By Jon Coutts
January 22, 2007
George Barna’s Revolution is the kind of book you either love or you hate. Quite frankly, it probably depends on the attitude of the reader. On the one hand it could be considered a must-read for people who are either oblivious to or perplexed by the current tensions in the Church of the West. On the other hand it could be a harmful catalyst for further polarity between the unsatisfied and the entrenched.
George Barna is Christianity’s favorite pollster. Charting church trends and positing explanations has made, his organization is a hot resource for church strategy and evaluation. Revolution is a product of the most recent number crunching, and for the local Church, the results are not good.
Barna’s research has identified an unsettling trend: Increasing numbers of Christians have become fed up with the Church and are not taking it anymore. This may not sound like news to some, except for the fact that these people do not seem to be your typical "bedside Baptists," but passionate followers of Christ. In fact, Barna sees them as the leaders of an entirely appropriate revolution, which he likens to the Reformation itself. He paints an urgent picture of the situation:
Existing churches have a historic decision to make: to ignore the revolution and continue business as usual, to invest energy in fighting the revolution as an unbiblical advance or to look for ways of retaining their identity while cooperating with the revolution as a mark of unity and genuine ministry. My current research suggests that the latter approach will be the least common.
George Barna is to be thanked for giving voice to the silent masses who wish to follow Christ but do not find it possible to do so in their local church. They have important things to say about the consumeristic, rationalistic, boxed-up and watered down approach of so many churches today. What is disconcerting is that for some reason they are not saying it. Is this because no one has been listening or because they do not care to share? Regardless, if these voices are not heard it does not bode well for the Church.
What is odd about Barna’s book is that he does not seem all that concerned. Instead of calling the Church to come together and redefine itself in the grace of Christ rather than splinter any further, Barna encourages more of us to abandon ship before it sinks. Instead of encouraging less consumerism, he proposes that revolutionaries are right to treat churches and para-church organizations as a veritable smorgasbord for their own selective participation. Ironically, what should have been a reproach to the entrenchment of individualism in the Western Church ends up taking it to its furthest extreme—a people starved for true Christian community are told to retreat further into themselves to find the Church they seek.
This should startle traditional churchgoers and so-called “revolutionaries” alike. The local Church today is in need of regeneration. It is unclear whose fault the current situation is, but we are way past pointing fingers. That said, only listening to those who pat you on the back is the surest way to miss the point. Unfortunately, this book may lend fuel to the fire of both sides and leave the Church in disrepair. However, if it can be read with an attitude for positive change, then it will be a book well read. Christ loves His Church. We would do well to follow His lead and strive together to give Him something to like about it, too.