More than 100 million adults in America claim to have a biblical worldview! Are they right? Does it matter?
A series of nationwide surveys conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) addressed the question of how many Americans have a biblical worldview. Interviewing 6,000 people from three distinct populations – the general public, theologically conservative Protestant pastors, and SAGE Cons – the surveys produced some startling results. But does it matter?
“It’s very important to know how many people have a biblical worldview because peoples’ behavior is driven by their beliefs – we do what we believe. In other words, our worldview determines the choices we make and the resulting actions we take,” explained research veteran George Barna, who directed the studies for ACFI. “Everyone has a worldview. The critical question is which one people have embraced. If we want to transform our culture then we will need to change the choices people make that produce that culture. And in order to change those choices we must identify the beliefs that led to those choices.”
While it may sound complex or even impractical, understanding the concept of a worldview is not complicated. A worldview is the mental framework that helps people to make sense of their world. It serves as a filter to help us understand and respond to reality. Because a worldview determines what is considered to be good or bad, valuable or worthless, righteous or evil, right or wrong, and so forth, a person’s worldview is an indispensible mechanism for each of us to cope with life. Similarly, it is critical to understand if we are seeking to comprehend who we are and where we are going as a nation.
Surprisingly few studies have been conducted to measure the proportion of people who have a biblical worldview – or other widely recognized worldviews, such as secular humanism, postmodernism, existentialism, pantheism, or nihilism. The ACFI study is designed to serve as a benchmark for annual updates on the proportion of Americans who have a biblical worldview.
The ACFI survey evaluated people’s worldview using 20 questions about core spiritual beliefs and 20 questions assessing behavior. The 40 data points were then evaluated in relation to biblical content and the number of biblically consistent answers was tallied for each respondent. Those who answered 80% or more of the questions in accordance with biblical principles were included in the category of “Integrated Disciples” – that is, people who are designated as having a biblical worldview based on integrating their beliefs and behavior into a lifestyle that reflects foundational biblical principles.
The survey of the general public revealed that 10% of American adults currently have a biblical worldview. That pales in comparison to the 46% of adults who claim to have such a worldview. How big, numerically, is that difference? With the adult population presently at an estimated 244 million, the 10% of the general public with a biblical worldview represents about 24 million who are Integrated Disciples, compared to roughly 112 million who would classify themselves as such – a gap of 88 million people!
Barna shared the 40 questions used in the assessment, noting that the survey was measuring basic biblical principles, not complex theological theories. “Our research collected information about attitudes and behaviors related to practical matters like lying, cheating, stealing, pornography, the nature of God, and the consequences of unresolved sin. It’s what some might describe as ‘Christianity 101’ substance. That’s what makes the discrepancy between the percentage of people who consider themselves to be Christian – more than seven out of every ten – and those who have a biblical worldview – just one out of every ten – so alarming.”
Pastors and SAGE Cons
A survey among theologically conservative Protestant pastors used the same measurement criteria as included in the general public survey. The outcome, however, was massively different: almost nine out of ten of those pastors (88%) qualified as Integrated Disciples.
A third survey was conducted by ACFI using the same measurement indicators among SAGE Cons – the Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservative Christians that ACFI has been tracking since 2013. An astounding 90% of SAGE Cons qualified as Integrated Disciples – an even higher proportion than was found among theologically conservative pastors!
Patterns in Worldview Measurement
The three surveys produced several intriguing patterns worth noting. Those included the following:
- The younger an adult is, the less likely they are to have a biblical worldview. Among adults 18 to 29 years old – commonly referred to as Millennials – just 4% were Integrated Disciples. The number rose to 7% among those in the 30-to-49 age bracket; doubled to 15% among the 50-to-64 year olds; and peaked at 17% among those 65 or older.
- Three out of ten adults (30%) can be considered to be born again Christians based on their decision to confess their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their savior. However, among that segment of Americans less than one-third (31%) emerged as being Integrated Disciples.
- Overall, one-third of adults (32%) described themselves as theologically conservative. Among that group, just 25% qualified as Integrated Disciples.
- Although some social analysts have equated being pro-life with having a biblical worldview, the ACFI survey shows otherwise. While about half of the nation considers itself to be “pro-life advocates,” the survey discovered that just 19% of them are Integrated Disciples.
- Theoretically one might assume that reading the Bible every day would result in developing a biblical worldview. However, the survey found that while about one out of every ten adults (11%) claims to read the Bible on a daily basis, less than half of them (45%) fit the framework of an Integrated Disciple.
- The historic divide between Protestants and Catholics was evident in the worldview measures. In total, one out of every five Protestant adults (19%) was an Integrated Disciple, compared to one out of every 50 Catholics (2%).
- Among the people who voted for Donald Trump in November’s election, 16% qualified as Integrated Disciples. Among voters who cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton, less than half as many – 6% – were included among the nation’s Integrated Disciples.
Background and Looking Ahead
George Barna, who developed and analyzed the study, was asked about the design of the survey and to explain the genesis of the name “Integrated Disciple.”
“Past worldview research has focused on religious beliefs. But in developing this instrument we discovered that someone may claim to believe something, but if their behavior does reflect those beliefs, it is doubtful that they really believe what they claimed to believe,” Barna noted. “Jesus taught His disciples that the right beliefs are good, but the real measure of where you stand is what He labeled the fruit of a person’s life, referring to the product of applying one’s convictions. As a result, we created this measurement process with the intention of blending both core beliefs and core behaviors to estimate the biblical consistency of peoples’ worldview. Because that process involves both beliefs and behavior, with the intention of being an imitator of Christ, we chose to call such people Integrated Disciples. They are effectively blending their beliefs and behavior into a Christ-like lifestyle.”
ACFI will be releasing additional details from the three studies over the coming weeks. A more detailed report will be available at the ACFI website (www.culturefaith.com) in the Spring.
Anticipating criticism from some who might consider such research and its findings to be judgmental, Barna responded in advance. “Any time you attempt to measure people’s worldview or spiritual standing, you have to tread carefully. We recognize that this research provides an estimate, not an absolute. Only God really knows who is a Christian. Only He knows who has a biblical worldview. God alone knows what’s in the mind and heart of each person.
“Our job,” the California-based author and researcher continued, “is not to judge people based on their responses but to analyze the aggregated data and estimate the current state of the US population so that the leaders of organizations devoted to helping people will have a better sense of what is needed. This research is not designed to criticize anyone. Its ultimate value is in showing leaders where we are as a people and where we could be, and helping through further studies to figure out what can be done to enable people to embody fundamental biblical principles more fully and consistently.”
This is the first annual survey in the Worldview Measurement Project. ACFI will conduct an updated worldview survey every February. The project is funded by United in Purpose.
About the Research
The research described in this report is from three surveys conducted simultaneously by the American Culture & Faith Institute.
The first survey was FullView™, a national public opinion study conducted among a nationwide random sample of adults. The FullView™ survey was conducted February 1-5, 2017, with 1,000 respondents age 18 or older whose demographic profile reflects that of the United States.
The second survey was part of the RightView™ series, a national longitudinal study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged Christian conservatives – a segment known as SAGE Cons. In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. The national survey conducted for this report had a sample size of 4,500 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute from February 1-8, 2017.
The third survey was part of the Conservative Clergy Canvass tracking studies (known as C-3 surveys) conducted by ACFI among theologically conservative pastors. That research project included responses from a national sampling of 500 theologically conservative pastors. Those online interviews took place February 15-24, 2017.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of the weekly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.