Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, fewer born-again Christians now say that Jesus lived a sinless life during his time on Earth, and church attendance has dropped by some 15 million people weekly, a new study from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University shows.
The findings came from The American Worldview Inventory 2023, an annual tracking study of the worldview of U.S. adults involving 2,000 people from across the country and conducted under the supervision of George Barna, director of research at the Cultural Research Center.
While born-again Christians make up about one-third of all U.S. adults and are considered “the backbone of local church activity because of their higher level of commitment to the Christian faith,” the study shows that between 2020 and 2023, the share of those who say they believe Jesus did not commit sins during his lifetime on Earth fell from 58% to 44%.
Jesus being sinless is central to the hope Christians have in Him as Savior explains the apologetics website Got Questions because, “If Jesus were not sinless, there would be no sacrifice for sin.”
“The apostle Peter stated it clearly: ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.’ (1 Peter 2:22) Indeed, as Jesus Christ is God, He has no capacity to sin,” the Christian website explains.
This shift in belief among born-again Christians was among six that showed a significant decline in the past three years that Barna characterized as “indefensible.”
Fewer than half of born-again Christians also now believe they have a unique, God-given calling or purpose. The share of those who held that belief fell from 88% to a staggering 46% during the pandemic.
A downward trend was also observed among those who say the Bible is unambiguous in its teaching about abortion. That belief fell from 58% to 44%. Those who say human life is sacred fell from 60% to 48%, and the number of born-again Christians who say God is the basis of all truth fell from 69% to 63% over the period.
The share of born-again believers who say they are deeply committed to practicing their religious faith fell from 85% to 50%, while the share of those who say they read or study the Bible at least once a week fell from 60% to 55%.
When it comes to the general population of U.S. adults, Barna said the share of the population that claims to hold a biblical worldview fell from 6% to 4% in the last three years, while less than half now claim to be “deeply committed to practicing” their religious faith. That measure fell from 60% to 48%.
Barna also found that only 33% of adults now say they attend church service during a typical week which shows “a decline representing the loss of about 15 million churchgoing adults each week.”
The veteran researcher said the findings on the drastic shift in Christian belief over such a short period of time are “highly unusual” because “religious beliefs and behaviors have typically been a hallmark of consistency.”
“Most religious beliefs change over the course of generations, not a few years,” Barna said. “However, we know that major life crises have the capacity to introduce substantial change quickly in the foundations of people’s faith.”
And the impact of COVID-19 has been significant.
“The pandemic was certainly a life crisis for our nation, so even though this magnitude of spiritual shift was not expected, it is feasible given the physical and psychological effects of COVID along with the economic, relational, and lifestyle effects of the government’s drastic policies,” Barna explained.
As he warned in the 2022 Worldview Inventory, Barna noted that a significant driver behind the decline in Christians holding on to a biblical worldview is syncretism, an ideology described as “the worldview that merges otherwise incompatible philosophies of life into a made-to-order worldview that incorporates enough biblical elements to be minimally Christian in nature.”
“Although some of the belief and behavior shifts seem to conflict with each other, this is precisely what happens when the prevailing worldview of the nation is Syncretism,” Barna said.
“Syncretism does not rely upon logic or consistency. Over time, many people struggle with the conflicts inherent in their syncretistic belief system, and the strange jumble of behaviors that emerge from those beliefs,” he added. “But for the foreseeable future, it is likely most people will ignore their incompatible philosophies and make do the best they can. They are seeking comfort and security more than spiritual and intellectual consistency.”