I know this book review is a little late out of the starting gate. Revolution is required reading for my students this quarter, and I thought, if they need to review it, then it is only fair that I review it too! So here goes. I begin with an overview of what I see Barna saying followed by some interaction with his thesis.
Overview of Revolution
George Barna, in Revolution, touts a new form of church that recently developed in the United States. Dissatisfied with local churches, twenty-million “revolutionaries” created forms of spirituality outside organized religion. This spiritual revolution came about because of seven trends in society: the increase of Busters and Mosaics, moral relativism, dismissal of the irrelevant, advent of technology, priority of relationship, participation, desire for meaning.
Barna traces the revolutionary life to Jesus and categorizes the
radical traits in Jesus’ life. Barna identifies the life of a
revolutionary, how it is Americans might become revolutionaries, how
revolutions shapes revolutionaries, and how one might know if he/she is
a revolutionary. Barna sees the characteristics of revolutionaries as
rooted in the activities of the early church. These modern-day zealots
give supreme allegiance to the Bible while possessing seven passions:
daily intimate worship, faith-based conversations, the centrality of
faith, a life of servanthood, generosity, spiritual friendship, and the
important spiritual role of the family. Throughout the book, Barna puts
the onus of holy living on the individual Christian -- that a right
relationship with God and with others is the ultimate responsibility of
These seven trends in society, combined with the fact that local
churches fail to foster these seven passions in their congregants’
lives, caused local churches to decline. Barna refers to these failing
forms of church as “macro” types: local church, house church, family
meeting, and cyber church. He does not believe any form of macro church
has any hope for the future. Instead of macro forms of church, American
Christians are moving towards micro forms, what Barna labels
distributed models of faith. These mini-movements provide ways for
revolutionary Christians to practice their faith. Mini-movements
include worship events, marketplace fellowship groups, and Internet
connections, to name a few. Instead of working within local
congregations (small-c church), these revolutionaries connect more
widely with Christians in various locations (large-C church).
Barna imagines what critics might say of his proposal. They might
point out that abandoning the local congregation equates to foregoing
assembling together. Barna “responds” that assembling happens in many
ways. Other critics might say it fosters laziness, but Barna “counters”
that existing congregations are not exempt from laziness. Finally,
some critics might say that the lack of local churches will destroy the
institution of church itself, but Barna points out that the church has
little influence over the culture anyway.
Barna writes that American religion will shift dramatically over the
next twenty years. Churches will lose 50% of the their attendance. In
their place, alternative, revolutionary “communities” will form.
Although they make up only 5 percent of the population today,
revolutionary-like formations will become 33 percent of the American
population by 2025.
Barna concludes with an exhortation for all to become
revolutionaries. He hopes that those alienated from church will gain
hope from this book and choose to do likewise. He hopes that many will
hear the call to be the church rather than go to church.
Stop, you had me at Revolution!
agree that a revolution is occurring. No doubt, dramatic shifts
occurred in the lives of local churches in the West. I’m not sure I
agree with Barna’s reasons for why it happened, the description of it,
or even the remedy. However, I applaud Barna for connecting the dots
for the rest of us.
Since the 1960s, Christians in the US have increasingly moved away
from institutionalized forms of church. Spirituality is up, practice of
religion is down, many churches have lost numbers, especially the
oldest denominations. Increasing moves towards intentional communities,
small groups, alternative spiritualities, abound. The American church,
weighed down from the bureaucratization and institutionalization of
modernity, couldn’t cope with the cultural changes of a very mobile
population abandoning connections to their parent’s forms of faith.
American Christians, moving towards organic forms of spirituality,
felt increasingly alienated from institutional expressions of church.
Not only from the US, but reports from Australia, New Zealand, and the
UK reveal that the fastest growing wing of the church are those
Christians who are leaving institutional church. They are not
abandoning their faith or even church itself but feel that “organized”
church is not helping them worship God and serve others. I do believe
Barna’s seven reasons have something to do with this change. However, I
believe they are subsets of much larger developments, most specifically
post-Christendom, postmodernity (alluded to above), and globalization.
To be honest, I found much of Barna’s approach to the data
difficult. I felt that things were too simple. He listed seven reasons
for the spiritual revolution, seven passions of revolutionaries, and the
revolutionary aspects of Jesus. These all seemed proof-texted and
interpreted through individualistic notions of faith. I am not against
simple – I prefer simple solutions. But he doesn’t tell me how he gets
to the simple, so I remain unconvinced. However, I do want to listen to
Barna – he has listened to the American church perhaps more than any
other researcher, and even if he is not forthcoming with stories to
substantiate his points, his intuitions are worth consideration.
Tomorrow I will write about Barna's idea of little "c" versus big "C" church...