Prayer sets Christians apart from other adults: study

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Michael F. Haverluck (

praying together

What distinguishes Christians from other adults in the general public? According to a recent nationwide survey, it's prayer.

In research developed and conducted by George Barna – the director of research for the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University – 1,000 American adults responded to an online survey that was commissioned by The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT), an intercessory prayer movement based in Phoenix. The survey was part of PPT's Pray the Vote to show the transformative power of prayer in people’s lives … and the nation as a whole.

Set apart …

The survey compared more than three dozen beliefs and practices, focusing on 10 major factors (see below) that characterize a large majority of self-described Christians and highlighting the ones that differentiate them most dramatically from other American adults:

  1. “God exists and is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect and just creator of the universe who still rules that universe today (69% of self-identified Christians adopt that view, compared to just 21% of other adults).”
  2. “The Bible is the only true and authentic Word of God (67% versus 20%, respectively).”
  3. “The Bible is the ultimate and final moral authority (61% compared to 18%, respectively).”
  4. “Personally pray during several days in a typical week (72% versus 28%).”
  5. “Believe that prayer helps people cope with situations (61% versus 17% called that a very accurate description of their view).”
  6. “Prayer is their way of communicating with God (71% compared to 19% called that a very accurate description of their view).”
  7. “Prayer is central to their relationship with God (64% versus 14% called that a very accurate description of their view).”
  8. “Prayer is a way of worshipping God (64% versus 15% called that a very accurate description of their view).”
  9. “They pray for the country every week (64% versus 24%).”
  10. “They pray for the people in their life, such as friends, family, co-workers, and their community (79% vs. 31%).”

According to the survey, these 10 factors – concerning beliefs on the reliability of the Bible and beliefs and practices related to prayer – effectively differentiate Americans considering themselves to be Christians with other adults. Other takeaways were also gleaned from the study.

“The survey also revealed that segments within the self-identified Christian population – such as born-again Christians or those who attend evangelical Protestant churches – are minority groups within the aggregate Christian community (and thus not truly representative of the larger body of people who claim to be Christian) that have an even larger body of distinctives from the general population,” the PPT noted.

What it means to be a Christian

Different perspectives were also given when participants were asked what it means to be a Christian today.

“The most common response was ‘to have a personal relationship with God based on salvation through Jesus Christ,'" PPT divulged from the survey. “That view was offered by 33% of the self-identified Christians, [and] the next most frequent answer was ‘being a good person and trying to do what you think is right.’ That view was adopted by one-quarter of the self-identified Christians (24%).”

Less common responses submitted by self-identified Christians focused around five other distinctions.

“Those views included ‘praying to God regularly’ (mentioned by 11% of the self-identified Christians); ‘believing the Bible to be true and to be the primary guide for your life’ (11%); and having been ‘raised in a Christian family’ (10%),” the study found.

“About half as many adults provided one of two other points of view – 5% of the self-identified Christians indicated that being Christian is synonymous with being American, (since Christianity is the dominant religion in the nation), [while] another 4% equated being Christian with attending church services regularly.”

A key distinction was also found between those considering themselves to be Christian.

“[P]eople who attend Protestant churches were most likely to define being Christian as having a personal relationship with God, through Christ; however, Catholics were most likely to describe being Christian as being a good person and trying to do what is right,” PPT explained from the data.

Earning a way to salvation – as opposed to receiving a free gift from Jesus Christ through accepting Him as one’s Lord and Savior – was believed as the route to Heaven and eternal life by younger and more liberal adults identifying as Christians.

“Age-wise, people 18 to 29 years old were more likely than older adults to view Christianity as being about personal goodness, while older adults leaned more toward a relationship with God as the defining characteristic,” the results showed.

“Politically, those who are conservative were the most likely to see Christianity as defined by a relationship with God, while both moderates and liberals considered Christianity to be about being and doing good.”

More takeaways …

It was also discovered that many traditional religious beliefs are not as common as they used to be.

“Belief in a traditional, biblical view of God – that He is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect and just Creator of the universe who still rules that universe today – has declined to a small majority of adults (55%),” the release divulged.

“In fact, less than half of some population segments embrace that description of God – an example is adults 18 to 29 years of age; only 43% agree with that description of God. Other segments for which a minority holds an orthodox view of the nature of God include political liberals (40%), Hispanics (47%), and residents of the western states (47%).”

Other unbiblical takes on Christianity were also revealed.

“While about two out of every three adults (64%) believe they will experience Heaven after they die, barely half of those (35%) contend it will be solely because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, [whereas] non-traditional beliefs about the afterlife have been gaining steam in recent years,” PPT added in its release.

“For instance, 12% now argue that there is nothing after this life; upon death you simply cease to exist, [and] reincarnation – the belief that a person will return to Earth in a different life form or as a different person – is now embraced by 7%, even though less than 1% of the public aligns with any of the eastern religions that promote reincarnation. The flux in the public's thinking about life after death is evident in the 17% who say they do not know what will happen to them after they die.”

After reviewing the results, PPT president and CEO James Bolthouse emphasized the importance of prayer in America.

"Taking the 'spiritual temperature' of praying Americans in this first public study reinforced for us that The Presidential Prayer Team has our work cut out for us as we approach reaching more of America in the future," Bolthouse concluded from the study.

"We expected some of these results from the outside look, but other outcomes from the research clarify the relative importance and role of prayer in people's lives. Because prayer emerged as the most widespread spiritual activity in the country, we look forward to helping people enhance their prayer life and reap the benefits for their spiritual journey and life experience."


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