Christians who attend church have more flourishing relationships than non-churchgoers: Barna

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Practicing Christians in the United States are twice as likely to say they're in flourishing relationships than the general adult population, according to a study by the Barna Group.

According to the study, which was released earlier this month, 61% of practicing Christians said they're flourishing in romantic relationships and friendships, compared to only 28% of all U.S. adults who responded the same.   

Some 52% of "churched adults," which Barna defined as adults who have attended church in the past six months but might not identify as Christian, said they were flourishing relationally. 

Data for the study was based in part on an online survey conducted from Sept. 16 to Oct. 4, 2021, of 1,003 churches adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9% at a 95% confidence level.

Alyce Youngblood, vice president of editorial at Barna, said in a statement to The Christian Post that the study suggests there was a direct positive correlation between the number of practicing Christians that are flourishing in relationships and the spiritual formation that takes place in church.

The study defined spiritual formation as the process in which a church body fulfills the "mission to nurture, send and equip disciples."

According to Youngblood, the study recognized that the higher the spiritual formation rate within a church, the more likely the church will contain a higher rate of practicing Christians.

The study, she added, further emphasized that the more practicing Christians there are in a church, the more flourishing relationships there will be. 

"We see a connection here," she said. "Three-quarters of churched adults who give high scores for spiritual formation in their church are also experiencing relational flourishing — compared to only 32% of churched adults who do not give high scores for spiritual formation." 

"In Barna’s research of both human flourishing and church thriving, qualities tend to hang together; positive qualities in one area relate to positive qualities in the other."  

The study stated that "a church that not only welcomes and connects people but [has] an awareness [of] the realities of what it takes to be content and satisfied in relationships today, is key in supporting the whole-life flourishing of congregants."

According to Youngblood, in the Barna study, the direct causes for why practicing Christians are flourishing relationally and experiencing higher levels of spiritual formation is unknown because the study can only show correlations. However, she said, through the study, she was able to observe a number of positive outcomes associated with higher levels of Bible engagement and church attendance among the respondents.

The study, Youngblood said, is not the first evidence of "strong, consistent and deep connections among people who are engaged in faith communities."

Youngblood noted that the correlation showing an uptick in both flourishing relationships and higher spiritual formation "has surfaced in secular research on the topic as well."

"I’m not surprised by this finding. Barna consistently sees that practicing Christians experience rich community, often more so than Christians who aren’t practicing their faith, or people who could be called 'nones,'" she explained. 

"I do feel it’s encouraging to see these relational patterns persist even in research we conducted during the pandemic era. ... Despite the distance or disruptions to regular gatherings that have no doubt affected many in this group, committed Christians continue to report great contentment and high satisfaction in their relationships." 

The study also found that while 72% of practicing Christians report that their church is an essential partner in their spiritual formation, only 58% of churched adults said the same. 

Barna CEO David Kinnaman said in a statement that he hoped Barna’s framework for measuring “what matters” in ministry will encourage future church leaders.

“I firmly believe this moment provides an opportunity to pioneer new ways of leading God’s people and new, deeper pathways to discipling people,” Kinnaman said. 

“It’s a kairos moment. ... An opportunity to fashion new wineskins, as Jesus suggested we do. A chance to seek the Lord’s heart for more of what he desires. Of course, God is still changing lives. And he seeks to do that through the Church, through your church.”

Barna added that much like previous studies, including Households of Faith and Restoring Relationships, the study found that "relationships are keys in connection and in faith — and, further, relational flourishing plays a significant role in human flourishing overall.’” 

“God is always doing new things in the world (see Isaiah 43:19). What a privilege it is for us to leverage this moment to pursue a renewed and revived Christian community,” concluded Kinnaman. 

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