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World-renowned pollster George Barna has the numbers, and they indicate a revolution is already taking place within the Church - one that will impact every believer in America. Committed, born-again Christians are exiting the established church in massive numbers. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? And what does this mean for the future of the Church? Using years' worth of research data, and adhering to an unwavering biblical perspective, Barna predicts how this revolution will impact the organized church, how Christ's body of believers should react, and how individuals who are considering leaving (or those who have already left) can respond. For leaders working for positive change in the church and for believers struggling to find a spiritual community and worship experience that resonates, Revolution is here. Are you ready?
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Christianbook.com: Briefly describe the Revolution that is taking place in the Kingdom of God.
George Barna: There is an enormous, and growing, body of Christians in this country who love God and want more of Him in their life, but cannot satisfy that need through the local church or the other means they have relied upon. Consequently, they put together a series of relationships that enable them to get more of God in their life, and to be the Church rather simply go to church. Our research shows that these folks tend to emphasize their spiritual life in terms of seven distinct spiritual passions: intimate worship, faith-based conversations, intentional spiritual growth, servanthood, kingdom-focused resource investment, spiritual friendships, and family faith experiences and expression. Those tend to be the areas that Revolutionaries invest themselves in so that they may remain robust in their faith development.
Christianbook.com: What are some of the "established systems" that the revolutionaries are trying to overthrow? What types of systems structures are likely to replace the current focus on congregational churches?
George Barna: Revolutionaries are more interested in transformation than organizational efficiency or stability. We are finding that a large share of them have chosen to be less involved in a congregational church in favor of participating in alternatives such as house or organic churches, cyberchurches, marketplace ministries and even a wide variety of spiritual events that draw them closer to God and other believers without requiring or fostering a more deliberate commitment to the sponsoring organization. In an ideal environment, the family would be the central "church" unit, but we find that the family serves that function for only about 5% of the American public, and we do not anticipate that growing in the near future.
|Christianbook.com: Over the past couple of years the development of the emerging church and the writings of Brian McLaren and others has provoked a lot of criticism and critique. Is the emerging church phenomena an expression of the revolution or is it something else?|
George Barna: In some cases it is, in other cases it is not. We have examined some "emerging churches" in which all that has changed is they switched out the chandeliers for candles, the pews for couches, choirs and bands for acoustic music, and the stale church-made coffee for premium Starbucks blends. Some of the emerging churches, however, have caught the bug and are truly focused on helping each individual be with God more consistently and meaningfully. The Revolution is not about closing down churches, per se, but about reorienting our lives to God. If a local church can facilitate it, that’s great; if it cannot, then there are viable alternatives, some of which fit in the ill-defined "emerging church" category.
Christianbook.com: It seems to me that the revolutionaries conceive of their faith as a journey instead of a foundation of fundamental beliefs. If this is indeed the case, what are some of the implications of this re-envisioning?
George Barna: Their faith is about being a Christian who honors God at all times, in all ways, rather than being a member of an organization, or completing a program. It is about developing and maintaining genuine faith-based relationships that keep them solid and moving forward in their faith, rather than being seen at the right events. It is about being intentional in their spiritual growth, rather than showing up and allowing someone else to provide information and exercises that may not have anything to do with where they are in their journey and how they need to grow. It is about being more knowledgeable regarding ways of connecting their resource investment with what God is revealing to them about themselves and the world. For existing local churches, this means that there will perhaps be fewer programs that are sustained, less consistency in attendance, and greater demands for faith experiences that recognize individual needs and abilities.
|Christianbook.com: On a number of occasions throughout the book you confess that you are frustrated by the failure of the contemporary church to develop disciples who have a biblical world view and are actively incarnating the grace and truth of God in their particular contexts. How did your frustrations with the contemporary church influence your understanding and embrace of the revolution?|
George Barna: The frustrations forced me to explore the transformation process more closely. In doing the research on who has been transformed and how, I found that more often than not the transformation was triggered and nurtured by groups of disciples outside of a local church. It was what we label "spiritual mini-movements" – things like the home schooling community, the prayer networks, the spiritual disciplines groups, Christian creative arts guilds, and others. Their dominant focus was knowing, loving and serving God – and the result was substantially changed lives, with all of that change happening outside of the activities of the local church those people were engaged in. The research showed that after trying to incorporate some of their experiences into the life of their local church, they typically give up and simply pursue God without the congregation, which was generally more of a hindrance to their quest for God than a help in that process. Studying this process was encouraging to me, reminding me that the Bible does command us to go to church but to be the Church. Seeing that in action, in the lives of these people, was moving and motivating.
Christianbook.com: You assert that the revolutionaries are deeply interested in the principles and practices of the early church. What ancient principles and practices will the revolutionaries reintroduce to the contemporary Church?
George Barna: It varies from person to person. Some of the organic churches – house churches, simple churches, marketplace gatherings – have creeds, others don’t. Some develop their own rituals, others don’t. Some become very radical – relocating to urban or impoverished areas, or investing their money for kingdom purposes in very challenging ways – but others don’t. What seems most attractive to them is building a sense of community around their faith in Christ as a starting point, and then striving to listen to and be radically obedient to His daily call to be the Church. The difficulty of studying something like this revolution of faith is that it takes on so many forms and shapes that you cannot get a very firm fix on it, from a structural angle. You recognize it it primarily in terms of the fruit of people’s lives, and can backtrack from the product and see that it was a complete rethinking of their Christian life and connections that facilitated such a laudable result.
|Christianbook.com: The revolutionaries often position themselves outside of traditional structures because they want a deeper connection with God and His community. Could we say that the focus of revolutionaries is more communal than it is anti-institutional? |
George Barna: Definitely. They are pro-God, pro-kingdom, pro-Church. They are not anti-local church or anti-denominational or anti-religion. They have struggled to get their priorities right, and typically find that they need to fine tune some of their relationships and commitments in order to be a functional follower of Christ and a vibrant part of a community of vibrant believers. Usually they are so stoked about their experience with God, through their new channels of experience and expression, that they don’t waste their energy and resources trying to tear down the congregational church, but strive to emphasize what is good and fruitful in their own life. I think that, in itself, is a mark of maturity and health.
Christianbook.com: Why is it important for us to reclaim the family as a primary context for developing faith experience and expression?
George Barna: First of all, the Scriptures teach us that this was what God intended. From our earliest years, it should be a constant and consistent experience within our family that makes God central and real to us. Second, our research convincingly shows that what a person believes about God, the Church, the Bible and faith by age 13 is generally what they die believing. So having the most important influencers in a young person’s life – their parents – promoting that depth of relationship with Christ is crucial. Finally, we know that there are things the family can facilitate that no other organization or set of relationships can foster. The fact that fewer than one out of every ten families headed by born again parents engage in spiritual activities as a family during a typical month speaks to the ill health of both the local church and the family in our nation.
|Christianbook.com: A number of contemporary pastors and theologians have talked about an immanent shift from an institutional church to missional communities. Is this supposed shift towards missional communities an impetus of the "macro" and "micro" models of church that you discuss?|
George Barna: I cannot speak for those who have talked about such a shift, but we have seen in our research that millions of Revolutionaries are, in fact, driven by a desire to be more intentional and hands on in ministry. They want less of a separation between their spiritual self and the rest of their being. Similarly, they seek less of a division between the activity of their faith community and the rest of their daily experience.
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