”
Kinnaman also cautions that the research “should not be equated to customer service research, where church leaders try to keep their most committed constituents—women—happy. Instead, the study should be an invitation to better understand how both women and men work together to form a more Christ-like community.”


David Kinnaman Interviews Scot McKnight on Women in Leadership


About the Research 
The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events). These Christian women were randomly chosen from the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error for a sample of that size is estimated to be within +/- 4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. There are other forms of survey error that cannot be statistically estimated.
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 moral and spiritual development, and works with a variety of organizations to facilitate the healthy moral and spiritual growth of leaders, children, families, individuals 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 ( Other research-based resources are also available through this website.
See also other Barna research on Christian women today.
© Barna Group 2012.

The Rise of Digital Urban Tribes: How we under and overestimate the power and shape of the next generation, by David Kinnaman

A response to Thomas E. Bergler’s The Juvenilization of American Christianity

by David Kinnaman

The most popular games are those that rely on both strategy and luck. When we win, we like to credit our acumen. When we lose, it’s easy to blame the unfortunate odds.

Many Christians seem to think discipling the next generation of Christ followers is a simple mix of skill and luck. It goes something like this: God gets the credit when the kids turn out all right, and our broken world gets the blame when things run amok. This logic may not be entirely wrong, but it oversimplifies on-the-ground realities

Our team at Barna Group has spent the past five years researching the development of Christianity among youth and young adults—more than 5,000 interviews on this subject. We’ve examined the perceptions of teens and 20-somethings, and we’ve explored the attitudes of stakeholders, including pastors, youth workers, parents, and ministry professionals who work with the younger generation. My take on our research findings is that we underestimate three aspects of discipleship, and overvalue another, regarding the next generation.

Underestimating the profound impact of social change

First, we underestimate the profound impact of the social changes that are taking place with the current millennial generation, or “mosaics,” as we call them. Today’s generation of youth and young adults is more conversant with technology, less likely to come from married families, and more financially indebted than any previous generation. Their levels of religious, ethnic, and sexual diversity far outpace those of preceding generations. And they are getting married much later in life than did the boomers. Robert Wuthnow’s book After the Boomers shows just how much this current generation of young adults is “launching” later in life—taking longer to get through the major maturing events in life, like marriage, education, and parenthood.

Here’s how we describe this trend: Most 20-somethings today are digitally connected, in urban tribes, and are unmarried. By comparison, the typical boomer completed most major life transitions before age 30. To put it more starkly: A majority of today’s 20-somethings live in anything but conventional young families. And this is a particular problem for congregations, because most faith communities tend to “work best” with traditional family units.

The point is this: The rise of digital urban tribes of 20-somethings is having a profound, lasting impact on the spiritual trajectory of today’s emerging generation and specifically the church.

Underestimating how young people are shaped by the massive power of the digital media

Second, we underestimate how much young people are shaped by the massive power of the digital tools, consumer culture, and media of the broader American culture. Thomas Bergler’s work in The Juvenilization of American Christianity gives us a fabulous phrase for this: “the deadening effect of popular culture.”

Continue Reading



Millennial Data Love Debate: Why We Keep Arguing Over the Data We Discover

Are Millennials more influenced by advertising than previous generations, or less influenced? Depends on the data we love the most.

by David Kinnaman

Millennials (or Gen Y, or Mosaics) have caused a lot of new study and discussion. I was reading this morning about their media use and response to advertising. One analyst claims in AdAge that Mosaics are the least likely to be influenced by television advertising. However, in a MediaPost article, another observer strongly refutes this claim. In fact, she describes her efforts as “myth busting.”

Two observations struck me:

First, the AdAge article confirms some things we have been learning at Barna Group about teens and young adults: today’s young adults are media blenders. They use terrestrial radio and digital radio. They view television plus Internet videos. They consume digital music and purchase vinyl records. They are increasingly comfortable with multiple forms of input: digital and analog. Most of us assume that next-gen adults are only comfortable in the digital domain, but their “blending” means that communication with and to this generation is more complex, especially because this broad menu of inputs makes them increasingly distracted.

Second, these articles reminded me of the controversy that many statistics generate, especially within the Christian community. It seems that data love debate. (Yes, that’s grammatically correct. “Data” are plural; “datum” is singular.) In most arenas of culture — media, the economy, retailing, healthcare, government, and so on — there is a debate about what is really true. The same thing happens with Christian statistics: there are different sources of information about the world of faith, but when these sources conflict, we often resort to impugning the motives and methods of others.

I believe we should have good, healthy debate about data — their accuracy and meaning. The more important the decisions we are making, the more crucial it is that we get our data right. But, from my standpoint, in the Christian community we too often resort to the wrong spirit of “myth busting” on the work of our brothers and sisters.

I predict that the debate over data will increase in the next decade. There are more of us doing research about Christianity and faith. The threshold to enter the “research” field is as low as ever (hello, survey monkey). And the world is changing very quickly, so we need insight to make sense of the change.

My suggestion: we need to work very hard at finding constructive, Jesus-like ways of debating data.

What’s your best idea how we might do this?


See also:  How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.


15 Reasons I Left Church, by Rachel Held Evans

Part 6 in series How Millennials Who Gave Up on “Church” are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

“We aren’t looking for a faith that provides all the answers; we’re looking for one in which we are free to ask the questions.” – Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town, p. 204

by Rachel Held Evans

Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and it seems like everyone is trying to figure out why.

David Kinnaman has recently authored a book entitled, You Lost Me, which details the findings of Barna researchers who interviewed hundreds of 18-29 year-olds to discover the Reasons (and  Myths) why young adults are leaving the church. Christian Piatt offered seven reasons here, and four more reasons here.

I left the church when I was twenty-seven. I am now thirty, and after trying unsuccessfully to start a house church, my husband and I are struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong. I’ve been reluctant to write about this search in the past, but it seems like such a common experience, I think it’s time to open up, especially now that I’ve had some time to process. But let’s begin with fifteen reasons why I left:

1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers.

2. I left the church because when we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.

3. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities.

4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

5. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

6. I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt.

7. I left the church because I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.”

8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride.

11. I left the church because I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

12. I left the church because I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity.

13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.

15. I left the church because one day, they put signs out in the church lawn that said “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

“I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals.” –Rachel Held Evans,  Evolving in Monkey Town, p. 207

Later this week I’ll be sharing more about why I stayed with the Church–with a capital-C-– and about our search for a local faith community.

Next Post in Series:  15 Reasons I Returned to The Church, by Rachel Held Evans


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Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master (Coming October, 2012)