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Barna’s Lastest: Pastors Reveal Major Influencers

George Barna has an interesting job. He must feel that more often than not he is the proclaimer of sad tidings. His surveys often showcase the ways in which Christians are struggling and the ways Christianity is changing for the worse. Some of his recent studies have concluded that “Americans Agree: Kids Are Not Being Prepared for Life,” “Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians” and “Faith Has a Limited Effect On Most People’s Behavior.” I am sure that he found his most recent poll comforting. In it he asked 614 Senior to identify up to three individuals whom they believe have the greatest influence on churches and church leaders in the U.S. Those pastors named over 300 individuals.

To no one’s surprise, Billy Graham remains the most trusted spokesman for the Christian faith in the U.S. and has the greatest influence on American churches and church leaders. The top four influencers are: Billy Graham (who was selected by 34% of respondants), Rick Warren (26%), George W. Bush (14%) and James Dobson (11%). “Other influencers who were among the ten most frequently listed were Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church (9%); Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter’s House (7%); author and motivational speaker John Maxwell (6%); researcher and author George Barna (5%); Pope John Paul II (5%); and author and speaker Max Lucado (4%).”

Billy Graham also led the pack as the most trusted spokesperson for Christianity, garnering the support of six out of ten pastors (58%).

It was interesting to see the “theological divide” in Christianity. While Bapists chose as their top five Billy Graham, Rick Warren, George Bush, James Dobson and Bill Hybels, Pentecostals chose Billy Graham, George Bush, T.D. Jakes, James Dobson and Rick Warren. Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer and Paul Crouch also made appearances for the Penetcostals.

I doubt if anyone was really surprised by this list. The study concluded “Change comes slowly when related to the development of influence. However, the ranking of the most influential leaders affecting church life in America struck researcher George Barna as a demonstration of the shift in authority within the ranks of American church leaders…’Billy Graham has been a consistent presence in the minds and hearts of church leaders and the public at-large for many years. However, many of the other leading influencers in the Christian Church are relative newcomers to such widespread impact. Names like Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Franklin Graham, John Maxwell, Joyce Meyer and Will Willimon would not have appeared on the list a decade ago. It is also interesting, though, how relatively few names – less than two dozen – show up on the two lists, across multiple segments of the pastoral community. That suggests that the influence of these leaders is both broad and deep.’”

As one might expect, I was not terribly impressed with this list. I am sure the first part is quite accurate as it simply asks pastor’s impressions of who are the top influencers of Christians. If I had been asked to suggest who these people are, here is the list I would have written up:

  • Robert Schuller. His proteges are Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. His indirect influence is far greater than his direct influence.
  • Rick Warren. Pope Rick has a massive, dedicated following both among pastors and the laity.
  • Bill Hybels. Bill has a huge following as well, though not on as popular a level as Warren.
  • Billy Graham. I don’t even know if he would rate this high. People admire him, but he doesn’t have nearly the influence on ministry as Hybels and Warren. What has Graham done in the past two decades that can even begin to rival The Purpose Driven Church?
  • James Dobson. This is a tough one, but I think Dobson does have quite a great influence on moral issues amongst evangelicals. However, I do think many mainliners are growing tired of him.

Now, who would I choose as my most trusted spokesperson for Christianity? That’s another difficult question. Perhaps I will rephrase it slightly to “who would I choose as the person whose beliefs best represent Biblical Christianity?” That way I am removing the element of “niceness” that may be foreign from some of these guys!

  • James White. He isn’t as pleasant and uncondemning as many of the men on Barna’s list, but I don’t think there would be too many people who have a stronger grasp of the heart of the Gospel than White.
  • John MacArthur. MacArthur is often featured on Larry King and such shows, and I wish he would be on more often instead of men like Schuller and Warren.
  • R.C. Sproul. I love Sproul’s writing and trust him to present the Gospel in a way that is consistent with Scripture.
  • Michael Horton. Not too many people even know who Horton is, but every Christian should.
  • John Piper. As is well-documented on this site, I love Piper’s theology, but don’t enjoy reading it. Still, I would trust him to represent Christianity.

Aren’t we blessed as Reformed believers to have such men laboring for the Lord and sharing what they have learned with us? I admire each of these men (and so many more) and do wish that they could represent Christianity to the world. However, that is not the way God works, is it? God calls each of us, and especially those of us that no one will ever know of, to represent Him before the world. Each of us represents Christianity every time we open our mouths, or every time we take a step outside of our homes. We don’t need spokesmen, for we already are spokesmen. So really, it’s a moot point, isn’t it? If “nobodies” like you and me are good enough for God, those same “nobodies” should be good enough for us too.


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