Average Church: Beliefs

According to Barna, the American church is facing serious challenges. Fewer Americans are attending church and those under thirty-five are increasingly apathetic towards organized religion. As a result, the vast majority of churches are shrinking in size. When church growth is compared to the growth of its surrounding community, ninety percent of churches are in decline. By 2050, fifty percent of the population will be religious nones.*

These facts are focused on church attendance—the part of church life that’s easily counted and measured—but what’s happening behind those numbers? What are the beliefs that the average church holds and what do they indicate about the future of the church?

REVEAL for Church has been examining the Church’s internals for over a decade. Over 2,000 churches and half a million individuals have participated in the survey which measures spiritual beliefs, faith disciplines, and faith-in-action. Since churches from every denomination and context have taken the survey, a composite picture of the American church has emerged that’s unlike any other. The image is both compelling and troubling.

In this series, I’ll examine the database averages for each section: beliefs, faith disciplines, and faith-in-action. Each post will uncover new challenges and demand action that’s strategic, specific, and focused on application.

Today, the focus is beliefs. Beliefs are important. My friend Dave teaches the BVB’s (beliefs, values, behavior)…in short, out of our beliefs we develop values and out of our values we act (behave). So, for behavioral change to occur, we must first change our beliefs and values.

Consider the following statistics. Again, these are taken from REVEAL’s database average of over 500,000 church attenders of all denominations.

1. 66% believe that salvation is by grace. This measures the belief the belief that salvation comes by grace, through faith as a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).  It is not something we earn through good works, religion, or morality. In other words, without Jesus’ work on the cross we couldn’t be saved.

2. 64% believe in a personal God. This measures the belief that God desires to know and be known by humans (John 17:3).

3. 51% believe in the authority of Scripture. This measures the belief that the Bible has decisive authority over our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

To state these another way, a full 1/3 church goers believe salvation can be earned, nearly 1/3 believe God is impersonal, and over half do not believe the Bible is authoritative.  

Though these beliefs reveal a big problem, there’s a bigger one that churches must face: lack of awareness. Since most churches do not know what their people believe, they can’t effectively speak into those convictions.  Without a tool like REVEAL, pastors and church leaders rely on limited experience to guess what their people believe. For obvious reasons, their conclusions are typically overly optimistic. 

After the challenge of awareness is met, most pastors and church leaders don’t know how to effectively enact change. In fact, since most have already addressed these core beliefs in sermons, classes, and small groups, many toss up their hands in frustration.

Change at the belief level isn’t easy. Just like babies don’t grow by being sprayed with milk, core beliefs aren’t changed by “spraying truth” in a large group context. Instead, beliefs are changed by real conversation and challenge within the context of intimate relationships. It’s within those one on one, one on two, and small group contexts that trust, vulnerability, and mission converge to yield change.

Those contexts, don’t develop by accident though. They grow as individuals intentionally encase the Scriptures in flesh and dwell among others in deep relationships. Too often church relationships are characterized by membership, small talk, and surface politeness.

What do the individuals in your church believe about salvation, personal God, and authority of Scripture? If you aren’t sure, ask your pastor. If he isn’t sure, suggest REVEAL for church or another similar tool. Whether you’re in Dayton, Ohio or somewhere else, I’d love to help you with the REVEAL journey and the process of growing a culture that’s focused on making disciples not just members.