The Church and the Mosaic Generation
George Barna is the president of the Barna Research Group,
Ltd., a marketing research firm located in Ventura, California.
To date, Barna has written more than two dozen books about
ministry, the culture and church dynamics. Included among
them are bestsellers such as The Frog in the Kettle, The Second
Coming of the Church, User-Friendly Churches, The Power of
Vision and Marketing the Church. His recent books include
Growing True Disciples, and Boiling Point. Free subscriptions
to The Barna Update are available via e-mail. Sign up at www.Barna.org.
Many people know Barna from his intensive seminars for
church leaders that are produced by Barna Research and based
on original research. He is a popular speaker at ministry
conferences around the world and has taught at several universities
and seminaries. He has served as a pastor of a large, multicultural
church and has been involved in several church plants. He
is currently participating in the startup of a national church
association for innovative churches.
He has served on several boards of directors, including
Compassion International, Evangelicals for Social Action and
the Wagner Institute for Practical Leadership. He is the founding
director of The Barna Institute, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to providing strategic information to ministries.
We met with him at his office in Ventura, California,
the day after the fall of Kabul in Afghanistan, and it provoked
our first question.
HOMILETICS: Since 9/11, has the country found religion?
BARNA: Whenever you go through a period of suffering
or something that causes great fear, there tends to be a period
of time where people look for something that will give them
stability and consistency. So what we saw was that for the
immediate month after the attacks, people were pondering the
existence of God, the character of God, the role of the church,
how faith fits into their lives. There was a brief spike in
church attendance, but since that time it's come back down
we're about two months out now and we're pretty
much back to pre-attack levels in just about everything.
HOMILETICS: You talk about "turnaround churches."
If this experience isn't an instrument to turn around churches
BARNA: The whole research we did on turnaround churches had
to do with congregations that had been strong at one point
and then pretty much fell apart and then had a particular
catalytic activity or series of events take place that enabled
that congregation to be strong again. One of the necessary
components is that those churches brought in a new individual
to be their primary leader, and that individual is not just
a preacher-teacher not that that's bad, we
need those but that the individual who came in to
spearhead that ministry was first and foremost a leader. This
is one of the driving difficulties we have in most churches
in America today. We have good people who are well-educated,
good-intentioned and called to ministry, but they are not
for the most part leaders. They are teachers, preachers, counselors,
they have good skills, and they certainly have spiritual gifts
and they can help people, but they can't lead.
HOMILETICS: So where do they get that leadership gene?
BARNA: God. It's something you're born
with. I've studied leaders for 20 years now in thousands
and thousands of interviews
HOMILETICS: So what does a church do that doesn't
have a leader?
BARNA: Get one! Get one. The whole model we're suggesting
that we've seen work in churches well is a leadership-based
model that uses a team approach rather than expecting the
dynamic, charismatic superstar to be the answer to everyone's
problems and needs. The difficulty is that we've got
a few extraordinary cases in this country where we have leaders
who are so phenomenal that it appears they've been
able to pull it off. But they're the aberration. Unfortunately
we look at them, we have conferences, we talk about them and
what they've done, and we say "That's
the norm! Why don't we all do that?" Well, God
didn't call us to do that. He's called each
of us to lead a little bit differently. We need to figure
out, "What is my leadership capacity or aptitude?"
and we would argue that there are four different leadership
aptitudes, and you need to understand which one you have if
you're truly a leader and then surround yourself with
a team of leaders who possess those other aptitudes so that
you're covering all the bases, you're complementing
each other's activities rather than simply duplicating
them, and you're really focusing on the vision that
God has for your church's ministry.
HOMILETICS: How important is the preaching component in the
BARNA: It's huge. But it's huge only if that
preaching is followed up with authentic discipleship. Simply
throwing good information at people is what we've been
doing in America for years and years now. We have tens of
thousands of great teachers and preachers in America. I don't
think the issue is "How can we find more good teachers
and preachers of God's word?" We have a lot
of those. The difficulty is and we hear this in our
research is when people walk out of the service and
we ask them, "What did you get out of that experience?"
and they say, "Well, I got a few good tidbits."
We've got to do a lot better than give people a few
good tidbits. Part of that issue is helping people to connect
the dots with the bigger picture. Where are we taking this
What we know, because we just finished a study on this a few
days ago, is that the vast majority of people when they make
their decisions never consider what their faith has to say
about that situation, particularly what the Bible has to say
about it. Instead, what they look at is: What do people expect
me to do? What have I done in the past that didn't
get me into trouble? What would be easiest to do right now?
So those become the limiting decision-making factors that
we turn to. Instead, what we have to be doing is to be thinking
over a three-to five-year period of time "How can I
expose people to all the elements that Scripture gives us
to us that would help us to understand what it means to truly
be a Christian?" Not to just understand what it means
to be a Christian, but to truly be a Christian, to act like
a Christian. When we look at the values, lifestyles, the moral
perspective and behaviors of Christians, we can see that there's
virtually no difference between Christians and non-Christians.
HOMILETICS: But do we really want to know what it means to
act like a Christian?
BARNA: There are a couple of things that go into that. One
of them is that we're happy to take the label of Christian
and not have to deal with the responsibility. Part of that
is because of an absence of leadership in churches. You see,
most of the churches in America have no God-given vision that
they're centered on. And so what do we wind up doing?
We revert to playing the religious game. Let's have
more programs, let's get more people in the seats,
let's build a bunch of buildings all the things
about which the world would say, "Ah, that's
success." This has nothing to do with God's
equation of "Are you holy? Are you obedient? Are you
serving? Do you want to be like Christ?" So we've
missed the boat there. We've got to have the leadership
Secondly, people have to see it modeled. A lot of educational
research has come out in the last five to seven years that
shows that 60 70 percent of the behavioral change
that takes place in a people's lives in America is
based upon finding someone that they know, and that they trust,
watching what they do, and imitating their behavior. So modeling
is huge. Where in the church do we see this being modeled
for us by high-profile, trustworthy, credible individuals?
So this is another missing component.
Then, we could get into the whole discussion about the family.
Is there such a thing as a Christian family? We know that
less than 10 percent of all Christian families ever spend
time studying the Bible and praying together. Less than 10%.
So what does that mean? It means that most Christian families
are saying to the local church, "Here are my kids.
You deal with them and I'll do my best to get them
there next week. That's my contribution." So
that's not enough.
Then we need to look at the whole element of "What
is it that actually influences people's thinking and
behavior?" This is the focus of the research we're
doing right now. I don't know the ultimate answers.
But the preliminary insights would suggest that when we look
at the major sources of influence in people's lives,
the church is not on the list. The major ones are movies,
television, the Internet, publishing, public policy officials,
HOMILETICS: The church only makes that list when there's
BARNA: Even then, it only makes it for a few weeks.
HOMILETICS: When people do want to get reconnected with the
church, what are they looking for?
BARNA: What are they looking for? Are we talking 9/11 or
HOMILETICS: Pre-attack levels. They walk through
the door to check it out, what are they scouting for? [pauses
to check tape recorder]
BARNA: Make sure you get all this heresy down [laughter]
HOMILETICS: That's right!
BARNA: Generally, what people are looking for is a place where
they will feel comfortable, a place where they feel like they
fit in and relate to other people in a significant way, a
place where their children will have a positive experience,
and a place where they will get some information that will
help them lead a more productive life.
HOMILETICS: In many communities, the megachurches evidently
provide what people are looking for. Do you think that is
going to continue to happen, or are people looking for smaller
communities in which to connect?
BARNA: I don't think the megachurch is the church of
the future in America. We still have a lot of them, and they'll
continue to have a lot of influence in the church community,
but what we're seeing already is a move away from the
large religious venues to the more mid-sized kind of places
where it's easier for people to make some of those
connections and feel like they're really adding value
to what's really taking place through that ministry.
They're not so overwhelmed by the size so much. Not
true of all people, of course, but there seems to be a move
And then, as we look at this youngest generation, the mosaic
HOMILETICS: Why do you call it the mosaic generation?
BARNA: Whole parcel of reasons. Their thinking style
is nonlinear, tends to be mosaic, eclectic in fashion, their
lifestyle in terms of how they put together their agendas,
their priorities, again is very nonlinear, the nature of their
relationships is mosaic in the sense that not only do they
have a constantly changing tribe of friends, but it's also
much more multicultural in nature than we've seen in prior
generations. Their theological perspectives are very idiosyncratic
HOMILETICS: syncretistic no doubt, too.
BARNA: Absolutely. Very much.
HOMILETICS: So when we look at the mosaic generation, in
terms of what they're looking for, you were saying
before I rudely interrupted you
BARNA: What we're finding with the mosaics is that,
first of all, they're hard to get a handle on, they're so
contradictory in nature. You look at them and you see one
thing, and what you see is not what you get. Right now their
participation is not driven by spiritual opportunity, it's
driven by relational opportunity and desiring experiences
with their relational tribe. If the tribe happens to be there,
that's where they check it out, that's where they do what
they do, but they're not saying, "Wow, church is a great
addition to my life; I need to keep this in mind for the future."
What they do want for the future, they're not thinking about
the traditional forms of the church, they're thinking, "If
I'm going to have some kind of spiritual interaction, it's
going to be in some smaller units, maybe with some of the
people I work with, hanging out at lunch and dealing with
spiritual stuff. Maybe it's going to be more of a familial
or family-oriented spiritual endeavor, maybe it's going to
be more of a tribal endeavor where 5, 10, 15 of my closest
friends we'll get together on an irregular, unpredictable
basis, we'll talk about spiritual things." I think, probably
to a much greater extent than anyone is expecting, that generation
is going to reshape what the church looks like in the future.
HOMILETICS: But isn't that generation going to change
as it grows older? This is the way they function now, but
BARNA: That's not the same. There are all kinds of
change. One of them has to do with life cycles.
But we've got to remember that this group of people does
not come into the game with the same set of presuppositions
that we did. So given that they don't believe in just one
God, given that they don't believe that one faith is the true
or appropriate faith, given that they don't believe that there
is any such thing as absolute moral truth, given that they
do believe in absolute freedom of lifestyle and choice
you put all that and a lot of other things together and their
question is not "What church will I go to when I am living
independently?" but "Why would I go to church when
I'm living independently?"
HOMILETICS: Do you see any way in which the church should
be more responsive to the culture?
BARNA: I think the first thing we've got to do is not
so much look at culture, but look at God's vision for
the nature of the church that allegedly we as leaders are
leading. We found that fewer than one in five Protestant churches
in America have a sense of what God's vision for its
ministry is. In my bolder days, I might even question, "Did
God call these churches into existence, or did we do our demographic
studies and decide ÔOur denomination doesn't
have a church here. We need to have a presence here.'"
HOMILETICS: But isn't that a function of the pastor's
BARNA: I don't care what a pastor's theological
vision is. I care about what God's vision is for that
HOMILETICS: Right, I understand that. But if you have a church
like you were talking about fewer than one out of
five have no sense of what God's vision is for them
in that place doesn't that say something about
pastoral leadership in that context?
BARNA: Yes, and what it says is what I was indicating before:
these people aren't leaders. A leader is driven by
a vision; a teacher is driven by an audience who can be affected
HOMILETICS: Ooh. I like that. Cool!
BARNA: [laughs] Well, it is and it isn't. It's
cool to know it, it's harder to see it in practice
in 97 percent of our churches. Again, it's not to put
down teachers and preachers. Leaders need those individuals
working along side them to help make things work theologically
and spiritually, in terms of what we're trying to do
as the church. We've come up with this awful idea that
if you're the primary leader of the church, you must
also be the primary teacher. The reality is that those are
very different gifts, very different ways of thinking, different
ways of spending your time, take a different kind of temperament.
Now, great leaders are great communicators, but they're
not necessarily going to spend all their time preaching sermons,
teaching Sunday school classes and leading small groups and
those kinds of things. Really, what they need to do is to
partner with those whom God has brought to that ministry whose
primary love and skill and gifting are in the area of teaching
and preaching and work as a team.
HOMILETICS: What you do reminds me of the radiologist who's
just taken an X-ray and is holding it up to the light to see
what's there. When you hold up that X-ray of the church,
are you pessimistic, optimistic?
BARNA: There are a number of really great churches in America
today. There are literally millions of individuals who love
Christ with their whole body, heart, soul and strength. But
in terms of where are we going? If we continue down the same
path that we're going down now, the final frame of
the movie is not a pretty picture. I mean, ultimately God
wins, and his cause prevails. But getting to that point, we've
radically lost our way. So unless we're willing to
go back and significantly rethink what we're doing
and why we're doing it, there's not an awful
lot of hope of authentic Christianity surviving in America.
HOMILETICS: That seems such a strange prognosis from you.
When you look at many evangelical churches, so many are booming.
BARNA: Numbers. But so what? You're not measuring
just numbers. That's irrelevant.
HOMILETICS: But for many churches, especially mainline, it's
not irrelevant. Many are in survival mode.
BARNA: But that's not the issue here. The issue that
needs to be addressed is, "Why has God called you here?"
I don't care if you're mainline, evangelical,
charismatic, fundamentalist we all have to struggle
with the same underlying fundamental issues of what is the
church supposed to be about. I can show you a bunch of churches
that are small and are much healthier churches than some of
the megachurches that we've studied which are growing
by 20 percent, 25 percent, but so what?
HOMILETICS: So what impresses you then? We have this mega
Twist-and-Shout Revival Center that is doing everything, and
you're not impressed. What impresses you? [voice rising]
BARNA: [Calmly, not responding to this outburst] What impresses
me is when I find people in a church who are living their
lives around the notion that we exist for one reason and that
is to know, love and serve God with all our heart, mind, strength
When I find people who don't just think of Sunday morning
as the time to worship God but who look at every moment of
their waking life as an opportunity to somehow worship and
praise God, that their life is an act of worship
When I find individuals who are willing to sacrifice some
of their own joys and pleasures and resources to serve people
who through no fault of their own have nothing in life, or
certainly a lot less and they need help and they need encouragement
When I look at individuals who want to a part of a community
of faith that's encouraging each other, that's
holding each other accountable, that's really serious
about showing the world an alternative to the stuff that others
are saying constitutes success
That's what impresses me! When I find churches of people
like that, and who have a leader who says, "You know
what? That's our focus. And my job as a leader here
in this church is to make sure that I'm not only holding
you to that perspective, but empowering you or enabling you
to achieve that by providing whatever resources it's
going to take, by providing whatever encouragement it's
going take to be that kind of body.
HOMILETICS: Are brand names important anymore?
BARNA: No. With a small segment of the population they are.
But we find that for most people the brand is irrelevant.
At the outer fringes, you have maybe 15 percent of the population
for whom that brand name is very important in a positive way.
And there's another 15 percent for whom the brand name
is very important but in a negative way, so those groups sort
of cancel each other out. The majority of the people are somewhere
in the middle. They're looking for the substance of
the church, rather than the title.
HOMILETICS: We've got to wrap this up. I was thinking
of all the hats you wear: pollster, researcher, author, church
leader, husband, parent. By the way, ever meet George Gallup?
Influence your work?
BARNA: George is great.
HOMILETICS: When I was a student in Princeton, I was
BARNA: I grew up in Princeton.
HOMILETICS: Really? I was at the seminary, and once was hitchhiking
back into town and he picked me up
BARNA: No way!
HOMILETICS: and we had a great conversation. Very
interested in what I was doing. Gracious man.
BARNA: A great guy. I probably spent more time in the seminary
gym playing basketball than most seminarians.
HOMILETICS: You studied there, too?
BARNA: No, we just broke in [laughter].
HOMILETICS: Do you like to think of yourself as a pollster?
Sort of mundane. What's your contribution to the kingdom?
BARNA: Well, again, as a leader, it goes back to what's
the vision God has for my life. And I would describe it as
trying to be a catalyst for a moral and spiritual revolution
in America. So the Barna Research Group is one part of what
we do to facilitate that revolution. But my role is more akin
to that of a prophet, causing people to rethink what we're
doing and why we're doing it, and what are we really
called by God to be doing. Not to be saying "Hey I
don't like what you're doing," but just
to hold up the mirror and say, "Here's what
it looks like. Is this what you want it to look like? When
you stand before a holy, righteous, omnipotent God are you
going to say ÔI'm really proud of this? I really
poured my life into looking like this?' Is that the
portrait you want?" So in that sense I'm trying
to be a part of a team of leaders within the church to make
sure that the church people experience is the authentic, biblical
Christian church and not the comfortable, cultural Christian
HOMILETICS: Our last interview that we did was with Terry
Mattingly, who writes a religious column for Scripps-Howard
syndicate, and he's got this Mennonite beard thing
going [Barna starts laughing], although he's Orthodox.
What's with the scruffy look? Been sleeping in the
BARNA: I'm in book-writing mode. I've got two books
I've got to finish before December 20, and I just got started.
My daughters keep saying, "Daddy, get rid of it, get
rid of it! It scratches!"