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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Need a New Term

This is quite interesting. Barna has just come out with a new study on how people in the US describe their religious commitments, and the statistics vary widely depending on how you ask the question. When someone calls himself a Christian, what does he really mean?
  • Overall, 80% of adults in the U.S. call themselves "Christian."
  • In comparison, the phrase "a committed Christian" is embraced by two out of every three adults (68%).
  • The words "born again Christian" are adopted by just less than half of the population (45%).
  • A two-part description of a person’s faith, in which they say they "have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important" in their life today, and in which they claim they will go to Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, is also claimed by just less than half (44%).

    (This latter definition has been used by The Barna Group for nearly two decades to describe "born again" people without using the term "born again" in its surveys.)
Now, while you're thinking about that. Consider this: people evidently lie to pollsters when asked about their religious commitments:
  • 17% of American adults say that they tithe (give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do.
  • Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who regularly attend a religious service is about 40% in the U.S., 20% in Canada, and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half the stated figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.) The 50% figure also appears to apply in the UK.

    Author Monica Furlong commented: "...people questioned about how much they go to church, give figures which, if true, would add up to twice those given by the churches."
So maybe its time to start looking for a new term/definition... any suggestions?

Of course this also raises an interesting question: How come so many people want to be called "Christian" (regardless of their actual practice, beliefs, etc)? And why are people so offended if you suggest that someone is NOT a "Christian"?


At 10:51 AM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Heath said...

I think the big thing about people calling them selves Christians but not practicing it is that people want to be or know that they are spirtual beings. In my personal experiance people often have said that they are spiritual but not religious. Of course most of the people who say this would not say they are a Christian, but aren't the people who say they are a Christian but dont practice it saying the same thing?

So to keep going with this point and answer your need of a new term, how about Church Going Christian (CGC), or Active Church Member Christian (ACMC). Just a thought.


At 11:37 AM, November 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The larger numbers may be a result of how an person sees himself or herself in the meaning of the term "Christian," as below:
Chris·tian (krĭs'chən)
Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
Showing a loving concern for others; humane.
One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

If a person's teaching is limited to the dictionary alone, they could call themselves a Christian.

At 5:35 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Daniel Nairn said...

What a confused nation we live in ...

There was a poll a couple of years ago, where people were asked to check off whether they believed that list of certain people would go to heaven or not. The list included everyone from Billy Graham and Mother Theresa to Hitler. The interesting thing is that "yourself" was also one of the selections. As it turned out, "yourself" scored the highest by far out of anyone, followed by Mother Theresa in a distant second.

At 8:18 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

I know exactly what you mean. From Barna research (Oct 21, 2003):

– 81% of Americans believe in life after death
- 76% believe in heaven
– 71% believe in hell
- BUT... only ½ of 1% think they are going there

In other words, "there are lots of rotten people out there (many of whom deserve to go to Hell), but I'm not one of them"

I'm wondering if a term like "followers of Christ" or "Christ-followers" might be a more effective label...

At 8:46 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger rs said...

that's what they call themselves in New Life Masih Ghar (church plant among South Asians in London). South Asians associate "Christian" with all western people and they associate western people with loose and licentious living, so Christian doesn't work too well.

On the other hand, South Asians have a high respect for Jesus, so Jesus followers works pretty well. I'm pretty partial to what the early Christians were called, "members of the Way." I like that for some reason and have associated "way" into my screen names for some time.

At 10:58 PM, November 30, 2005, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

But how would this change in referance manifest itself in communion with the catholic church as a whole?

My experiance has been that by changing the language of identification, an organization is setting itself up for seperation. World history pretty much bears this out in spades, though does anyone know of any exceptions? I would be interested if there were.

And do we want to draw that line of seperation from other fellow believers?

To say "you are a christian, but I am A CHRISTIAN."

Having been there and done that, I am as leary as a three pawed coyote sniffing at hamburger....

At 10:17 PM, December 01, 2005, Blogger Justin Dombrowski said...

The stats don't fly at all. The math is totally fudged. They surveyed only 1002 adults nationwide. They say that's representative--but anyone whose studied any statistics at all knows you'd have to make an awful lot of sketchy assumptions to say a sample of 1000 adult Americans represents 150 million or so, especially with a 95% confidence interval--that is, that ~.001% (super-optimistically) of US adults represents the rest. No way Jose.

I think we'd better check our data before we rush to new names. But I'd agree, Christians could definitely use some image-boosting.

At 8:02 AM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Justin! I haven't heard anyone question the Barna's methodology (I don't think he's all that different from a secular researcher... of course, that may not be saying to much).

Just based on personal experience, however, I find his results pretty realistic. There are a lot of people who claim the tag "Christian" (and hardly anyone who thinks they're headed for Hades). And yet very few of those "Christians" have anything resembling an active faith commitment in Christ.

There seems to be a lot of faith in the generic, universalistic "goodness of God" (and a corresponding faith in the "worthiness of Me"). Many of these folks would call themselves Christians. But I suspect far fewer would describe themselves as "followers of Christ" (let alone actually try and reorganize their lives around him as a guiding principle for how they live).

Most Americans are more American than they are Christian. And that's part of what makes me desire a new term.

Like Ryan, I like "the Way" (but there was a psuedo cultic group that went by that name back in the late 70s and early 80s, so I'm a little leery of it).

Like Aegidius, I want to be real careful that we don't coin some term to set ourselves apart from everyone else, as being better-super-REAL Christians. But I am interested in changing the terms of the debate to try and get to more meaningful discussions about what it actually means to be a Christian.

So here's to all those three pawed coyotes sniffing hamburger...

At 9:26 PM, December 02, 2005, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I'm glad the Disciples did not follow statistics. They just followed Jesus.


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