While a majority of Americans have a positive view of Jesus, most, including Christians, also have a negative opinion of celebrity Christian culture, celebrity pastors, Evangelicals, megachurches and famous worship bands, a new study from Barna Group shows.
And the situation is among a number of drivers inching the nation toward a post-Christian era.
The data for the study, conducted online from Dec. 13–22, 2022, via a consumer research panel, was based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers called the Spiritually Open project. Gloo and He Gets Us partnered with Barna for the research.
“When we asked Americans whether they have a positive or negative opinion of Jesus, seven in 10 (71%) say they view him positively. Of all U.S. teens and adults, 63 percent say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” Barna researchers said. “This is actually most common among millennials, of whom 70 percent say their commitment to Jesus is still important to them.”
When asked if they have a “positive” opinion of certain aspects of Christian culture like megachurches, the study shows that just a minority of both Christians and non-Christians approve.
Overall, only 16% of U.S. teens and adults have a positive view of megachurches, and among Christians, it doesn’t get much better. Only 17% view them positively. For people of other faiths, 21% said they have a positive view of megachurches, while just 9% of people with no faith said the same.
For celebrity pastors, only 19% of Christians and people of other faiths had a positive view of those ministers, while just 17% of respondents overall said the same.
Famous people or celebrities who are Christian are also not seen positively. Only 26% of respondents overall in the survey and 30% of Christians approve.
Twenty-six percent of respondents in the study overall also had a positive view of famous or well-known worship bands. Among Christians, just 30% view these bands positively, along with 29% of people from other faiths and 12% of people who profess no faith at all.
Evangelicals are also not well-liked. Only 26% of respondents overall have a positive view of the group. Among Christians, that view increases to 31% but falls to 24% among people of other faiths.
While some 56% of Christians in the survey said they had a positive view of Christian pastors or priests, less than half (44%) of the respondents in the study overall reported the same. Only 47% of respondents overall had a positive view of churches in their community, while 58% of Christians did.
Majorities of overall respondents viewed Jesus Christ (71%), Christianity (57%), the Bible (63%) and spirituality (65%) favorably. Larger majorities of Christians also expressed positive views regarding Jesus Christ (84%), Christianity (74%), the Bible (78%) and spirituality (75%). On the other hand, Christianity is not viewed positively by people of other faiths, just 36% of whom have warm feelings toward the religion.
“Beyond Jesus, when it comes to views of other Christian groups or entities, positive opinions wane. People of no faith are neutral or leaning negative — and for celebrity, mega or famous representatives of the faith, opinions are decidedly negative,” researchers said.
The top reason given by people of no faith and other faiths for doubting Christianity is “the hypocrisy of religious people,” while among Christians it is “human suffering.”
“The work of Christians is to embody Jesus — full of truth and grace — and reflect his image in all they say and do,” Barna Group CEO David Kinnaman said in a statement. “The data shows they too often fall short.”