July 14, 2011
A new study conducted by the Barna Group says most Americans believe churches are assets to their communities. More than three out of four respondents (78 percent) said that the presence of a church in their community was either “very” or “somewhat” positive. Only 5 percent said churches were a negative influence in a community; the rest had no opinion on the matter.
Although most agreed churches were of benefit to their community, relatively few respondents knew precisely how a church could or should contribute to the community. When asked, “What does your community need, if anything, that you feel churches could provide?” slightly more than 20 percent overall couldn’t give a single suggestion, and one-third of the unchurched couldn’t, either. Nearly 30 percent said churches could assist the poor, homeless, and underresourced in the community. Thirteen percent suggested churches help the community’s youth, families, and elderly. Fourteen percent said churches should promote biblical values and morals in the community, and 12 percent said churches could teach the Bible and give spiritual direction to local residents. Ten percent said churches could support residents with recovery and counseling issues.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, observed that “churches are perceived to be an important element of a community, even among the unchurched.” He said this is likely due to the fact that many unchurched are actually “de-churched,” i.e., former church members. He also remarked on the level of indifference toward churches rather than outright negativity, and he noted that most community members don’t see the church as beneficial beyond assisting the needy. “Introducing people to a transformed life in Christ is rarely perceived to be an act of community service.”