Shared Vision, Renewed Friendship Lead to the Launch of the Cultural Research Center

The seeds for the University’s new biblical worldview research institute—the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University—were planted almost two decades ago.

The year was 2002.

ACU President Len Munsil was leading the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), the nation’s largest pro-family state policy organization, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. George Barna was running the research organization he founded in 1984, The Barna Group, which conducted cutting-edge research on faith and culture.

It was the night of the annual CAP dinner. Barna delivered the keynote speech, sharing his research depicting America’s precipitous decline in biblical worldview. Fewer Americans were thinking biblically, even those who regularly attended church.

Speaking at the close of the evening, Munsil’s remarks built on Barna’s message.

Without a return to God and His principles, Munsil explained, the moral and spiritual challenges facing America would continue and worsen. Munsil contended that changing the course of the nation would not happen through politics or policy. True transformation, he said, would only come through God moving in our nation, bringing about a return to biblical truth. Foregoing the usual appeal for funds, Munsil instead asked the nearly 1,000 in attendance that night to join him and others in 21 consecutive days of noon-time prayer.

Although the two had never met before appearing on stage that night, they quickly discovered a shared vision of God restoring America to its biblical foundations.

Years passed and the two men saw each other on occasion, connecting through a telephone call or email. Each spent their time working and building, focusing on the piece of vision God had given them. For Munsil this meant advocating for public policy to strengthen faith, family and freedom. And for Barna, it was researching the state of the biblical worldview in American culture.

But God was about to orchestrate a reconnection. In March of 2019—almost two decades after that first dinner event—the two shared the stage again, this time speaking to key supporters of Arizona Christian University.

Much had changed in the intervening years. Barna had sold the Barna Group and emerged as one of the nation’s leading researchers on worldview and culture. Munsil left CAP to run for governor of Arizona and was now president of Arizona Christian University.

In their presentations at the 2019 event, President Munsil shared his vision for educating Christian leaders of influence and excellence at ACU, while Barna shared his latest worldview research showing the need for a return to a biblical worldview, especially among young people.

The next day, Barna and his wife Nancy, and President Munsil and his wife Tracy reconnected over coffee—and discovered the vision they had carried for so many years was ready to be re-envisioned
and reignited.

That shared vision of transforming culture with biblical truth had come full circle. And the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University was born.

“Partnering with our friend George Barna to create the Cultural Research Center was a natural extension of ACU’s vision,” President Munsil explained. “We’d both been advocating for cultural transformation for decades in different ways, and as we reconnected, this next step of working together became obvious. We knew it was something we were supposed to do.”

Dr. George Barna, CRC Director of Research; ACU President Len Munsil; Dr. Tracy F. Munsil, CRC Executive Director

Dr. Tracy Munsil, a long-time ACU professor who now serves as Executive Director of the Cultural Research Center (CRC), agreed. “As the four of us talked, we all recognized how God was leading. We began brainstorming about what worldview research might look like in our academic setting. And we started getting excited about how George’s expertise would not only enhance ACU’s worldview efforts, but how all of this might open a way to dramatically increase biblical worldview across the nation.”

A few months later, in August 2019, the CRC was formed and Barna stepped in as Director of Research. Getting a veteran researcher of Barna’s caliber, experience and reputation would be key to the new organization’s success. He had already written more than 50 books, including a number of New York Times bestsellers. And having taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level, he was familiar with higher education.

“Having felt called to spend my remaining years focused on worldview measurement and development, in the context of cultural transformation, there is no place that could be a better fit for me,” Barna commented. “I had been looking for a group with those two objectives as their driving force for years. When the Munsils and others introduced me to the school’s mission, vision, history, ethos and transformational potential, it became the answer to my prayers.”

The Cultural Research Center’s mission is two-fold. First, to help ACU more effectively equip students with a biblical worldview, so they understand and live according to God’s truth. Second, to provide educators, churches, ministries and other partners with informed research and practical, strategic resources to effectively build biblical worldview and engage in cultural transformation.

“It is exciting to be able to translate a heady concept like ‘worldview’ into something that is practical and hands-on for every believer,” Barna said. “Ultimately we want people to think like Jesus so they can live like Jesus. That’s what a biblical worldview enables people to do; move from simply gaining head knowledge to both knowing and applying the Bible’s life principles to daily action and influencing every dimension of life.”

The CRC’s first year was a busy one. Since launching in March 2020, the CRC established two key research initiatives. The first was the American Worldview Inventory 2020, a yearly national research study measuring the worldview of American adults.

The second was the ACU Student Worldview Inventory (SWVI), designed to measure the development of student worldview—making ACU the only university in the world to actually measure and analyze the biblical worldview development of its student body.

Designed by Barna in collaboration with ACU faculty and administrators, the SWVI specifically measures the worldview of all ACU students, while also identifying ways to improve the effectiveness of academic and spiritual life programs at the University.

“CRC is working on a lot of exciting new projects, but the Student Worldview Inventory may be the most important to the University’s mission,” President Munsil said. “We hear about students losing their faith while in college—but at ACU, we’re committed to doing all we can to make sure students actually strengthen their biblical worldview during their time here.”

In addition to the worldview inventories, the CRC is also releasing information from a post-election survey of Americans, and in 2021 preparing to launch the first-ever national study of “competing worldviews.” Through the research performed in the AWVI 2020, the CRC found that only 6% of U.S. adults possess a biblical worldview. The 2021 version of the American Worldview Inventory will identify the most common competing worldviews (such as Marxism-Socialism, secularism, postmodernism, modern mysticism, and others) embraced by American adults. Those findings will be released beginning in April.

As President Munsil noted, “the CRC is off to a great start—doing reliable research, laying the foundation for future study, and creating powerful new resources for biblical worldview development, while at the same time growing a national following and reaching hundreds of thousands of people through Dr. Barna’s dozens of monthly media appearances.”

“Considering the amazing way the CRC came into existence at ACU,” President Munsil said, “we can’t wait to see what God will do next.”