Barna: Pastors need to look beyond numbers

Friday, December 16, 2016
Steve Jordahl (

church congregation (rear view)A respected Christian pollster reports that evangelical pastors generally overrate their influence on how their congregants voted in the recent election – and it may be true about more than politics.

Ask theologically conservative pastors who had the most influence – outside of the media – on the outcome of last month's election, and they'd place themselves at the top of the list. Ask politically engaged evangelicals (i.e., SAGE Cons*), they'd rank their pastor fifth – behind unions, President Obama, voter guides, and Christian nonprofits. That's according to data from the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI).

ACFI executive director George Barna has crunched the numbers. "There is quite a gap between how important Protestant pastors thought they and their churches were in the outcome of the election and what the actual experience of voters was," he summarizes.

Apparently that same disconnect holds for more than just the 2016 elections. Evangelicals are telling Barna that they're not being taught how to think about what's going on in the culture.


"[They're saying] we're not being taught what the Bible says in terms of how to respond to the barriers and the obstacles that we're facing toward trying to have a more righteous and more biblical kind of culture," Barna shares with OneNewsNow. "And yet pastors think they're doing a really good job at that."

Based on his previous research, Barna contends the missing link is in how most evangelical pastors measure the success of their churches. They generally use five metrics: attendance, money, number of programs, number of staff, and building size – none of which, he says, actually has anything to do with the spiritual development of a human being.

"None of that has to do with the reasons why Jesus died on the cross," he adds.

Change that, says Barna, and you unleash the Church. "I suspect that we will not see a dramatic change in [pastors] getting their congregants more engaged with the culture until we change those criteria for success," he suggests.

* SAGE Cons = spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives

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