Few Have a Positive View of Christians

Geoarge Barna

From: The Barna Research Group, www.barna.org, December 3, 2002. Used by permission.

One reason why evangelical churches across the nation are not growing is due to the image that non-Christian adults have of evangelical individuals. In a nationwide survey released by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California among a representative sample of people who do not consider themselves to be Christian, the image of “evangelicals” rated tenth out of eleven groups evaluated, beating out only prostitutes. The non-Christian population was not as dismissive of all Christians or religious people, however, as ministers and “born again Christians” were among the three highest-rated segments evaluated.


Impressions Count

Adults who do not consider themselves to be Christian were asked to provide their impressions of eleven groups. The only group that received a “favorable” opinion from a majority of the non-Christian individuals was “military officers.” Fifty-six percent had favorable opinions of the group and just 6% had an unfavorable opinion. (The remainder was somewhere in-between or did not have an opinion of the group.)

Just less than half — 44% — said they have favorable opinions of ministers, with only 9% having a negative opinion of the group. Born again Christians ranked third, with one-third (32%) saying they had a favorable impression of the group, and half as many (17%) indicating an unfavorable impression.

Among the remaining eight groups, half had a higher positive than negative image and two had a predominantly negative image. The segments whose image tended to be more favorable than unfavorable included Democrats (32% favorable, 12% unfavorable), real estate agents (30% positive, 11% negative), movie and television performers (25% positive, 14% negative), and lawyers (24% positive and 18% negative). Republicans (23% favorable, 22% unfavorable) and evangelicals (22% favorable, 23% unfavorable) were the only groups whose image was equally positive and negative. Groups with a predominantly negative image were lesbians (23% positive, 30% negative) and prostitutes (5% favorable, 55% unfavorable).

In terms of the actual positive and negative percentages awarded to different groups, the study points out that less than half of the non-Christian public has a favorable impression of any of the three religious groups evaluated. Just 44% have positive views of clergy, only one-third (32%) have a positive impression of born again Christians and just one-fifth (22%) have a positive view of evangelicals.


Language and Sources Considered

The survey data suggest that people form impressions of others on the basis of one-dimensional images created and communicated by the mass media. “Our studies show that many of the people who have negative impressions of evangelicals do not know what or who an evangelical is,” commented George Barna, whose firm conducted the research. “People’s impressions of others are often driven by incomplete, inaccurate or out-of-context information conveyed under the guise of objectivity when, in fact, there is a point-of-view being advanced by the information source. Too often, we develop mental images of others without knowing those people.”

The research also reveals the power of language. “Somehow, ‘born again Christians’ have a more favorable image than do ‘evangelicals,’ although few adults are able to identify any substantive differences between those two groups,” noted Barna. “This is most likely a result of the thrashing that evangelicals receive in the media. It seems that millions of non-Christians have negative impressions of evangelicals, even though they cannot define what an evangelical is, accurately identify the perspectives of the group, or identify even a handful of people they know personally who are evangelicals. There appears to be a lot of religious divisiveness in America based on caricatures and myths rather than on the basis of true ideological or theological differences.”

From: The Barna Research Group website, www.barna.org. Used by permission.