Wednesday, September 06, 2006

George Barna's Revolution

I read Barna's book back in March and wrote this about the same time. I saved it as a draft and forgot about it. Here it is, better late than never.

From George Barna's Revolution p. 49

The above is the graphic depiction of what George Barna has labeled the next great age of church history, the Revolutionary Age. I spent the last two weeks reading and underlining and dog-earring pages in Barna's latest work entitled Revolution: Finding vibrant faith beyond the walls of the sanctuary. In a nutshell, Barna's research has led him to the conclusion that the local church, it's attendance, bank roll and importance in the lives of believers and seekers (I don't like that word but don't have a better one) alike, has been and will continue to wane in importance. The lives of those truly trying to follow Christ, as defined by following Christ in the way of the apostles, are being shaped by influences other than the local church. Barna contends that "there is nothing infherently wrong with being involved in a local church but association with a church no more makes you a follower of Christ than "being in Yankee stadium makes you a professional baseball player."

Barna refers to those who are at the heart of this movement as Revolutionaries. He lays out seven traits of the early church which are, according to Barna, at the heart of the Revolution as a movement and the Revolutionary as the individual. He also draws upon his years of polling and research to see how the local church measures up to the early church.

Every believer was expected to worship, not attend a service but a commitment to respond to the greatness and glory of God, every day, both in private and in the company of other believers.
For those who participate in a local church... Worship happens only in the context of a service once or twice a week. Only 50% of all Christ followers say they have entered into God's presence in the last year.
Faith based conversations pour out of the revolutionary; springing from the very excitement that one has about their own relationship with Christ.
For those who participate in a local church...Most will die without leading a single person to Christ. Most cite lacking the gift of evangelism as rationale for not sharing Christ's love with others.
Intentional spiritual Growth happens as individuals actively pursue it; not sit back and wait for it to happen.
For those who participate in a local church...Most spend more time in a year doing just about anything else (t.v., music, hobbies, reading other books) than reading the bible. Success is hardly ever defined in terms of their relationship to God.
Servanthood Nothing reflects Christ, his love and his message more than selfless of acts of service
For those who participate in a local church...Most would rather give money than be personally involved in helping someone. Only one out of four in the local church actually serves others and in most cases it is other congregates
Resource Investment The apostles shared "everything"as they had need as good managers of what God had entrusted to them.
For those who participate in a local church...The average yearly donations total roughly %3 and that is self perceived as sacrificially generous.
Spiritual Friendships Intentional relationships built on accountability and encouragement were the one of the centerpieces of the early church
For those who participate in a local church...The biggest influencers are the law, media and other family members. Fewer than 1 in 6 have an intentional spiritual relationship.
Family Faith The home was the primary vehicle for spiritual growth and development of all family members.
For those who participate in a local church...Fewer than 10% worship, pray or study the bible together outside of church. Most families feel they are not doing a good job at spiritually growing their children

The bottom-line according to Barna is that placing all our hope in the local church is "misplaced hope." The implication is that because the local church, as Modern America has constructed it, does not look like the early church and is not sufficient unto itself to support and/or facilitate life in the way of Jesus; the Revolution. As Barna himself writes, "A healthy local church will always have a valid and valuable role within God's kingdom...The revolution is about recognizing that we are not called to go to church. We are called to be the church."

The Revolution also marks a departure from the other major movements within the church. According to Barna, " it's impetus [The Revolution] is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recomittment of believers...In the end the Revolution transforms believers so that they can transform the world." This is the part of the book with which I have the greatest trouble. If the Church, those who call themselves Christ followers, becomes completely introspective (which I take Barna's use of the word impetus to mean) it will have failed. Our natural inclinations, are always to turn inward. We want to surround ourselves with people who look like us and act like us and think like us. This type of mindset quickly becomes us and them. This mindset is antithetical to Jesus' ministry. Jesus had hard words for the religious people of his day for just such a mindset. Jesus' impetus was "to seek and save what is lost." In my mind, the bottom line on this issue is the Christ follower's job is "to make disciples of all nations," believer, seeker or otherwise.

Barna suggests local churches have 2 responses to the revolution: 1) Fight it and defend turf, territory and traditions but he adds why fight it? Barna's interpretation of scripture is that the modern church, as we have constructed it, is absent from scripture. He relies on several passages from the Book of Acts as a blue print for the Church. (Acts 2:42-47, 4:24, 31-35, 5:17-18, 27-29, 40-42) The requirement that he points out is one of continual worship in spirit and in truth. Therefore, whether someone is connecting with God and other believers on blogs, in a Starbucks or within the walls of a church does not matter.

So in reality, in Barna's mind there is only one choice; figure out how to become part of the Revolution.

There is much that desreve close analysis in Barna's effort. I see real life people and their stories that match Barna's data. Sadly, I see how the modern church does not reflect the early church. But I am not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. Barna paints a utopian picture of revolutionaries and their impact on the world. Are there people out there who are completely sold out for the cause of Christ? Absolutely. Is it possible for people to grow in Christlikeness outside of a "church" context? Sometimes. I appreciate Barna's book as a reality check. The seven passions of a revoltutionary are things, that as Christ followers, we should all be passionate about. How I am doing as an individual in these seven areas? How is the church that I am part of doing? What can I do to make these seven things happen in my context? What should I stop doing that might allow these seven things to happen? However, it almost feels as if Barna is encouraging folks to leave their churches in search of Christ. Even more than that, if you are serious about Jesus than you must leave the local church. He throws in the occasional, well sure there are churches that are healthy and those are good. It feels almost like a token gesture.

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zane anderson said...

Most pastors which I know pray often to father and to encourage "revolutionaries for Jesus." I don't see why they couldn't coexist. Why must they leave and do it alone?

Barna's numbers, btw, have been called into question by Time Magazine and others. Personally, they look way out of range.

A fellow bumbler. Godspeed!

RC said...

i agree, i'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bath water either...

and I think there are ways to join the revolution that provide for a healthy future and continuation of the church.

Barna's model for Revolution is very real...and yet, I fear without the local church at all Sprituality in the US will be like it is in many post-Christian countries (like France, Norway, etc.)

--RC of