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Revolution: The Changing Face of Faith in America

Revolution: The Changing Face of Faith in America

Sean McDowell


The following is a summary of Barna's new book and does not imply endorsement of any kind.


            A quiet revolution is brewing in America.  Like the information revolution, sexual revolution, feminist revolution, Protestant revolution and others, this revolution will radically reshape American culture.  So, what is this revolution? George Barna puts it this way in his new book Revolution: "The revolution of faith that is swelling within the soul of America is no different in scope.  It will affect you and everyone you know.  Every social institution will be affected.  This is not simply a movement; it is a full-scale reengineering of the role of faith in personal lives, the religious community, and the society as large" (102).This spiritual revolution will reshape Christianity, personal faith, corporate religious experience, and the moral contours of the nation.

            In our culture of busyness, loneliness, and fragmentation millions of followers of Jesus are seeking for a more authentic and awe-inspiring faith.  These revolutionaries have no use for churches that play religious games that drone out the presence of God or ministry programs that bear no fruit. They are embarrassed by the lack of holiness in the lives of many Christians and they get frustrated by people who use ministry for personal gain.  Barna sums up their philosophy: "Millions of devout followers of Jesus Christ are repudiating tepid systems and practices of the Christian faith and introducing a wholesale shift in how faith is understood, integrated and influencing the world" (11). Why is such a revolution needed?

The State of the Church Today

            In his new book Revolution, Barna asks a tough question for those who care deeply about the church: "If the local church is God's answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most churched Christians so spiritually immature and desperate (30)? Barna bases his question on the research that continually shows little difference between the lives of those who are professed believers and those who are not. Consider a few of his examples:

Ø      The typical churched believer will die without leading a single person to a lifesaving knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ.

Ø      Only 9 percent of born-again adults have a biblical worldview

Ø      Less than 1 in 10 of churched Christians give at least 10 percent of their income to the church or other non-profit organizations.

Ø      Most believers would rather give money to a cause than personally help themselves

Ø      Only one out of every four churched believers say that when they worship they expect God to be the primary beneficiary of their worship (most are focused on themselves).

            Barns sums up his conclusions about the state of the local church: "We spent several years searching for evidence that God was at work changing lives through churches and discovering how that process worked.  While we certainly found some wonderful examples, I was stunned-and deeply disappointed-at how relatively rare such instances were" (53).  Barna does not cite such statistics to bash the church but to make the point that "if we place all our hope in the local church, it is a misplaced hope." Rather, Barna says, "Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the hope of the world" (36). While the church is one mechanism that can certainly bring life-transforming faith, as a whole the church is not doing the job.  Interestingly, the Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today.  These structures were created centuries after the time of Christ. 

The church is not biblical or unbiblical, it is simply abiblical-an organization not described in the Bible.  Barna makes a distinction between the "church," which he describes as the contemporary local church with the "Church"-the people who actively participate in the intentional advancement of God's Kingdom in partnership with the Holy Spirit and other believers.  To sum up his view of the revolution Barna states, "The Revolution is about recognizing that we are not called to go to church.  We are called to be the Church" (39).

While statistics may indicate that the local church is in trouble, there seems to be a growing number of mini-movements that are transforming lives.  These movements include homeschooling, cyberchurches, house churches, biblical worldview groups, various marketplace ministries, and much more.

Trends Driving this Revolution

            Barna cites seven prevailing trends that are shaping the moral and spiritual revolution in America (42-47):

  1. New Leadership: The leaders of the Baby Boomer and Builder generations are being replaced by Baby Busters and Mosaics.  Over the next decade, many of these new leaders will gain positions of power and reshape Christianity.

  2. A New View of Life: America is now a postmodern society that rejects objective truth in morality and religion.  Truth is now whatever you believe, or whatever "works" in your life. Few believers are reflective of this live-and-let-live philosophy that is reshaping the spiritual lives of Americans.

  3. A Hunger for the "Real": While the Baby Boomer generation demanded excellence in everything, younger people today desire authenticity.  Young people have very little patience for irrelevance.  If a truth does not directly relate to their lives, then they view it as irrelevant.

  4. Technology: Few of our daily experiences have remained outside the influence of recent technologies.  Technology has reshaped communication, business, education, entertainment, as well as our experience of spirituality and faith.

  5. The Desire for Relationships: Baby Busters and Mosaics desire deeper relationships rather than superficial acquaintances.  They care more about stories and authenticity than a 3-step plan for excellence.

  6. The Desire for a Hands-on Approach: More people have the desire to make a positive contribution to the world rather than sit back and endure what the world throws at them. The popularity of small groups and short-term missions is outgrowth of this desire for a hands-on approach to life and ministry.

  7. Seeking True Meaning: While every generation of people has sought the meaning of life, the fragmentation of today's technological age has created a deeper hunger in the lives of many Americans.  Many sense a heightened struggle for the purpose of life.

Because of these changes, Barna predicts that the spiritual profile of our nation will look radically different by 2025.  Specifically, he predicts that only about 1/3 of the Christian population will rely upon the "local church" as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing their faith (currently it is 70%).  Another third of the population will rely upon a faith-based community, and another third will experience their faith through the media, the arts, and other cultural institutions.

Why is the Revolution Happening?

The primary reason Barna cites for such a radical change in the spiritual practices of Americans is the culturally-engrained insistence upon choice and the desire to have customized experiences.  America is facing a "niching" process for everything from television channels, fashion, investing, automobiles, as well as their spiritual practices.

Just a generation ago the spiritual lives of most Americans was very predictable: on Sunday morning families went to Sunday school, and then flowed into the main service.  They might participate in a Bible study group or family service on Wednesday evening and possibly a potluck dinner on Sunday night.  But today, Barna notes, "It's virtually impossible to craft a "typical" spiritual pattern, especially among people under the age of forty" (64).  Increasing numbers of youth and young adults are creating personalized "church" models from the Internet, television, and diversified social networks. 

Will some other macro-model come along and replace the local church? According to Barna, this does not seem likely: "Ultimately, we expect to see believers choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal 'church' of the individual" (66).

Why the Revolution Matters

            This new Spiritual Revolution is not like the former faith revolutions in America.  Rather, this new Revolution is not primarily about the salvation of unbelievers but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers.  This new Revolution is truly a grassroots movement that will impact every Christian in America.  It will lead to more accountable and responsibility to the individual Christian for his or her own spiritual growth.  Individual believers will become much more involved in helping the poor, promoting the gospel, and in living the Gospel on a daily basis. 

            The changes in the Church will also echo into American culture as a whole.  Christian school, colleges and seminaries will be forced to be relevant and pragmatic or move over.  The Protestant work ethic will increase and it will be much harder for mass culture to stereotype Christians because their criticisms will ring hollow. Those who pollute American culture with filth will face a powerful backlash.

            Barna is quick to note that his prediction of the future of the Church is not a utopian vision: "All of this might come off sounding as if all evil will be whisked away and only gentility, civility, love and goodness will remain.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Life will remain a war zone.  Until Jesus Christ returns, the battle will rage on" (109-110).

Questions to Ponder

            If Barna is right about the future of the Church, then those of us who desire to have an impact on people for the cause of Christ must consider how we will respond.  I invite you to consider a few questions for your own life and ministry.

  1. How will you respond to the revolution? Are you open to new ways that God may be working to transform people in the near future? Are you willing to think creatively about how to meet the needs of the changing landscape of America? Will you embrace biblical forms of ministry that may seem unorthodox by today's standards?

  2. Will you teach and model a biblical worldview?  If we are going to impact the world for Christ, each of us must personally have a developed biblical worldview.  Barna states, "The soldiers in this Revolutionary band must champion the breadth and profundity of the worldview God provides" (88).  Do you invest time and energy in learning to think biblically? Do you challenge the people God has put in your sphere of influence to love God with their minds?

  3. Will you follow the example of Jesus? Are you willing to be a genuine imitator of Christ? Will you love people selflessly, give of yourself sacrificially, and treat people-even your enemies-with the dignity that Jesus did? Are you willing to stand up for truth, even if it costs you everything?


Sean McDowell teaches high school at Capistrano Valley Christian in southern California.  His recent book, Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World helps youth think biblically about the most pressing ethical issues of today. Sean is a frequent speaker at Worldview Weekends nationwide.  Sean's bio and availability for speaking events can be seen at


*This article is a summary of Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary

George Barna (Tyndale, 2005)