About that Barna Survey on Seekers

Barna just released a survey of unchurched people’s attitudes. Here is the summary paragraph:
“….the top motivators for considering a church are knowing that everyone will be welcomed (32%), making friends and nurturing friendships (29%), support during difficult times (28%) and learning more about God (27%). Less motivating are opportunities for Bible study, volunteer opportunities, discussions of issues and topics and the provision of child care.” – (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/new-survey-ranks-welcoming-top-factor-in-church-choice)
Some point to this survey as justification for the UMC changing its position on homosexuality. The thinking goes, “The number one factor they look for is that everyone will be welcomed. Therefore, we must change our church law to open marriage and ordination to LGBTQ persons in order to have a future.”
A few points to keep in mind about the survey’s findings:

  • These are pre-conversion attitudes. When we come to faith in Jesus, we go from death to life, receive the Holy Spirit and begin the process of spiritual growth which will transform our minds (Rom. 21:1) That will change our opinions. To use market research as the rationale for changing doctrine is the very definition of being co-opted by culture.
  • In every truly evangelistic and biblically-functioning church everyone will be welcomed. That does not equate with approving of every lifestyle, opinion, habit or practice of everyone who walks through the door. We invite everyone to be on the journey toward knowing Jesus.
  • The findings reveal inconsistencies. For example, a top motivator is to learn more about God. At the same time, the survey reveals that seekers are not interested in studying the Bible or discussions, which is a primary way to learn about God. They also want to make friends and nurture relationships, but they are not interested in volunteer opportunities, which are a significant avenue for doing so.

I am not suggesting that we ignore these findings, simply that we use them wisely and with Spirit-led insight. As a church we need a missionary mindset. Good missionaries seek to understand the culture in which they minister so that they can effectively reach people with the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus. That does not mean they let culture dictate their message; it means they learn to approach people without needlessly tripping cultural barriers.
The master missionary Apostle Paul said, I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23)  That is cultural adaptation.
At the same time, he never changed his message: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:22-25)