Insights on transformation from George Barna

George Barna published a book called Maximum Faith wherein he writes about transformation, or the lack of it, in Christian's lives. This has been a topic that has interested me. George lays out some insights that I think are very helpful for understanding stages of growth in the Christian's life.

Barna identifies 10 "stops" that everyone in the world gets to in life, as they do or do not get transformed by God. These stops are called stops, because a person can stop at a marker below 10. They are also called stops as in markers or places along the journey. The 10 stops:

  1. Ignorance (about sin, God, repentance)
  2. Indifference (about sin, God, repentance)
  3. Concern about sin (awareness unto repentance)
  4. Born again - inactive
  5. Born again - active (doing "Christian" things)
  6. Discontent
  7. Brokenness (usually through personal crisis)
  8. Surrender, Submission
  9. Profound love of God
  10. Profound love for people
1-3 Concern sin: Do I realize I am a sinner? Do I care? Do I repent?
4. Experience of the John 3:16 new birth, spiritual birth, adoption as a child of God. Barna's research indicates that 33% of Americans are born-again or have had a born-again experience.
5. Active involvement in Christian activities.
6. Discontent: Holy discontent in that I have been active and working for God (I thought with God), but I don't feel close to God nor godly. I've been doing and neglecting being. "I have been doing things in His name, but not really doing things with Him." You feel like God isn't with you, because you have not been with God. Many people get stuck here or fall back to stop 4, 3, or 2. Discontent is actually the Holy Spirit beckoning the believer to stop 7: Brokenness. Only 5% of Americans (1 & 2/3% of born-again's) follow to brokenness.
7. Brokenness: "which is where they finally better understand their sin and how it is continuing to keep them apart from God. People have to be broken from sin, self and society to such an extent that they move from independence to absolute dependence on God. We come to the end of ourselves to fully give it up to God. We allow God to fully break us. Full brokenness puts four things under God’s control – Mark 12:30-34 (heart, mind, strength or behaviour and soul or spirituality)." -Lynda Lee Wright
8. Surrender, Submission: Only 2% of Americans (less than 1 per 100 of born again people) get here, according to Barna. I hope that far more than 2% touch surrender and submission to God, while the 2% consistently walk in it.

9: Profound love for God: When we live in absolute surrender and submission to God, taking up our crosses daily, dying to our selves, living for God and not our selves; our love for God goes deeper. Salvation has become surrender, the door in has become the way on. I am saved daily. Salvation was not just an event, but my whole life. My life is His life. I am a servant becoming a friend who is a son or daughter of God.

10: Profound love for people: Now that I am decreased, but not obliterated, being less selfish; I can love with God's love. I am experiencing His love for me and am learning to love others the way He loves.

  • Most Americans, according to the research, never get beyond stop three.
  • Among those who become “born again Christians,” most never move past stop five.
  • Barna also determined that most church programs are designed to help people get to stop five of the journey but not to move farther down the road to Christ-likeness.
  • The single most challenging stop is what Barna identified as “stop 7, which is that of brokenness.”
  • America’s culture serves as a strong barrier to people being willing to completely abandon themselves and the world in favor of listening to, obeying and enjoying God.
  • Barna also pointed out that a biblical pattern of spiritual development would require brokenness prior to a person becoming “born again,” but that Americans typically follow a different ordering of the experiences than that identified in the scriptures. That re-ordering is responsible for the prolonged time it takes to make real spiritual progress.

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George Barna believes, based on his research, that most people do not get in touch with and deal with their personal brokenness on their own, through just living the Christian life, in America. Based on his research, Barna believes that people usually have to experience two acute crises is their lives before they surrender to God. This does not mean that this is the only path, nor God's chosen path for people, but the only way a majority of Americans at this time, come to a transformational surrender.

Scot McKnight wrote:
"Barna thinks most are in a “mindless mutiny” and in a “hopeless meandering.” And he thinks many, many stop on the path. He sees five paths:
1. Moving sequentially: some go from 1 to 10. Others try other methods.
2. Settling for religiosity: some get to stop #6 and choose to settle for #5.
3. Exploiting cheap grace: they get to #6 and revert back to #2.
4. Becoming angry with God: they go through #6 but when they get to #7 they become angry with a God who would subject them to such a process of testing, and they often return as well to #2.
5. Traveling the biblical path: they leap from #3 to #7 and move onwards."
Joey S.'s comment on Scot's post is helpful:
"I saw Barna present this material in the fall. When asked if these categories were static he replied that no, actually their findings showed that this order was not necessarily the same order for everybody. The common denominators though were that all who experienced a profound love for God had experienced a period of brokenness and that a profound love for other people seemed to flow out of a profound love for God."
Youth pastor Brian Seidel wrote in his review of Maximum Faith:
"I think the lack of spiritual transformation is at the core of many issues and problems in our churches today, mine included."

Chris Monroe gleaned these insights from George Barna's talk he attended a year ago:

We Confuse salvation with transformation.

We confuse presence with connection.

We confuse acquaintance with relationship.

We confuse participation with integration.

We confuse intellectual knowledge with faith.

We confuse holiness with perfection.

We confuse busyness with significance.

We confuse emotional happiness with joy.

We confuse regularity with passion.

We confuse physical comfort with divine reward.

My notes:
  • Being saved does not equal being transformed.
  • Being saved is the first step and the doorway to transformation.
  • Many people are saved, but not transformed.
  • We can confuse the emotional and perhaps spiritual feelings (goose-bumps) of presence (God's presence or the presence of the body of Christ) with real connection with God.
  • We can confuse a temple mentality of, "come let us go up to the temple of our God, to the house of God, to meet with God", which is not a bad thing, with, "you are the temple of God", and "abide in me and I will abide in you."
  • We can become engrossed in knowledge studies, while neglecting heart transformation.
  • We can strive for holiness and miss walking with the Holy One and our eyes get misdirected onto ourselves and off of Christ.
  • We are called to simplicity, not complexity or sophistication.
  • Happiness is something that happens to us, like a reaction; but joy is something we nurture and spark from within ourselves, rooted in The Lord's joy.
So, why do we have so many untransformed Christians in America? Perhaps the problem is with how people come to Christian faith in our American church culture. Perhaps conversion or adoption of Christianity has been more of an addition to peoples lives who identify as Christians in America, rather than an unconditional surrender of all their lives?

"We won’t actually begin to approximate the biblical Church until we begin measuring indicators of transformation. The best way to do that is to evaluate the increase in the fruit emanating from people’s lives.... you do what you believe. Your behavior, not your statement of faith, is what gives you away. And that’s why Jesus said He wanted to see the fruit." -George Barna
(10 stops illustration above, by Nico Simpson)