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BarRevo 06-1-3


Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary


George Barna

Tyndale, 2005, 144 pp., ISBN 1-4143-0758-6

George Barna is a well-known evangelical researcher and the author of numerous books on the state of the church in America.  His assessments have generally been grim and this little book is also disturbing.  According to Barna, a growing number of Christians who desire to be sold out for Christ are finding growth, encouragement, and accountability outside the local church.  Of these, some are staying in the church but not a few are abandoning it.  Barna calls them Revolutionaries.  He claims to be one and desires to encourage others. 


Barna’s books have been increasingly critical of the local church and I wonder if he has given up on it.  Our culture disciples us in worldliness, loads us with busyness, and distracts us from the Christian discipleship that we desperately need.  Church leaders should take this book seriously and not brush it off as “sour grapes.”  [dlm] 


This is “likely to be the most significant transition in the religious landscape that you will ever experience.”  “I want to encourage consider this spiritual awakening as a viable alternative....”  Decide on the basis of “consistency with biblical principles and its capacity to advance the Kingdom of God.”  (Introduction)


The church (with a small c) refers to a congregation.  Church (with a large C) refers to all believers.  (Introduction)


Barna begins with a hypothetical conversation between two men.  One is “typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ.  They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom.” (7)  [Interestingly, both are CEOs whose lives are so busy they can only meet Sunday mornings on the golf course.  This doesn’t sound like the kind of counter-cultural, sold-out, commitment he describes in the book. dlm]


“Millions of devout followers of Jesus Christ are repudiating tepid systems and practices of the Christian faith and introducing a wholesale shift in how faith is understood, integrated, and influencing the world.” [The “tepid systems” include evangelical as mainline churches. dlm ](11) 


“These people have chosen to live in concert with core biblical principles.  ...they are confidently returning to a first-century lifestyle based on faith, goodness, love, generosity.... deemed ‘quaint’ by today’s frenetic and morally untethered standards.”  “They are seeking a faith experience that is more robust and awe inspiring....” (13,14)  [How many of those leaving “tepid systems,” are living core biblical principles and how many are simply drifting away?  Barna may be overoptimistic! dlm] 


God’s model in the early church included intimate worship, faith-based conversations, intentional spiritual growth, servanthood, resource investment, spiritual friendships, and family faith.  “In a very real sense, the home was the early Church—supplemented by larger gatherings in the temple and elsewhere, but never replaced by what took place in the homes of believers.” (22-25)


The proof of people’s faith is “in the way they integrate what they know and believe into their everyday practices.” (25)  Living only for Him is the commitment of a Revolutionary. (27)


“My goal is to help you be a Revolutionary.” (29)


“If the local church is God’s answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most churched Christians so spiritually immature and desperate?” (30)  “One of the greatest frustrations of my life has been the disconnection between what our research consistently shows about churched Christians and what the Bible calls us to be.” (31)


“Only 9 percent of all born-again adults have a biblical worldview....” (32)


“Fewer than one out of every ten churched Christians donates at least 10 percent of their income to churches and other nonprofit organizations.” (33)


“Scripture teaches us that devoting your life to loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul is what honors Him.  Being part of a local church may facilitate that.  Or it might not.”  “The Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today.” (37)


“The Revolution is not about eliminating, dismissing, or disparaging the local church.  It is about building relationships, commitments, processes, and tools that enable us to be the God-lovers we were intended to be....” (38)


“The Revolutionary mindset is simple:  Do whatever it takes to get closer to God and to help others to do the same.”  “...the Revolution is about recognizing that we are not called to go to church.  We are called to be the Church.” (39)


Severn trends leading to the New Church:

1.      Baby Busters and Mosaics gaining influence

2.      Postmodernism – both unbiblical and biblical aspects (like emphasis on relationships)

3.      Unwillingness to put up with irrelevance

4.      Impact of technology

5.      Focus on personal authenticity and personal experience vs. principles and commands

6.      More attention to outcomes and results, dialog evangelism vs. events.

7.      Finding meaning in sacrifice and surrender (42-47)


By 2025, Barna expects that only “about one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith; one-third will do so through alternative forms of a faith-based community; and one-third will realize their faith through the media, the arts, and other cultural institutions.” (49)


“Spiritual transformation is any significant and lasting transition in your life wherein you switch from one substantial perspective or practice to something wholly different that genuinely alters you at a very basic level.” (52)  It “redefines who you are a fundamental spiritual level, and your lifestyle is realigned....” (53)


He lists a number of “spiritual mini-movements” such as homeschooling, house churches, biblical worldview groups, marketplace ministries, spiritual disciplines networks, the Christian creative arts guilds, worship concerts, etc.  (54)  People have made the “faith orientation of the mini-movement the pivot point of their existence.” (55)


Conditions that produce such change:

1.      Working with people who are predisposed to focusing on their faith in God.

2.      The group becomes the primary source of friendships.

3.      Intimacy facilitates a sense of exhilaration over the transformation

4.      Clear group goals.  (57-8)


Why is the congregational model of the church rapidly losing effectiveness?  Partly because of a desire for choices and customized experiences.  But people are also seeking new models because of

·        Preference for practical faith experiences

·        Quest for spiritual depth and breadth

·        Penchant for novelty and creativity

·        Need for time-shifting. (62-3)


“A true Revolutionary accepts the challenge to be fully Christlike....,” exhibiting the qualities of obedience, love, justice, peace, holy living, integrity, generosity, spiritual connection, etc. (72, 75)


“A major reason why most local churches have little influence on the world is that their congregants do not experience this transformation in identity.” (87)  “Churchgoers are more likely to see themselves as Americans, consumers, professionals, parents, and unique individuals than zealous disciples of Jesus Christ.”  (88)


Clarifying core beliefs is critical.  “There is no room in a revolution for those who are ignorant of the foundational philosophy.  These operations live or die on the vitality of their seminal ideas—ideas about truth, justice, value, freedom, and similarly weighty matters.” (88)


“Having a reference group as an anchor is important.” (89)


“The ultimate desire, of course, is to influence the world for Christ.” (92)


“How can you tell if someone is a Revolutionary?  As Jesus taught, you look for the fruit.” (93)


The primary impetus of the new Revolution “is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers.” (103)


“Every Revolutionary must handle the duty to be the Church with dedication and excellence.” (104)


“Church attendance will decline as Christians devote their time to a wider array of spiritual events.  Donations to churches will drop because millions of believers will invest their money in other ministry ventures.” (107) [I suspect an increasing proportion of believers’ giving is going to ministries outside the church because the givers believe in the ministry or support an individual in whom they have confidence. dlm]


Will believers become spiritually lazy and compromise the faith because of their disconnection from the local church?  Barna says no.  Revolutionaries are zealous and passionate and often they resort to departing from a local church to foster that focus.  Further his research finds a greater degree of lukewarm faith in the church.  [Here I believe Barna is overoptimistic.  In my opinion, even those who depart for the above reasons are very likely to drift. dlm]


“Our research shows that local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.  The seven dominant spheres of influence are movies, music, television, books, the Internet, law, and family.  The second tier of influencers is comprised of entities such as schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses.” (118)  [This seems like the most sobering statement in the book. Culture has an increasing impact on Christians.  Christians have a negligible impact on culture.  This is a downward spiral. dlm]


“If judgment is to come against the Revolution, it should not come from you.” (140)


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