Many Americans Unbalanced in Faith, Lifestyle, Says Study

Americans are largely committed to family – what more than half listed as their top priority, according to a recent study – but commitment to faith falls well under half the population who listed it as the most important priority in their life.

The latest Barna Group survey found that 51 percent of adults identified family as their first priority and only 16 percent listed faith, making it a runner-up. Among the different people groups measured, evangelicals were twice as likely as non-evangelical born again adults and almost five times more likely than notional Christians to place faith at the top of the list.

Further in the study, however, the small percentage who placed faith as their highest life priority were among Americans who largely think of themselves as being highly spiritual. According to the survey, 59 percent of adults described themselves as a "full-time servant of God" but only 25 percent listed faith as their most important priority. And only one out of every four who consider themselves "deeply spiritual," ranked faith first.

"Spirituality is in vogue in our society today," said George Barna, founder of the research institute that bears his name. "It is popular to claim to be part of a 'faith community' or to have a spiritual commitment but what do Americans mean when they claim to be 'spiritual?'"

In a more specific breakdown, people over the age of 40 were two times as likely than those under 40 to make their faith their highest priority; Protestants were more than three times as likely as Catholics; Protestants associated with a church not part of the mainline denominations were more likely to prioritize faith than were those aligned with a mainline church; African-Americans were nearly twice as likely as Caucasians and almost three times as likely as Hispanics or Asians to rank faith at the top; and those who define themselves as being "mostly conservative on social and political issue" were nine times more likely than those who describe themselves as "mostly liberal" on such matters.

The March survey follows an earlier Barna study that found only 15 percent of adults placed their faith in God at the top of their priority list, although pastors, on average, contended that 70 percent of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities.

"It seems as if God is in, but living for God is not," said Barna. "Many Americans are living a dual life - one filled with good feelings about God and faith, corroborated by some simple religious practices, and another in which they believe they are in control of their own destiny and operate apart from Him."

The researcher further noted that only one out of four who say their faith has "greatly transformed" their life placed their faith practices and pursuits as their highest life priority. Many deem themselves spiritual and greatly transformed by their faith, but have yet to put their faith into practice.

"It certainly seems that millions of Americans are fooling themselves into thinking that they have found the appropriate balance between God and lifestyle," said Barna.

The survey was conducted on 1,003 adults aged 18 years and older from across the nation in January 2006.