Most Christians see their spiritual lives as private, but outlook clashes with their role as disciples: study

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While Christians by definition are disciples of Jesus who accept and help with the spreading of the Gospel, a majority see their spiritual lives as private which is counterproductive to their mission in society, a new report from Barna Research shows.

Insights recently published by the research firm in a report titled Growing Together show that 56% of Christians in the U.S. see their spiritual lives as entirely private.

While holding this view of privacy, however, the majority of Christians in this group were found to be less likely to say it's very important to see progress in their spiritual life; say their faith is very important in their life today; and less likely to have weekly time with God.

“In other words, the idea that faith should be kept private is one part of a bigger swirl of negative conditions that need to be addressed for people to see spiritual growth,” Barna researchers noted.

The data informing the report was collected from two online surveys. One survey was conducted from Dec. 22, 2020, through Jan.18, 2021, and involved 2,511 randomly selected adults who self-identify as Christian and live within the United States. The second survey was conducted from June 1 through July 4, 2020, with 2,930 U.S. adults.

The report showed that Christian adults desire friendships that will challenge them and help them grow in their faith yet the older an individual is, the less likely they are to be part of a discipleship community. Boomers, for example, were found to be the generation least likely to be a part of a discipleship community and 63% of them believe their spiritual life is entirely private.

Gen Z, on the other hand, were found to be more than twice as likely as boomers to be part of a discipleship community. A majority do not see their spiritual life as private, but a significant minority, 46% of them, do. And researchers say the impact of technology on culture is partly to blame.

“Even before COVID-19, individuals expressed feeling distant from others, and Christians are not exempt. Part of this can reasonably be attributed to the rhythms of our digital society. We have become accustomed to experiencing hyper-connection and disconnection all at once,” Barna said.

It was further pointed out that Jesus, through His example with His disciples, never kept His faith private.

“Discipleship is a powerful way to meet a communal need for vulnerability and companionship,” researchers said.

“When Jesus discipled the 12, the spiritual and day-today matters of their lives intermingled. Life was not private or compartmentalized. Meals and miracles, frustration and affection, sermons and naps, trials and celebrations — they shared it all,” they added. “Christians should consider what it would mean to do the same today.”

A survey released last October by Probe Ministries, a nonprofit that seeks to help the Church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview, found that nearly 70% of born-again Christians disagree with the biblical position that Jesus is the only way to God.

The survey also found that among the top reasons given by born-again Christians for not telling others about their faith is the acceptance of pluralism. When asked why they don’t share their beliefs with others, born-again respondents chose “They can get to Heaven through their different religious belief,” “We shouldn’t impose our ideas on others,” and “The Bible tells us not to judge others” as their top three responses, respectively.

“At first glance, this may seem surprising. But in a culture where pluralism is a dominant part of all religious groups, it begins to make sense,” Steve Cable, senior vice president of Probe Ministries said. “And the pluralistic reasons were dominant, attracting around two-thirds of the population across all religious groupings.” 

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