Revolution by George Barna, Review

kinnon —  October 15, 2005 — 7 Comments

I’ve finished Barna’s book, Revolution, and let me say up front that I think it’s a valuable read – and I recommend that if you are a part of the Church, you probably should purchase the book. That being said, I think I set myself up to be let down by the book. I was expecting a book that was a lot more data based/driven and a little less of a polemic. (I haven’t read Barna’s other books but based my expectations on his role as a researcher.)

Based on my own research, experience and understanding, I agree with Barna that there is a sea change taking place in the church. For many, their local church is not an accurate reflection of what they read in the Bible.

“…if the local church is God’s answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most Christians so spiritually immature and desperate?” (Revolution, pg 30)

Why indeed? Barna goes on to outline what he sees as the seven traits of a Christian Revolutionary:

  1. Intimate Worship
  2. Faith Based Conversations
  3. Intentional Spiritual Growth
  4. Servanthood
  5. Resource Investment
  6. Spiritual Friendships
  7. Family Faith

Barna sees more evidence of these seven in the lives of the new Revolutionaries (some of whom may still be involved to some degree in a local church) than he does in the lives of the average American evangelical believer.

“The hallmarks of the Church that Jesus died for are clear, based on scripture; your profession of faith in Christ must be supported by a lifestyle that provides irrefutable evidence of your complete devotion to Jesus. The Lord encountered numerous people during his earthly tenure who could quote Scripture or pretend that they knew and loved him. But his reaction to them was always the same; “Show me the fruit.”” (pg 25)

“Jesus did not die on the cross to fill church auditoriums, to enable magnificent church campuses to be funded, or to motivate people to implement innovative programs. He died because he loves you and me, He wants an everlasting relationship with us, and He expects that connection to be so all-consuming that we become wholly transformed – Jesus clones, if you will indulge the expression.” (pg 26)

“One of the greatest frustrations of my life has been the disconnection between what our research consistently shows about churched Christians and what the Bible calls us to be.” (pg 31)

Barna makes a number of references to a Biblical World view – but spells that world view out very much from an Anglo-American, conservative evangelical viewpoint. His Revolutionaries, although they do gather together in group expressions of their faith, are predominantly “me and Jesus” focused folk who seem consistent with the American celebration of the individual.

He dismisses the Emergent Church (EC) conversation with a single sentence on page 66. “In fact, some extensions of the congregational model, such as “emergent” or “postmodern” congregations, really are not new models but simply minor refinements of the reigning model.” This is a concept that has been pondered within the EC conversation by leaders like Alan Roxburgh – but is hardly a wholesale description of what the EC is about. I look forward to hearing other’s comments on this. (I confess my own position to be EC friendly – rather than someone immersed in the Emergent Church.) Oddly enough, Barna does recommend a number of EC books and websites in his “Resources for Revolutionaries” on page 141.

Revolution is a partially effective book in calling us to a deeper relationship with the one we call Lord. His description of the present state of the American Church appears both accurate and disheartening. He has placed his hope in the new Revolutionaries who he sees having a profound impact on society. He may be right.

I had hoped for a book that was a little more Glocal in its focus. A book that acknowledged the power of conversations that are taking place amongst Christians globally. A recognition that in the Emergent culture (Busters and Mosaics to Barna’s way of thinking) there is a hunger for relationship, reality and authenticity – a reaction to the me-focused world of the Boomers – with all the brokeness that Emergents have experienced from their Boomer forbears; divorce, alienation, materialism. Barna’s Revolution is really being driven by a society grappling for what Bruce Cockburn expressed 25 years ago in More Not More:

there must be more… more…
more songs more warmth
more love more life
not more fear not more fame
not more money not more games

there must be more… more…
more current more spark
more touch deep in the heart
not more thoughtless cruelty
not more being this lonely…

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

7 responses to Revolution by George Barna, Review

  1. Bill, I agree with Barna’s seven traits. But I don’t think those make for a revolutionary. These traits have always been there, functioning in most churches. My assessment is that there are a whole different set of issues at work that his research didn’t find. Having done a fair amount of survey research for clients, I know that you get what you look for. What his seven traits don’t address is church organizational structure. This is one of major blindspots of the evangelical church. They can offer excellent programs and a sound, ethical administrative structure, and still fail to be a healthy church. The mainstream church also can offer the same, but tends to be lost in the value of process.
    What I’m seeing is that a healthy church is made up of healthy people. Depending on your theology the seven traits can be programmatically used to hide the worse stuff imaginable. So, what is this kind of church?
    I’m coming to the conclusion it is one where people are honest with themselves. By this I mean they don’t either blame the church for their miserable life, or don’t transfer the responsibility for their own spiritual happiness over to the church and especially to the pastor.
    What is required is a great deal of honesty, respect, transperancy and a firm grasp on the nature of God’s grace.
    In a sense the precondition for the seven traits is mature self-honesty followed by genuine repentance. And it starts with the pastor in the pulpit. People do what they see their pastor doing.
    The result will be seen in the seven traits and by what I refer to as personal initiative to do the right thing. And the church organizational structure has to provide space for this initiative to take root and develop.
    I appreciate what Barna is saying. His dilemma is that he may be too immersed in his own religious context to see beyond these seven traits.

  2. Now that you’ve read one of Barna’s books, you’ve read them all. Thanks for the review. Now I don’t have to read it.

  3. Ed,
    Great comments as usual.
    You have enough books to read already!

  4. I am eagerly anticipating to read George Barna’s book. Thanks Bill for your review. If nothing else this book will draw attention towards what is going on within the Church.

    As a leader in an evangelical congregation God called me out a number of years ago as a Revolutionary. I didn’t know at the time that there would be a name given to this, nor did I know what God was planning to do with me as a result of what He was teaching me.

    Without even reading the book I relate to these seven traits that Ed mentioned above.
    Intimate Worship
    Faith Based Conversations
    Intentional Spiritual Growth
    Resource Investment
    Spiritual Friendships
    Family Faith

    These traits today look nothing like what I was experiencing in the role of leader or your church member. What people are experiencing in what we call the local church” or denomination is only the crumbs of what Christ wants for us to experience.

    To truly experience what Christ has to offer the body one must revolt from man’s leadership and surrender to Christ’s leadership. Far to many people are under the lordship of a belief system rather than to Christ. Christ must be our only authority.

  5. Barna’s “Revolution” will be discussed this Friday night (2-3-06) on the nationwide Moody Broadcasting Network. “Open Line” is a call-in show which is aired at 8-8:55 pm CT. The phone number is 312-329-4460.

    For station and time of broadcast information see

    The programs are archived for download/podcast if you’re unable to tune in.

  6. Bill and friends,

    Great site. Thanks for the review on Barna.

    I’ve just written a book that might be useful to you, especially if you are working with pre-college and college young people. It’s a simple, fun beginner’s book on the concept of worldview, the major worldviews and how the biblical worldview stacks up with them.

    The title is Blah, Blah, Blah: Making Sense of the World’s Spiritual Chatter. You can read about it at You can also download the first three chapters.

    I’d love to hear some feedback from someone like you. You can reach me at my blog (at or at my email.


  7. “His Revolutionaries, although they do gather together in group expressions of their faith, are predominantly “me and Jesus” focused folk who seem consistent with the American celebration of the individual.”

    This where the understanding gap lies. Are these merely religious hermits or have they been with Jesus? If they, indeed, have been with Jesus, the “me and Jesus” no longer applies, for the “me” no longer matters for the “me” has been crucified. And I don’t mean in a mere assent to theology for many in the church would say that. I mean that the fact of this is observable in their lives and not just when they are around other Christians.

    However, one of the key tests of this is if one obeys. “If anyone says he loves God and does not love his brother, he is a liar.” “A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.” If “me” has indeed been with Jesus, then you will find that these people will travel great distances to gather with others who have been with Jesus and when they get there it will not be necessary to instruct them in what to do. They will spontaneously and joyfully begin to praise the Lord, not by saying “Praise the Lord” or some religious sounding vocabulary, but by actually praising the Lord with thanksgiving as each shares the testimony that they have in their daily walk with the Living God. And they have these conversations (not meetings) for hours.

    I have observed that neither Christians nor unbelievers require any instruction in “fellowship.” Anytime a group of them is released from an agenda they immediately engage animated conversation about the things that are most important to them. In both groups that is usually job, sports, cars, hobbies or family. It is only when we are required to bring Jesus into our “fellowship” that grown men and women find that they must be organized and instructed in little games and exercises. Don’t believe me? Just watch and listen at the donut time. Just watch and listen before the new small group begins and then look at what is necessary to get them to talk about Jesus.

    I assure you that anyone who has actually spent time alone with Jesus will have no shortage of testimony about him and the others who know Him as well will eagerly listen. I have met such and immediately have entered into animated conversation centered around Jesus that lasted for hours, yet seemed like minutes.

    How many have sat in a religious service and looked around and said to themselves, “is this it? Is this really all there is?” Praise God, it is not and an apparently increasing number are finding it.

    Joh 4:21-24
    (21) Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
    (22) “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
    (23) “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
    (24) “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

    Mat 18:20
    (20) “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”


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