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CULTURE DIGEST: Spiritual immaturity stymies church, researcher Barna says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An unclear understanding of spiritual maturity may be an underlying reason why there is so little progress in seeing people develop spiritually in the United States, despite overwhelming access to churches and unlimited products and resources, The Barna Group says.

“America has a spiritual depth problem partly because the faith community does not have a robust definition of its spiritual goals,” David Kinnaman, Barna’s president, said. “The study shows the need for new types of spiritual metrics.”

Barna found that most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules described in the Bible. Also, many churchgoers were unable to identify how their church defines spiritual maturity. Most Christians, Barna said, offer one-dimensional views of personal spiritual maturity, giving answers such as having a relationship with Jesus, living a moral lifestyle or applying the Bible.

Most pastors struggle with articulating a specific set of objectives for spirituality and instead list activities over attitudes, the study said. Pastors are willing to acknowledge that a lack of spiritual maturity is one of the largest problems in the nation, but few of them say spiritual immaturity is a problem in their church.

When Barna asked the 600-plus pastors who were part of the survey to identify biblical references to chart spiritual maturity, most gave generic responses such as “the whole Bible,” “the gospels” or “the New Testament.” Just 2 percent mentioned the Galatians 5 passage listing the fruit of the Spirit.

“One new metric might be a renewed effort on the part of leaders to articulate the outcomes of spiritual growth. Another might be the relational engagement and accountability that people maintain,” Kinnaman said. “Of course, spirituality is neither a science nor a business, so there is a natural resistance to ascribing scientific or operational standards to what most people believe is an organic process.

“Yet, the process of spiritual growth is neither simplistic nor without guidelines, so hard work and solid thinking in this arena is needed.”

Barna identified some opportunities in addressing the problems related to spiritual maturity in the nation. One positive, they said, is that Christians and pastors understand the obstacles that must be overcome, such as a lack of personal motivation, other competing obligations and a lack of involvement in spiritually nurturing activities.

Also, while most Americans are relatively content with the current state of their spiritual maturity, millions aspire to grow, Barna said. Christians under the age of 40 are less satisfied with spirituality and less “rule oriented” compared to older believers.

Another positive is that pastors who were surveyed realize they need more help with assessing spiritual health.

“Perhaps churchgoers would become less complacent about self-evaluation as pastors embrace more effective forms of evaluation for their congregations,” the report said.

For more information, visit barna.org.

OUT-OF-WEDLOCK BIRTHS RISE WORLDWIDE — The percentage of births to unmarried mothers is increasing worldwide, and nearly four in 10 U.S. births were to unmarried women in 2007, according to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Birth rates have risen considerably for unmarried women in their 20s and over, the report said, and nonmarital birth rates are highest for Hispanic women followed by black women.

The study, released in May, said births to unmarried women in 2007 totaled 1.7 million, up 26 percent from 2002. Sixty percent of births to women ages 20-24 were to unmarried women, up from 52 percent in 2002, and 32 percent of births to women ages 25-29 were to unmarried women, up from 25 percent in 2002.

Among the 14 countries analyzed in the report, the percentage of all live unmarried births in the United States — 40 percent — ranks somewhere in the middle. USA Today noted the U.S. figure is up from 18 percent in 1980.

The National Center for Health Statistics said nonmarital births are at a higher risk of having adverse birth outcomes such as low birthweight, preterm birth and infant mortality than children born to married women. Children born to single mothers also typically have more limited social and financial resources as well, the report said.

The historic increases in nonmarital childbearing result from many factors, the center said, including substantial delays in marriage beginning with the baby-boom generation and changes in sexual activity, contraceptive effectiveness and use, and abortion. Many children are born to couples in cohabiting relationships, they noted, with about 40 percent of nonmarital births to cohabiting women.

Also, attitudinal changes have impacted the statistics, the report said, as societal disapproval that unmarried mothers faced at one time has diminished sharply.

CHURCH ATTENDANCE INFLUENCED NOTRE DAME OPINION — About half of the American Catholics surveyed prior to President Obama’s visit to the University of Notre Dame said they approved of him delivering the commencement address and receiving an honorary doctorate.

But the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that among both Catholics overall and white non-Latino Catholics, opinion on the issue varied by church attendance.

Those who attended Mass at least weekly were more likely than those who attended less often to have heard about the controversy and to say it was wrong for Notre Dame to invite Obama, Pew found. Among Catholics who had heard about the expected visit, 54 percent said the university was right to invite the president.

Obama was the sixth sitting president to be invited to speak at a Notre Dame graduation, but his support for abortion is in stark contrast to the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance. Bishop John D’Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, did not attend the graduation because of Obama’s “unwillingness to hold human life as sacred.”

More than 50 bishops urged Notre Dame’s president to rescind his invitation, but Notre Dame President John Jenkins said the university was honoring Obama for breaking a racial barrier and for his inspirational leadership, not his positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

In the November election, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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