As America's religious landscape grows more syncretic and the population's connection to Christianity continues to weaken, data from a recent Barna study shows that practicing Christians are more spiritually "open" or interested in exploring other spiritual traditions than non-Christians or Christians who don't practice their faith.
In its "Spiritually Open" project based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers ages 13-17 conducted online from December 13–22, 2022, The Barna Group created a four-point scale to define the term "spiritually open."
The definition encompassed several factors, including belief in a spiritual or supernatural dimension of life, belief in God or a higher power, positive feelings toward spirituality, and self-described spirituality that is "open," "exploring," or "curious."
The study found that among practicing Christians, 42% had a high degree of spiritual openness, 47% had a moderate degree of openness, and 11% had a low degree of openness.
"Openness and Christianity are highly correlated, especially among the one in five adults who are practicing Christians (meaning they attend church regularly and say their faith is very important to them," Barna researchers said.
Among non-practicing Christians, only 36% had a high degree of openness, while 43% had a moderate degree. Some 21% had a low degree of openness.
Non-Christians were found to have the least degree of spiritual openness. Only 18% were found to have a high degree of openness, 30% had a moderate degree of openness, and more than half, 52%, expressed a low degree of openness.
"While a general spiritual openness leaves ample room for Christian beliefs about God, it is clearly not exclusive. This tracks with spiritually open non-Christians' confidence that many religions can lead to eternal life (43% strongly agree)," Barna noted in its most recent analysis of non-Christian beliefs.
Researchers highlighted evidence that suggests the current community of spiritually open non-Christians includes a sizeable community of former Christians who still value "a personal commitment to Jesus" they made in the past or present.
"Some of the patterns in non-Christians' beliefs relate not only with their general spiritual openness but their specific connection to the faith or to Jesus — in the past or present. We've noted that many spiritually open non-Christians have a Christian background," explained Barna. "In fact, two in five spiritually open non-Christians (39%) say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important to them, something that is rare among other non-Christians (13%)."
Even though affiliation with Christianity has been on the decline, 72% of people in America still say they were raised as Christian, and that cultural upbringing continues to bear some significance.
"Those in the Church can't assume they are the only ones for whom certain Christian beliefs hold deep and personal meaning," researchers wrote. "The spiritually open non-Christian tends to trust that Jesus is real, important, and sacred; for what purpose, they are less certain."
In an earlier report this year, Barna CEO David Kinnaman painted the growing openness to other faiths in America as a cause for hope.
"Though religious affiliation and church attendance continue to decline, spiritual openness and curiosity are on the rise. Across every generation, in fact, we see an unprecedented desire to grow spiritually, a belief in a spiritual/supernatural dimension and a belief in God or a higher power," Kinnaman noted.
The Barna CEO said one of the most inspiring features of the open generation for him is based on findings from "The Open Generation" study, which show that "young people may be fueling this rise in spiritual hunger."
"Overwhelmingly, Christian teens today say that Jesus still matters to them; 76 percent say 'Jesus speaks to me in a way that is relevant to my life. In a culture that has generally downgraded the reputation of Christians and relegated Sunday worship and other church-related activities to the sidelines of society, teens remain refreshingly open to Jesus as an influence in their lives," Kinnaman said.
"They are open to different faiths, including Christianity, and they're open to friends, causes, and ideas," he added. "Though parents, educators, and others who mentor young people have a tall task to provide wise guidance to emerging adults, today's teens are confronting the church with something that I think we haven't seen before — a kind of blank slate; a chance to imagine a different future."
George Barna, the founder of The Barna Group who now serves as director of research at the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, argued in a report in May that the growing rejection of a biblical worldview remains a threat to the general quality of life in a post-pandemic world, especially for children.
"The ideological and philosophical confusion that characterizes America is perhaps the biggest reflection of the nation's rejection of biblical principles and its decision to replace God's truth with 'personal truth,'" Barna argued.
"As a nation, we may be past the danger of COVID-19, but we are in the thick of the danger brought about by people relying upon syncretism as their dominant worldview," Barna said. "Biblical churches must see this as a time for an urgent response to the direction society is taking. While the Left pursues the Great Reset, it is time for the Church to pursue the Great Renewal — leading people's hearts, minds, and souls back to God and His life principles."