“Most religious beliefs change over the course of generations, not a few years. However, we know that major life crises have the capacity to introduce substantial change quickly in the foundations of people’s faith ... the pandemic was certainly a life crisis for our nation."
However, among the more than four dozen beliefs and behaviors evaluated, four particular beliefs showed significant movement toward biblical thinking.
In 2020, only one-third of the adult U.S. population dismissed the idea that there are no moral truths that are the same for everyone. In 2023, the proportion of those who rejected that notion rose to almost half (46%).
Another similar and sizable shift towards biblical thinking occurred in how many adults now reject the belief that eternal salvation can be earned through good works. That number jumped to just under half of adults (45%) from the one-third (35%) who denied that possibility just three years ago. The research also showed a seven-percentage point increase in the number of adults who accept the idea that the purpose of life is to know, love, and serve God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—one of the Seven Biblical Worldview Cornerstones.
The final significant positive change was a five-point increase in the number of adults who contend that the Bible is the true and completely accurate word of God. Since the start of the pandemic, that proportion has climbed closer to the halfway mark, with 46% now holding that belief.
While it is not unusual to find significant changes in beliefs or behavior related to politics, entertainment or lifestyle preferences, religious beliefs and behaviors have typically been a hallmark of consistency, according to Barna. The significant changes found in the study, he says, are highly unusual.
“Most religious beliefs change over the course of generations, not a few years. However, we know that major life crises have the capacity to introduce substantial change quickly in the foundations of people’s faith.”
Barna continued, “The pandemic was certainly a life crisis for our nation, so even though this magnitude of spiritual shift was not expected, it is feasible given the physical and psychological effects of COVID along with the economic, relational, and lifestyle effects of the government’s drastic policies.”
Explaining the implications of the most prolific changes identified in the survey—the 42-point decrease in born-again adults claiming to have a unique, God-given calling or purpose for their life, and the 35-point drop within that segment saying they are deeply committed to practicing their religious faith—is not difficult, Barna said.
“The impact of the pandemic and the strong-arm tactics of government during the lockdown years may have shaken the faith of many Christians. The huge drop in foundational perspectives among born-again adults may foretell local churches being less able to rely on the active and reliable support of that critical niche of the church body.”
How should church leaders respond?
“This is a time when pastors would be wise to return to many basic Christian principles to rebuild the spiritual foundation of their congregants,” Barna said.
“And to celebrate the blessings of God, reminding people how great their God really is."
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