The recently released Barna Frames Project reports that “trust in institutions is quickly giving way to a nation of cynics…with Americans are ranking their confidence in institutions at abysmal levels.” Causes include:

  • Historic trends generated by events such as Watergate and the financial crisis
  • The Government shutdown
  • Pope Francis’ public callout of the Vatican bank
  • NSA whistleblowing
  • The disastrous Obamacare rollout

The three major trends are:

1. The role of “church” generates both more skeptics and stronger apologists.
When it comes to the value of a local church, Americans are now essentially lumped into three equal-sized groups: those who say it is necessary to attend church, those who say it is not, and those who are on the fence about the value of local church participation.

So what does all of this mean for church leaders? New Barna research highlights a renewed urgency for spiritual substance—not the worship style, the dress code, or the programs, but the substance of what it means to participate in church. The research shows the top reason people (39%) choose a church is for its teaching.

2. Americans wrestle with a culture of violence.
The nation’s institutional distrust is furthered by the fact that when it comes to violence, institutions sworn to protect citizens often seem powerless to prevent violent outbreaks. The Boston bombing, the Newtown school shootings and other horrific displays of violence showed how powerless our society can sometimes be to stop violence.

  • New Barna research found adults name bullying at school (36%) as their top concern on issues of violence today.
  • Only about one-quarter (26%) of all adults agree with the statement, “I have a patriotic duty to support the wars my country fights.”
  • Nearly half of adults (47%) say they are less comfortable with violence than 10 years ago.
  • Americans believe there is connection between violent behavior and playing violent video games (57%), watching violent movies (51%) and listening to music with violent lyrics (47%).

3. Trust in the public school system is failing.
Every fall, a majority of parents entrust their child’s future anew to the public school systems—but Barna’s research shows more and more are feeling conflicted about this course of action for their child.

  • Nearly half of adults (46%) believe public schools have only gotten worse in the past five years.
  • While more than eight out of 10 adults with school-aged children send their kids to public school, only 26% of those parents say public school is their first choice.
  • 66% of all Americans believe “churches and faith-based groups should be given more opportunities to support local schools.”
  • 95% of pastors believe Christians should get involved in helping public schools and 85% of practicing Christians agree with them.

These stats and infographics would make for a great youth group discussion, or even an after-church fellowship or small group. If framed within a biblical worldview there’s much encouragement for the Christian faith here and open doors of Gospel opportunity.

Possible Questions to Discuss
1. If teaching is the primary reason people choose a church, what can we do to teach better, highlight what we teach, and spread our teaching?

2. Rate your trust (out of 10) in institutions such as: the Church, Government, Hospitals, Schools, Businesses, Sports teams, etc. Explain why you trust or do not trust each.

3. How can we rebuild trust throughout society in our institutions, and especially the trust of millennials in the church?

4. What causes distrust in churches and how can we fix that?

5. How do Christians strike a balance between constructive critique of our society and constructive renewal?

6. “While three-quarters of all adults are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life, 40% of unchurched adults say they do not attend because they ‘find God elsewhere.’” How would you talk to such a person to persuade them to attend church?

7. What can the Christian message offer to a society that feels vulnerable in the face of unpredictable violence? How can we explain the violence? How can we protect from violence? How can we reduce the violence?

8. To what extent have you experienced the connection between violent media and aggression? In yourself and in others?

9. What steps are you taking to reduce your (and your family’s) exposure to violence in the media?

10. Do we have a patriotic duty to support the wars our country fights? Why or why not? What are biblical criteria for supporting a war?

11. How can churches help parents who are unhappy with public schools?

12. How can (or should?) individual Christians and pastors help public schools?

  • Gordon

    There seems to be a lot of discussion about “trust” these days, particularly as it relates to institutions (item 2 above). But I can’t put my finger on what ‘trust’ means in such contexts. What does it mean to trust the Church (visible as an institution, I suppose); or businesses (as a category as opposed to each individual entity). In the last day or so there was the issue of lack of trusts in pastors. What can that mean? I don’t know whether I trust my pastor because I don’t know what trust is in this context. So, what do we mean when we speak of trust in a sport’s team? Or more broadly,across the spectrum of categories?

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