- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

George Barna says he is trying to be more than a man with all the right numbers. Since 1984, he has gathered statistics about the state of Christianity in America through the Barna Research Group, which is one of the five divisions of his Ventura, Calif.-based Barna Group Ltd.

Although Mr. Barna has distributed oodles of statistics about specific demographics and their spiritual health, he says he has become frustrated that the institutional church hasn’t used the information as a call to action.

“The previous strategy that we had is that we would be the information gatherer and interpreter for the church at large,” Mr. Barna says. “We would deliver the information to leaders in the Christian community and expect them to run with it. What we found is that most church leaders didn’t run with it. They quoted it, but didn’t convert it into meaningful activity.”

Among the trends he has delineated through his research — and reported in his new book “Revolution” — Mr. Barna found that in 2000, 70 percent of Americans experienced and expressed their faith through their local church, 5 percent through alternative faith-based communities, 5 percent through their families, and 20 percent through media, arts and culture.

By 2025, Mr. Barna predicts that 30 percent to 35 percent will experience and express their faith through the local church, with equal amounts looking to alternative faith-based communities and media, arts and culture. Five percent will still experience and express their faith through their families, he says.

“The church is radically changing,” Mr. Barna says. “People aren’t as interested in buildings and programs. They are interested in things that constitute value for their lives.”

As a result, in 2003, Mr. Barna decided to restructure his business, to put to use the information he collected.

Apart from the research group, he added four divisions — BarnaBooks, a publishing company; the Josiah Corps, providing leadership development for young people; Transformation Church Network, which works with churches; and BarnaFilms.

Church Communication Network in Mountain View, Calif.; EMI Christian Music Group in Brentwood, Tenn.; FilmDisc in Spokane, Wash.; HollywoodJesus.com; Kingdom Inc. in Mansfield, Pa.; and Tyndale House Publishers Inc. in Carol Stream, Ill., are among Mr. Barna’s partners.

In December, Mr. Barna will start a program through BarnaFilms called Barna Films Preview Night. Four times a year, he plans to offer previews of outstanding films similar to “Ben Hur,” “Chariots of Fire” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

The first preview night will be Dec. 8 and will feature Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media LLC’s “The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” The movie, based on the book by renowned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, opens to the general public Dec. 9.

Mr.Barna’s showings, which will be held in selected theaters nationwide, will feature films that he thinks will educate and inspire Americans, especially those involved in faith, civic and educational institutions. Organizations will be able to buy a block of tickets to distribute to places such as churches, ministries, schools and colleges.

For instance, Mosaic, a church in Los Angeles with a congregation of many artistic people, bought all the seats at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for the preview of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Mosaic, led by the Rev. Erwin McManus, uses all forms of media in its ministry. It spent about $30,000 on tickets for the event, he says.

“It’s an effort for us to communicate in a fresh way that the church is not against creativity,” Mr. McManus says. “Creativity is the natural result of spirituality. We look for ways to integrate the human spirit, imagination, creativity and beauty.”

Although the necessity of engaging the media and the arts has been obvious to Mr. McManus, he says Mr. Barna’s work has been an important awakening for other Christian leaders.

“The church is filled with people who are the last to see the world is different,” Mr. McManus says. “They are not going to change without information to validate it. Once you have a researcher showing you trends, those trends have existed for a long time.”

The church across the United States, like many institutions, has maintained a status quo, which makes it difficult to change and move in a new direction, says the Rev. Randy Frazee, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.

“If there was a village experiencing a plague, George feels like he has the information necessary for the serum to solve the problem to make the people of the village feel better,” Mr. Frazee says. “I think George has gotten to the point of saying, ‘If you’re not going to be faithful stewards of the information, then I’m going to inject the serum.’”

According to research, people are leaving the local church not because they want less of God, but because they want more of God, Mr. Barna says.

In addition to experiences with movies, television and music, they are strengthening their faith through cyber churches, house churches, marketplace ministries and prayer meetings.

“They have come to the point that they decide, ‘God has to be my top priority. I have to figure out how to do that,’” he says. “When they stand before God, they can’t use the excuse, ‘Don’t blame me. My church didn’t give me that.’”

Because many people want to get closer to God, they are reconstructing their personal faith experiences, he says. He wants to help them on their journey.

“We want to provide the tools that people need to minister most effectively and to grow spiritually,” Mr. Barna says. “There’s a growing and fairly intense desire to have more of God.”

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