Barna Group study shows depletion of church accountability

By December 8, 2010

USA (MNN) — A recent Barna Group study shows that among church goers and self-described Christians, "only 5% indicated that their church does anything to hold them accountable for integrating biblical beliefs and principles into their life."

In other words, only 5% claim to have any accountability from their churches.

The study shows that, for those surveyed who did testify to being held accountable by their churches, the most common approach to accountability was through small groups. In the broader context of things, though, this form of accountability is only practiced in the lives of 2% of all self-described American Christians. (Click here to see the full study.)

The reasons for the severe lack in accountability appear to be two-fold, suggests George Barna. Although this particular study didn't assess reasons behind the findings, Barna says that previous studies have proven two things in particular: church leaders dislike confrontation, and congregants prefer toleration.

"Barna Group studies among pastors and other church leaders have consistently shown that such leaders have a distaste for initiating any type of confrontation and conflict with congregants," explains Barna. "Another barrier is that many followers of Christ are uncertain about the difference between judgment and discernment. Not wanting to be judgmental, they therefore avoid all conversation about the other person's behavior — except, sometimes, gossip."

The results of a Christianity without the core biblical mandate of "speaking the truth in love" are not encouraging. York Moore, National Evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says for one thing, the sort of behavior keeps people from recognizing the unified structure the Body is to be.

"I do think that there's a resistance to accountability, because accountability requires that I admit to myself that I need others," says Moore. American evangelicals have a history of individualism, Moore notes, that can cause believers to see accountability as a blockade to our ministerial agility rather than as a building block for Christ's Kingdom vision.

Furthermore, a lack of stick-to-it-iveness to biblical standards can actually hinder evangelism. While many Christians avoid confrontation so as not to look judgmental, George Barna says they are actually confusing non-believers: "With a large majority of Christian churches proclaiming that people should know, trust and obey all of the behavioral principles taught in the Bible, overlooking a principle as foundational as accountability breeds even more public confusion about Scriptural authority and faith-based community, as well as personal behavioral responsibility."

The risk to outreach makes it all the more imperative that evangelistic groups like InterVarsity commit to accountability. Most of the college-age generation with whom InterVarsity works has been surrounded by non-confrontational church leaders and a cultural exaltation of tolerance for most of their lives; that is not, however, what they experience when they enter the InterVarsity family.

"There are a number of different ways in which InterVarsity focuses on accountability and integrity as a part of our whole life discipleship emphasis as we disciple students," explains Moore. The ministry has a built-in system to keep staff and student leaders alike accountable to church participation, personal achievements, and spiritual integrity. InterVarsity is teaching thousands of students the value of accountability by modeling it across the country.

The Church has been called judgmental in the past. It's been labeled pretentious. Whether believers are striving to break free from the stigma brought on by centuries of excommunication, or from the misuse of power disguised as accountability, or from something else entirely, the depletion of the practice altogether is not, Moore affirms, God's plan for His Body.

"God has given us the power to change the world. That all comes back, however, to our walk before the Lord–whether or not we have integrity before the Lord, whether or not we're accountable to others or we're working with others. And that really begins with our relationship with Jesus Christ."

Listen to the full interview with York Moore and MNN's Elisa Talmage to learn more about the importance of accountability, its centrality to the Gospel, and the way to true relationship with Jesus Christ to actually enjoy it all.


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