Tracy F. Munsil, Ph.D. | June 14, 2023 | CRC | AWVI 2023, George Barna
From the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University
We continue to witness the devastating effects of COVID-19 combined with the societal responses—including government lockdowns, violations of constitutional rights, and church shutdowns—on the faith of Americans.
A new report from the groundbreaking study of faith in post-pandemic America from Dr. George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University identifies three significant areas of spiritual decline since COVID—church attendance, church affiliation, and core beliefs.
For example, the research found that church attendance, a popular indicator of faith in America, dropped significantly. At the onset of the pandemic, 39% of adults attended a Christian church service at least once a week. The new AWVI 2023 numbers indicate a notable decline in such attendance, dipping to 33%.
In addition, according to the post-pandemic research, a majority of Americans—56%—now attend church infrequently or not at all. Prior to the pandemic, that number was only 41%. Weekly church attendance dropped overall during the pandemic, with the youngest generations—Millennials and Gen Xers—being least likely to attend church after the pandemic.
But those aren’t the only indicators of the effects of the pandemic on faith in America. According to the report:
- The number of Americans who self-identify as Christians continued to fall—from 77% in 2017 to a new post-pandemic low of 68%.
- During the pandemic, the biblical worldview, a measure of basic biblical beliefs and behaviors, decreased among all Americans and across all major church groups—including by one-third among evangelicals.
- The group that grew the most as Christianity faltered? The “Don’ts”—people who don’t believe in God, don’t know if there is a God, or don’t care one way or the other—growing from 15% in 2020 to a whopping 22% post-pandemic.
- Perhaps most shocking was the rapid erosion of foundational beliefs among evangelicals, including in areas as basic as the existence of moral absolutes based on God’s word and belief in the sanctity of human life.
According to Len Munsil, President of Arizona Christian University, the research highlights the mounting challenges when it comes to engaging people with the Christian faith, especially younger generations.
“Our nation’s young adults continue to walk away from God’s truth,” Munsil said. “Unfortunately, as they do, they are experiencing the devastating consequences of this spiritual vacuum.”
“Young people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives, for deeper relationships, for something bigger than themselves to believe in and build their lives around,” he said, pointing to earlier CRC research on Millennials,
“Grounding the next generation in God’s truth and building their worldview can help turn these trends around and transform our nation,” he said.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the research reveals a decline in the incidence of a biblical worldview among attendees of evangelical churches, dropping from 21% to 14% since 2020—a decline of one-third, mirroring the national trend.
The report also unveils astonishing statistics related to the theological perspectives of evangelicals.
- Only four out of 10 churchgoers in evangelical churches (41%) contend that human life is sacred, aligning with the finding that barely half of evangelicals (55%) believe that having an abortion for any reason other than protecting the life of the mother or child is morally unacceptable.
- Additional biblical perspectives rejected by a majority of evangelicals include the notion that consistent obedience to God is the best indicator of a successful life (44%) and the belief that world history is God’s story, consistently moving toward the fulfillment of His plan for humanity (48%).
- Shockingly, only half of evangelicals (55%) believe that people are born as sinners and can only be saved through Jesus Christ. The study also notes that one-third of regular attendees in evangelical churches are not born-again Christians.
Similarly, the research found that congregants in mainline Protestant and Catholic churches also demonstrate a lack of views aligned with biblical teachings. Out of the 20 beliefs and behaviors examined, a majority of mainline church attendees display a biblical point of view on only six factors, while a majority of those attending Catholic churches (approximately 17% of the American adult population) embrace just five.
According to Barna, who conducted the research, the findings call for a new strategy to engage people with the Christian faith. “We have reached the point of ‘all hands on deck’ to rescue a hollowed-out Church,” he said.
“What we have been doing for decades—topical preaching series, small group discussions, and the like—clearly is not working,” Barna explained. “We’re at 4% of the adult public, and just one out of every seven born-again Christians, owning a biblical worldview. What do we have to lose by changing our strategy?”
Barna explains that expanding biblical worldview in our nation is imperative, and he suggests starting with emphasizing and teaching the basics of the Christian faith, what he calls the “Seven Cornerstones of the Biblical Worldview.”
As he notes, his research shows that there is a very small likelihood a person will possess a biblical worldview if they don’t embrace these seven cornerstones. And similarly, there is a high likelihood of them having a biblical worldview if they do.
As Barna explains, starting with the Seven Cornerstones is “a simple way to ease people into biblical faith while providing a solid foundation on which to expand and nurture their faith.”
The full American Worldview Inventory 2023, Release #05: “How the Pandemic Reshaped Christian Beliefs and Behaviors,” is available here.