News from Barna

Barna is an evangelical survey group. It just released a new report about Gen Z (13 to 18 years old). But the report contains other news which is more important.

End of Evangelicals

For years, Barna has sown confusion by using an idiosyncratic definition of evangelical. They refused to accept people’s self-identification as evangelicals, the generally accepted definition. Instead, they used a theologically-driven definition based on responses to seven questions about faith. Their “evangelicals” were essentially fundamentalists, and comprised a small subset all evangelicals. But the media often cited Barna’s results on “evangelicals” as if they represented all evangelicals, leading to serious errors.

In this report, without any comment or explanation, Barna dropped the use of “evangelical.” They use a new term, “engaged Christian,” to describe a similar group. (It is different, and not as strictly fundamentalist.) They introduce another term, “churched Christians,” for those who have attended church within the last 6 months but do not meet the requirements for “engaged Christians.” But this strange new category conflates several standard categories which should be kept separate, such as mainline Protestants, self-identified evangelicals, Catholics, and others. Barna not only cut their ties to their historical results, they cut their ties to standard classifications.

“Evangelical” has lost its brand equity after becoming linked with Donald Trump. After being associated with the Moral Majority and then “family values,” the term has now become an oxymoron. But a new label would have been preferable to Barna’s strange new way of viewing the religious landscape.

Gen Z

Barna emphasizes that Gen Z is “the most diverse” generation in American history, and they show in graphic detail that the percentage of whites declines in successive age groups. This is thinly disguised racism. More important is the fact that “Nones” is the top religious category for Gen Z, slightly exceeding “Churched Christians.” While Barna does not show the religious break by age group, I suspect the increase in Nones is more dramatic than the decrease in Whites. It is certainly more meaningful.