George Barna’s Futurecast Projects America’s Tomorrow
By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Senior Producer
CBN.com - George Barna is well-known for his statistical research and books explaining trends in our culture and within the Church. His new book, Futurecast, continues this tradition by taking a look where we are today and what tomorrow could look like for us.
Among other issues, Futurecast explains how our society is re-crafting the traditional “American dream”, what’s happening in families today, the influence of the Christian community, and how skeptics are impacting culture.
Recently, George Barna sat down with CBN.com to discuss these issues and more. Here are excerpts from that interview.
Futurecast looks at what the trends are right now and then determining what life might be in the future. How's it looking?
George Barna: Well, it depends on your perspective. One of the points that I make is that you really can't project anymore than five to maybe seven years in advance because the culture essentially reinvents itself every three to five years. So if you can understand where we are today and what some of the possibilities are, where we might be tomorrow, you have the opportunity to try to dictate what the future might be rather than become a victim of that future.
That's part of my concern about the Christian church in America is that we’re very accommodating. And so we wait to see what people will do and then we react. But it's so much harder to try to change what already exists than to build what could exist. So I'm hoping that if people can be well enough informed they can take strategic action to determine what a better future would be. If they don't do that and the trends continue in the direction they're going, were moving farther away from a culture that honors the principles of Scripture. So, we have our work cut out for us.
Looking at what you've seen over the decades, what are the major differences you are seeing now in the Christian community?
Barna: I wrote a book on trends in 1990, wrote one in 2000, and wrote this one 2010. And looking back at what's different when I wrote Frog in the Kettle, back in 1990, from today… back then being what I am, you might call me an information merchant, that was, “Wow, look at all the information he’s got!” And now you come in with all the information it's “the big yawn.” It's like, yeah, what else you got? Because we're just so awash in information that people are almost anesthetized to all of this, which is just a big of danger as not having the information because the outcome is the same; you ignore it. So this is a time where we can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the quantity of information that's out there.
We have to very selectively look at what really matters. What other pressure points in the culture? How do we identify those? What do we need to know about them? And then how do we provide leadership in those particular areas. Providing vision for the future and what the domain might be. And what does a leader do? A leader motivates, mobilizes, resources, and directs people toward a particular vision becoming a reality. We're not providing that kind of leadership in our culture today. So first of all, we have to identify who those leaders are. Secondly we have to help them have that well-crafted, very clear vision of what the future could be that honors God and enhances people’s lives. And then get the resources to move things in that direction.
Futurecast covers a great deal when it comes to the future of family. What's ahead of us on that front?
Barna: The family remains one of the seven most dominant and influential entities in people's lives. But when we look at what family means today, it means something completely different than it did say in 1980 or even 1990. So you look at aspects of families such as marriage, and we know that most people still get married before they die, but we also know that most people who now marry also get divorced. We know that most people who now marry have cohabited for significant periods of time prior to marriage. We know that 41 percent of all the children born last year were born to women who were not married at the time of the birth, highest in America's history. And that number is continuing to climb. We look at gay marriage becoming more common, not common, but becoming more common than it was. We look at sexless marriages representing one third of all existing marriages in the country today.
All of this is radically changing what it means to live together, what it means to try to raise children, and what kind of environment they're going to be raised in. Frankly, it doesn't bode well for the future, because the underlying values that are behind all of these behaviors suggest that it's kind of a moral free-for-all that's taking place in America today. This is a nation that in some ways lusts for moral anarchy. Unfortunately, we are moving closer and closer toward that.
Compared to years past, is there something new and surprising that you see in the church?
Barna: I think maybe it's that fewer and fewer people are being fulfilled or feeling fulfilled by what we typically think of as “church life.” And so going to the conventional church campus for the typical ceremonies and events and interactive opportunities aren't satisfying people nearly as much as they have in the past. There are all kinds of changes that churches are making in terms of their practices, but there are some fundamental issues that people have with why those practices take place, what the potential value of those practices and the teachings that they get are.
People are more and more lying back, waiting to see what else do they have. What are some other opportunities? So that's why you see so many millions and millions of people experimenting with house churches, with marketplace ministries, with cyber ministries, looking for a new way, a better way, a different way, a more meaningful way in their life. And I think you're going to continue to see that with these two emerging generations with the digitals and the mosaics who really don't understand anything about the history, the traditions, and the customs of the church or care about it.
They just want to know, “What have you got for me that's going to work given who I am and what I think is important in life?” And then we’ve also got this major leadership, that leadership shift, that's taking place today where more and more boomers are losing their positions of leadership. I would say stepping aside, but they generally don't step aside. They have to be pushed out. But what that means is now you've got more leaders from the baby bust generation coming in, and they have a very different mentality, different vocabulary, whole different approach to ministry. And we'll see if that satisfies the needs of these younger generations.
Was there something outside the church that sort of surprised you were concerned you the most amongst people who aren't Christians or people of faith?
Barna: Well, there are two things that are really significant. One of those is the growth in the percentage of our country who are skeptics. That percentage has doubled since 1982. They're very aggressive and more evangelistic about their faith or lack thereof, then Christians are with their own faith.
The second thing is the extraordinary influence of media. Media pretty much determines what people believe, whether we're looking at economics or family or faith or lifestyle. So the question there is, can the Christian media actually compete in that space with the mainstream media? We don't see that happening yet, but I'm hopeful that the church in the future will recognize it’s in the media space that the game by and large is won or lost for people's lives, people's hearts, people's souls. You've got to play in that space, and you've got to play effectively. Right now, we don't take it seriously. We don't raise very many professionals who go into that space, and those who do by and large feel as if their faith has to be secondary. If we play the game that way, we will lose.
If there would be one worrisome trend that you see for our culture, what would it be?
Barna: The absence of godly vision-driven leaders who are willing to embrace and promote biblical values. Another shift that concerns me greatly is that American Christians are willing to have the culture change around them without fighting for it.
Barna: If you're a Christian, you always have the hope that God wants only the best for you and He wants only the best for this country. He's placed us here to facilitate that, if we're willing to listen to Him and to be obedient and to pursue His agenda, His will. Our only hope always is in Christ. Our greatest challenge always is, “Will we pursue that hope?”
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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