Women Falling Away From Religion, Report Finds

A frightening reality for churches

It’s hardly news that men and women act differently. But a new poll indicates that gone are the days when women were traditionally the spiritual leader of the family home.

Pollster and researcher George Barna released a report on religious changes in America this week revealing some surprising results. Barna concludes that women have experienced a significant spiritual change in the past two decades.

Women today are attending church and Sunday school less, reading the Bible less, and consider their faith less important in their lives, according to the new survey.

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The Barna report also shows that over the last two decades women have become less likely to hold traditional views of God as the all-knowing creator and ruler of the universe. Women today are less likely to see the devil as a real person, considering him more a "symbol of evil."

“Women used to put men to shame in terms of their orthodoxy of belief and the breadth and consistency of their religious behavior. No more; the religious gender gap has substantially closed,” said George Barna in his report.

“We can posit that while tens of millions of Americans seem to be wrestling with their faith – what to believe and how to experience and express it – women have been more radically redefining their faith than men in the past two decades.”

Barna comments that women who say they are “born again” are not getting their religion from Sunday school or the Bible.

In his commentary on the findings, Barna said that churches can no longer expect women to stay in the pews.

“In fact, men and women are now equally likely to read the Bible during a typical week, thanks to the recent decline in Bible reading among females,” he said.

The amount of men reading the Bible in a typical week has gone up by a percent, to 41 percent; for women, it's fallen by 10 percent, to 40 percent.

Men have not undergone as many changes in religion as women have in the last two decades, In fact, any changes noted today finds that men are likely to either to remain steady in their religious faith or increase in numbers.

Barna did find out that the number of men attending church services has fallen only 6 percent in 20 years, compared to 11 percent for women.

He speculates that churches will have to change and engage in bold action to meet the needs of a changing world.

"The frightening reality for churches is that the people they have relied upon as the backbone of the church can no longer be assumed to be available and willing when needed, as they were in days past," he said.

Barna poses two questions in his commentary.

If women become less of a mainstay in what occurs within churches, will ministries respond by increasing the male-friendliness of the proceedings? And, as women become less front-and-center, will men be pressured to upgrade their church involvement?

“Eras of change such as that in which we live today demand alert and courageous leadership to understand the times, know what to do, and engage in bold action,” Barna said.

He does not specify an answer to the many questions revealed in the new study.

He does conclude that church ministries may have to respond by changing programs to meet the needs of men. Men may also be "pressured" to take part in church life more.

These and other findings come from Barna's annual survey. The 2011 survey conducted by Barna included 1,621 randomly chosen adults. Of the 14 religious factors studied in the Barna report, women have experienced statistically significant changes related to ten of them.

Of those transitions, eight represent less engagement in common religious behaviors or a shift in belief away from biblical teachings.

The Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

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