Americans put off by celebrity Christian culture: study

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Most Americans, including believers, have a negative view of celebrity Christian culture, Evangelicals, and megachurches, according to a newly released Barna Group study.

The California-based Christian polling firm recently published the findings of its survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults and teens about their opinions on modern Christian culture and Christianity in general. The report shows that, while a majority of Americans have a positive view of Jesus, they are overwhelmingly put off by celebrity pastors, celebrity worship bands, and megachurches that are often criticized for focusing more on the worship experience than on preaching biblical truths.

The survey was conducted in partnership with Gloo and He Gets Us in the Spiritually Open project aimed at identifying the drivers of America’s post-Christian era.

“When we asked Americans whether they have a positive or negative opinion of Jesus, seven in 10 (71%) say they view him positively. Of all U.S. teens and adults, 63 percent say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today,” the report stated. This commitment is particularly — and perhaps surprisingly — high among millennials. A whopping 70% of this group said that “their commitment to Jesus is still important to them.”

On the subject of modern Christian culture, however, only a small minority of respondents said that they have a “positive” opinion. Just 16% of American teens and adults, in general, have a positive view of megachurches. Opinions didn’t fare much better among Christians, among whom only 17% said the same. 

Slightly more than half (56%) of Christians who took the survey said that they had a positive view of Christian pastors or priests in general, while only 44% of respondents overall reported the same. Results were similar on the subject of local churches, which enjoy the positive opinions of only 47% of the study’s participants, including an equally disappointing 58% of Christians surveyed.


Another noteworthy finding is that Christian individuals are not viewed favorably among the majority of respondents overall, with only 36% saying that they have a favorable opinion of believers.

Perceived or real “hypocrisy” among believers was cited as the number one reason that Americans with no religious faith (42%) and those of other faiths (26%) reject Christian beliefs. 

“Some of the biggest differences appear when it comes to how much less likely people of no faith are to call Christianity a faith they respect (15%), and how much more likely they are than Christians to describe the faith as judgmental (48%) and hypocritical (49%),” the report continues.

Among Christians, “human suffering” was named as the top reason that they experience “doubt” about their own faith. 


Barna Group CEO David Kinnaman said that these findings, in particular, should serve as a wake-up call to believers.

“The work of Christians is to embody Jesus — full of truth and grace — and reflect his image in all they say and do,” he said. “The data shows they too often fall short.”

Although the number of Americans who said that they have a positive opinion of Jesus has fallen somewhat over the past two decades, Barna researchers noted that the trend hasn’t kept pace with declines in “other … faith metrics like church attendance.” Still, only 84% of believers said that they had a positive view of Jesus, a troubling number considering that the Christian faith is based entirely on salvation through the Savior’s sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. Coming in lower, at 78%, is the number of Christians who said they have a positive opinion of the Bible.

Nevertheless, Barna researchers said that the findings should encourage Christians to share the Gospel with nonbelievers. The study’s findings, along with others that preceded it, reflect “a rising spiritual openness in America” that presents “a tremendous opportunity for faith leaders.” 

“The challenge facing the Church is whether they are ready and able to meet the spiritually open — where they are, as they are,” they wrote.

This article was partially informed by a Christian Post report.