Most Americans believe churches play a positive role in
communities, and even atheists and agnostics don’t view churches harshly.
A Barna Group study released July 13 revealed a generally upbeat attitude among
the public regarding how churches influence their areas. The study revealed
that 78 percent of Americans believe the presence of a church has a “very” (53
percent) or “somewhat” positive (25 percent) effect on their communities.
“Those with the most favorable views of churches are elders (ages 66-plus),
married adults, residents of the South, women, Protestants, churchgoers,
African-Americans and political conservatives,” the study said.
Among the approximately one-fifth of Americans who disagree, 17 percent profess
indifference toward the influence of churches, while one in 20 believe churches
play an either very (2 percent) or somewhat (3 percent) negative role in
communities, the study revealed. It noted those least likely to view churches
positively include Mosaics (ages 18-27), men, never-married adults, atheists
and agnostics, the unchurched, political liberals, those living in the West and
Northwest, and those not registered to vote.
While atheists and agnostics were the only key demographic group not to hold a
mostly positive view of churches, Barna Group President David Kinnaman noted
that only 14 percent of them viewed churches negatively.
“Despite the aggressive posture of leading skeptics, most Americans who have no
religious affiliation or belief are not overtly hostile to churches,” Kinnaman
Barna also asked the 1,021 adults surveyed how churches could benefit their
communities. The three most common ways respondents said churches could help
were by assisting the poor and addressing poverty (29 percent), cultivating
biblical values (14 percent) and serving youth, families and the elderly (13
Common ministry activities like teaching the Bible and
giving spiritual direction came next (12 percent), followed by assisting those
in recovery (10 percent) and addressing workplace, financial and educational
issues (7 percent). Very small percentages answered that churches should be
inclusive and accepting of everyone (3 percent), while only 1 percent of
respondents said churches should contribute to their community by being engaged
politically. One-fifth of those asked didn’t give a response.
Among Kinnaman’s conclusions from the research are that even the unchurched
view churches as important to their communities.
“This positive view is partly due to the fact that most unchurched adults are
de-churched, or former churchgoers,” he said. “So, although they may be wary of
personal involvement, they have an understanding of the service and assistance
that churches can provide to their communities.”
Kinnaman also noted that most Americans don’t seem to connect serving the
community with telling individuals about Christ.
“Ministry-related goals — such as teaching the Bible, introducing people to
Christ and bringing people to salvation — are infrequently viewed as a primary
way to serve the community,” he said. “Even among many churchgoers,
contributing positively to the community is perceived to be the result of
offering the right mix of public service programs. Yet, this seems to miss an
important biblical pattern: you change communities by transforming lives.”