Tuesday, November 28, 2006

slipping influence of Christian leaders in U.S. culture? or just print influence?

From recent work by the Barna Group:

Rick Warren--three out of every four adults (72 percent) say they have never heard of him, including 63 percent of born-again Christians.
James Dobson--Almost six out of 10 adults (57 percent) had never heard of him, including nearly half of born-agains.
T.D. Jakes--two out of three (68 percent) have never heard of him, including 55 percent of born-agains.
Tim LaHaye--three out of four adults (73 percent) have never heard of him, including 63 percent of born-agains.
Joel Osteen--unknown to two thirds of the public (67 percent), including 57 percent of born-agains.
Anne Rice--over half (55 percent) didn't know her.

I am not sure if the familarity would rise if only the books by these people were judged by familiarity, but that might have been interesting to survey.

Here is a breakdown for positive (including very favorable or somewhat favorable) or negative or never heard of or don't know image about those folks and others who were picked to be included in the survey.

John Ashcroft--36 percent positive; 23 percent negative, 31 percent never heard of, 10 percent don't know
George Bush--47 percent positive, 50 percent negative, 1 never heard of, 3 don't know
Bill Clinton--64, 32, 1, 4
Katie Couric--57, 16, 22 never heard of, 6
James Dobson--27 positive, 8 negative, 57, 9
Mel Gibson--69, 21, 4, 5
Faith Hill--71, 5, 18, 6
T.D. Jakes--22, 4, 68, 8
Tim LaHaye--13, 5, 73, 8
Tim McGraw--72, 6, 14, 8
Rosie O'Donell--42, 47, 5, 6
Joel Osteen--18, 6, 67, 11
Anne Rice--27, 6, 55, 12
Britney Spears 34, 54, 3, 9
Rick Warren--12, 5, 72, 11
Denzel Washington--85, 2, 7, 6

Breakdown by race: "whites" surveyed didn't rate anyone with a very favorable impression; among 'blacks' three received such high marks--Washington, Clinton, and Jakes. Among hispanics, only Washington received such an impression.

Barna's concluding analysis: media stars in music and movies have a higher degree of influence than people who write books. This might explain, or back up, his own and the evangelical world's commitment to making "Christian-valued" films and TV projects.

You can read more at www.barna.org

To some (evangelical Christians), these survey findings might be disheartening; to some (progressive Christians and non-Christian religious leaders in the U.S., these findings might bring either a gasp or a sigh or relief. To all groups it should be a challenge if you are interested in attempting to get "your message" into the minds of U.S. citizens in the hopes of being able to shape those minds and hearts, especially through the print culture. As well as a commentary on the reigning and rising dominant secular culture of media/entertainment/consumerism. It also brings to mind that we have lost or are losing the "mass-mindset" that marked so much of the 20th century and are in an era of increasing micro-niche-cultures. The "celebrity empire" bucks this trend, but I wonder if it will be able to do so in the years to come; the whole 15 minutes of fame may come to more and more, and so the long-term effect will be less and less.

For planters: lessons on what to use in building your teams and growing disciples? More films and fewer books on leadership? I have done both and think I need to get more intentional about using our church Wednesday night film encounter as a vehicle for specifically being the church in the world and not just for generic spiritual lessons that grow out of the films. And I know it was a reminder for me even on this blog to go back to the beginning and do for film updates what I have been doing by surveying books in both the fields of progressive and evangelical worlds.

Does it have something to say about the downgrading influence of television (Osteen, Jakes, et al) on faith? The more channels there are, the more opportunities these folks are only preaching to the choir; that helps to a degree, but is it what the expense of resources should go toward? For progressive Christians and the "spiritual left" this could shape where attention should be paid, and not tried to mirror or mimic others--maybe finding and multiplying the niches like NPR's Speaking of Faith, and other venues.