I have come to trust and enjoy the work done by the Barna Research group. Barna’s group has just surveyed nearly 627 Protestant pastors, asking them to assess the level of commitment among their church members. Most pastors call the commitment of their church members very high. Just imagine the graphic I’ve included as a pastor signing off in a yearly letter to his bishop, telling the bishop of the high level of commitment of the members of First Church.
The pastors main measure in assessing their congregants commitment was, as reported in the Barna Research group questionnaire, church attendance. Bishop, the pastor might say, "They are hear every Sunday. They obviously have a very deep commitment."
Well, think again. After surveying pastors, Barna’s group then randomly surveyed a 1,002 adults in Protestant churches and the results show a very different level of commitment from what the pastors claimed.
Consider how the Barna report says it:
In contrast to the upbeat pastoral view of people’s faith, a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults was asked the same question – i.e., to
identify their top priority in life – and a very different perspective
emerged. Only one out of every seven adults (15%) placed their faith in God
at the top of their priority list. To make an apples-to-apples comparison,
the survey isolated those who attend Protestant churches and found that even
among that segment of adults, not quite one out of every four (23%) named
their faith in God as their top priority in life.
Some population niches were more likely than others to make God their number
one focus. Among those were evangelicals (51% of whom said their faith in
God was their highest priority), African-Americans (38%) and adults who
attend a house church (34%). The people groups least likely to put God first
were adults under 30 years of age, residents of the Northeast and West, and
those who describe themselves as "mostly liberal" on political and social
Regardless of how the population was evaluated, though, there was no segment
of the adult population that came close to the level of commitment that
Protestant pastors claimed for churchgoers.
Truth is, sharing one’s faith, reaching out to the poor, regular and consistent prayer and Bible study — pretty good assessment measures to gauge a person’s commitment — are often as much a struggle for pastors as their church members. I fear pastors overly optimistic assessment may be a fair bit of wishful thinking for some. Well, we have to keep our job, and our hope! 🙂