A new survey of a random sampling of 5,000 teens and adults has brought to light some sobering trends coupled with hopeful signs in America right now. People are in search of the truth—and Christian media needs to be equipped and ready to respond.
According to a new study and findings revealed by NRB and the Center for Biblical Engagement at the NRB convention on Thursday, March 10, Christian media will need to rethink its approach and methodology.
Troy A. Miller, CEO of NRB, and Dr. Arnie Cole, spiritual formation analyst with Back to the Bible, shared some of the survey’s findings in a forum titled “Harsh Truths & Hopeful Signs: Christian Media in the Battle against Spiritual Darkness.”
“We want to look at what’s going on in the media industry, especially what’s going on in the industry with Christian media consumption… So, we partnered together with the Center for Biblical Engagement to look at some of those trends,” Miller said.
People are looking for the truth and Christian media needs to be ready to respond. We need to know the trends, what’s going on in the culture, and we need to know where people are and how to meet them, he said.
In the future, Miller said NRB plans to release at least one or two pieces of research every year to illuminate trends in the industry. While the convention forum presented a snapshot of the data, there are plans to release a whitepaper this summer, along with several other initiatives.
“The first thing we found out is the U.S. is not a Christian nation by what we define as Christ followers, someone saved by grace,” Cole said. The life of an individual who reads the Bible four or more times a week is radically different from the norm. Without this spiritual discipline, the probability of spiritual growth throughout your life declines.
“While we have a number of people that profess to be Christian in this country… they’re not living up to their Christian potential,” Miller said. “They are not walking the same walk they’re professing.”
From his perspective as a researcher, Cole said, “A one-size fits all spiritual content strategy will continue to have increasingly tragic results.”
Topics explored in the national survey included beliefs about good and evil, use of Christian media, media motivations, and personal faith practices. A few key findings: 64 percent of those surveyed were raised in a Christian home; nearly 40 percent of U.S. teens and adults still attend church at least monthly; 58 percent pray weekly; and 70 percent do not engage with the Bible at all.
The survey identified four categories of media consumers: those who need evangelism, those who need discipleship, mature believers, and disciple makers.
“Looking at the United States, you have 81 percent, or 8 out of 10 people of all age groups, who are not Christ followers. They say they don’t know Jesus. This isn’t a guess,” Cole said. “There’s only one percent of the population that need activation to become disciple makers, and this was a shock to us. We’ll explain why this is a trend.”
Cole observed that in America, 5 percent of people are “disciple makers,” or those that are most serious in following Christ. Disciple makers are the core audience for Christian media, challenging the usual industry notion that “content is king.”
Additionally, Cole added that from “predictive analytics, we found that age is a strong predictor of your openness to engaging with Christian media. That’s a pretty awesome finding, and the reason for that is those under age 50 have a higher likelihood of engaging with Christian media at all levels.”
In other findings, data show that 81 percent of people don’t engage with any kind of spiritual media, and respondents don’t intend to engage with more than they already do. Of those ages 15 to 17, 54 percent never engage with spiritual media, and of those ages 50 and older, 75 percent never engage with spiritual media, and the older generation is harder to reach, especially through media. These individuals who do not engage with Christian media and do not intend to are the group in need of evangelism, in Cole’s analysis.
The younger a person’s age, the more likely they are to engage with religious media, the study found. On the other hand, the survey indicated that significantly more young people are walking away from their faith (60 percent) at a much earlier age (15-17 years old)—and they are staying away. Along those same lines, significant numbers of people over the age of 50 are disengaging from their faith.
A growing number (16.5 percent) of the group who needs evangelism do not believe in the concept of good and evil.
Another finding showed that Christian media is mostly reaching the “already reached,” while some survey respondents reported that spiritual media can actually turn people away from biblical faith (18.9 percent).
Yet, even with some discouraging trends, the survey data also contained hopeful signals: People are open to Christian media through a variety of media, whether on TV, news media, or social media. A second promising sign: everyone loves humor! Third, the ability to identify an individual’s beliefs and spiritual practices paves the way for personalized Christian content delivery.
Angela Minter, a convention attendee from Sisters for Life in Louisville, Kentucky, said she found the data surprising.
“I thought they did an amazing job presenting the data, but I also was shocked that so many of the 50-year-olds and above are walking away from their faith and not engaging,” Minter said.
Minter observed that even students who attend Christian schools are struggling to follow God, highlighting the importance of meeting young people where they are and learning how to reach them effectively.
“It lets us know how intentional we really must be. We can’t just send them to school and think if they go to a Christian school, they are going to be okay. No, as parents, as grandparents, and as the body of Christ, we really need to make sure we are intentional about communicating and engaging, and, meeting them where they are, and engaging in a way where they can receive spiritual direction from us,” Minter said.
For her, Minter said, the hopeful sign is that Christians can turn the situation around.
“I do have hope because we are coming here to NRB. We are coming here to learn, grow, and connect, but as we learn the data, we can make sure we implement the things that we are being taught. So, that for me is encouraging. I’m excited,” Minter said.