Barna lists 12 most significant religious findings from 2006 surveys

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VENTURA, Calif. — Even though George Barna has been conducting national public opinion surveys for a quarter-century, surprises emerge each year from those studies. The California-based researcher traditionally ends each year by identifying some of the unexpected and most significant findings of the passing year. Barna, the founder of the Barna group, has released his list of the 12 most noteworthy results of 2006 and described a few themes that ran through this year's surveys.

• Although large majorities of the public claim to be "deeply spiritual" and say that their religious faith is "very important" in their life, only 15 percent of those who regularly attend a Christian church ranked their relationship with God as the top priority in their life. As alarming as that finding was, its significance was magnified by research showing that on average pastors believe that 70 percent of the adults in their congregation consider their relationship with God to be their highest priority in life.

• Three out of every four teenagers have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity. Among the most common of those endeavors are using a Ouija board, reading books about witchcraft or Wicca, playing games involving sorcery or witchcraft, having a "professional" do a palm reading or having their fortune told. Conversely, during the past year fewer than three out of every 10 churched teenagers had received any teaching from their church about elements of the supernatural.

• The notion of personal holiness has slipped out of the consciousness of the vast majority of Christians. While just 21percent of adults consider themselves to be holy, by their own admission large numbers have no idea what "holiness" means and only one out of every three (35 percent) believe that God expects people to become holy.

• The growing movement of Christian Revolutionaries in the U.S. distinguished themselves from an already-select group of people—born-again Christians—through their deeds, beliefs and self-views. Revolutionaries demonstrated substantially higher levels of community service, financial contributions, daily Bible study, personal quiet times each day, family Bible studies, daily worship experiences, engagement in spiritual mentoring, and evangelistic efforts. They also had a series of beliefs that were much more likely than those of typical born-again adults to coincide with biblical teachings. Their self-perceptions were also dramatically different than that of other born-again adults.

• Involvement in a house church is rapidly growing, although the transition is occurring with some trepidation: four out of every five house church participants maintain some connection to a conventional church as well.

• Evaluating spiritual maturity remains an elusive process for clergy as well as individuals. Across the nation, the only measure of spiritual health used by at least half of all pastors was the extent of volunteer activity or ministry involvement. Adults were no more consistent in their self-examination of their spirituality.

• Most Americans have a period of time during their teen years when they are actively engaged in a church youth group. However, Barna's tracking of young people showed that most of them had disengaged from organized religion during their 20s.

• A comparison of people's faith before and after the September 11 terrorist attack showed that five years after the momentous day, none of the 19 faith measures studied had undergone statistically significant change. Those measures covered aspects such as religious behaviors, beliefs, spiritual commitment and self-identity.

• Seven out of 10 parents claim they are effective at developing the spiritual maturity of their children, but the Barna survey among 8- to-12-year-olds discovered that only one-third of them say a church has made "a positive difference" in their life; one-third contend that prayer is very important in their life; most of them would rather be popular than to do what is morally right. In fact, "tweeners" (those ages 8 to 12) deem their family to be vitally important in their life, but just 57 percent said they look forward to spending time with their family and only one out of every three say it is easy for them to talk to their parents about things that matter to them.

• Relatively few people—just one out of every six—believe that spiritual maturity is meant to be developed within the context of a local church or within the context of a community of faith.

• Five of the highest-profile Christian leaders—Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and T.D. Jakes—were unknown to a majority of the population. Most of those leaders were also unknown to most born-again Christians.

• The faith contours of America continue to shift substantially over the course of time. The proportion of adults who are born again has risen dramatically in the past quarter century, from 31 percent to 45 percent. During the past two decades, every spiritual behavior has fluctuated significantly, with recent upsurges in Bible reading, church attendance and small group involvement.

For more information, including visible patterns determined by researchers, visit barna.org.