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Renewed Urgency for Spiritual Substance

Posted by T. Resnikoff // January 23rd 2014 // Future of Faith, Issues and Trends // no comments

Faith institutions are in trouble, unless they are spiritually nurturing – and informative .  We re-post an excerpt of this article by the Barna Group, focusing on the trend they see in Faith in during the coming year.– Ed.


Three Major Faith and Culture Trends for 2014

January 21, 2014 – In the not-so distant past, institutions were trusted and valued as important parts of a functioning society—from government, corporations and schools to marriage and even organized religion. Yet trust in institutions is quickly giving way to a nation of cynics. New Barna research reports that Americans are ranking their confidence in institutions at abysmal levels. And this institutional skepticism comprises a significant backdrop for the major faith and culture trends of 2014.

This cultural attitude of institutional distrust has not arisen out of nowhere, of course. Public mistrust—generated by a spectrum of events from Watergate to the financial crisis—has been mounting for decades. During 2013 alone, citizens lamented the failure of their leaders and institutions. From the government shutdown to Pope Francis’ public callout of the Vatican bank to the whistleblowing of the NSA to the problematic rollout of Obamacare, Americans were reminded again and again that institutions apparently have a habit of breaking promises. The Associated Press even went so far as to call 2013 “The Year of Dysfunction, Discord and Distrust.”

Still, while tens of millions of adults are questioning the value of institutions, there is also a growing countertrend revealed in new Barna data: increasing resolve among many Americans to advocate for these institutions. This erosion of public trust—as well as the countertrend of supporters of those institutions—underscores three of the major trends that Barna Group has included in the newly released Barna FRAMES project.

1) The role of “church” generates both more skeptics and stronger apologists.

When it comes to the value of a local church, Americans are now essentially lumped into three groups: those who say it is necessary to attend church, those who say it is not, and those who are on the fence about the value of local church participation. What’s surprising is that these three groups roughly divide the country’s adult population in thirds, leading to a tremendous tug-of-war between pro-church and naysayers.

The rising resistance to faith institutions is evidenced in the newer language used to discuss spirituality today. When it comes to matters of the soul, disclaimers are emerging as the new faith identifiers. Today, there are those who self-describe as “spiritual, but not religious”—individuals who like to associate with what they perceive as the positive elements of spirituality but not the negative associations of organized religion. Or consider the rise of the “Nones”—the much-discussed adults who are religiously unaffiliated and who don’t want to use any conventional label for their religious faith. And in many places, the prefix “post-” is being attached to matters of faith. Post-Christian. Post-denominational. Post-evangelical. Post-religious.

So what does all of this mean for church leaders? New Barna research highlights a renewed urgency for spiritual substance—not the worship style, the dress code, or the programs, but the substance of what it means to participate in church. The research shows the top reason people (39%) choose a church is for its teaching. On the opposite end, it’s also the top reason they’d leave a church—63% say they would leave if they disagree with the teachings.

Today’s widespread institutional distrust may also be seen in the fact that while three-quarters of all adults are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life, 40% of unchurched adults say they do not attend because they “find God elsewhere.” This signals that while the search for meaning and spirituality remains strong, so does the skepticism of the church as an infrastructure.


Click here to read the full Barna Group article, or read the summary of their predictions of two other social and cultural trends to look for in 2014 below:


2) Americans wrestle with a culture of violence.

The nation’s institutional distrust is furthered by the fact that when it comes to violence, institutions sworn to protect citizens often seem powerless to prevent violent outbreaks. The Boston bombing, the Newtown school shootings and other horrific displays of violence showed how powerless our society can sometimes be to stop violence.

3) Trust in the public school system is failing.

A third trend for 2014 illustrating institutional distrust hits at the heart of the nation’s future: its children. Every fall, a majority of parents entrust their child’s future anew to the public school systems—but Barna’s research shows more and more are feeling conflicted about this course of action for their child.


About the Author

Ted Resnikoff is the Digital Communications Editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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