How the Barna Group’s Monthly Forums Hope to Inform and Empower the Local Church

Do Boomers or Millennials prefer longer sermons?
What do unchurched people think about the community leadership of pastors in the wake of COVID-19?
How would individuals in your city describe the presence of the local church?

The answers may surprise you, just like they surprised many in attendance at the launch of Barna Group’s monthly forums that educate church leaders on how to better understand and serve their local community.

Over 2,300 pastors, nonprofit leaders, and civic officials have joined a year-long initiative to learn about and discuss community perceptions of the church in four major United States areas: South Florida, Kansas City, Columbus, and Dallas-Fort Worth. In each forum, attendees reviewed brand new data on how people in their communities feel about the church, ranging from their perceptions to their expectations and desires.

Early in each forum, Mark Matlock, Insights Lead for Barna, introduced Glenn Packiam, Associate Senior Pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. New Life faced a globally public scandal in the 1980s, which taught a lesson Packiam will never forget: When churches set out to regain credibility, they only make the problem worse.

“People can smell that inauthenticity,” Packiam said.

“Step one is not ‘how can I win you back?’” Packiam said. “Step one is ‘how can I listen better? How can I better understand how you are experiencing me?’”

Hubs of Hope

These are the questions that Barna’s unprecedented research asked on behalf of the church. David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, and Savannah Kimberlin, Barna’s Director of Published Research, analyzed this data for the attendees, encouraging them to identify three features according to their own contexts: spotlights, which illuminate a problem that would otherwise go unnoticed, scales, which provide an opportunity to measure something useful, and shovels, which help identify areas where more research is needed. Later in the forum, participants shared their spotlights, scales, and shovels in breakout groups that facilitated discussions on local solutions.

In all four cities, most of those who were polled think favorably of the church. In each group, the most common description was that the church “offers hope to people.” And perhaps most encouraging, the majority of both unchurched and churched respondents said that pastors in these cities demonstrated strong leadership on issues related to the pandemic and racial justice.

Across generations, the average ideal sermon length was 32 minutes in person and 30 minutes online. Millennials, often chided for their short attention spans, actually prefer longer sermons compared to older generations. Matlock identified this fact as a potential spotlight for the pastors in attendance, wondering if some millennials lack foundational Biblical knowledge that they’re now hungry for in the sermons they hear.

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Source: Christianity Today

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