Churches Have Significant Opportunity to Help People Identify What Makes for Transformational Change in 2011

As consumers shift from holiday mode into the month of January, a new survey from the Barna Group explores what Americans describe as their New Year's resolutions. The nationwide survey of 1,022 adults provides a snapshot of American’s personal growth priorities for 2011. 

The Role of Resolutions

Making New Year’s resolutions is a common experience, but Americans report achieving mixed results. Nearly two-​thirds of the nation’s population (61%) has made New Year’s resolutions at some point in their lives. More than 90 million adults (41%) say they will make such personal pledges in 2011, representing roughly two-​fifths of the nation’s population.

Yet, only one out of every five (19%) is “definitely” planning to make resolutions, which may be a reflection of either the half-​hearted effort many put forth or a recognition of their past failure to follow through on such goals. When asked to describe their experience with resolutions during 2010, only one out of four Americans (23%) who had made resolutions found those commitments resulted in “significant, long-​term change” to their behaviors or attitudes. More commonly, Americans described their 2010 resolutions as resulting in “minor change” (29%) or “no change” (49%).

Types of Resolutions Vary

When it comes to the types of resolutions people make, Americans not surprisingly focus on self-​oriented changes. Among those planning to make resolutions, the top pledges for 2011 relate to weight, diet and health (30%); money, debt and finances (15%); personal improvement (13%); addiction (12%); job and career (5%); spiritual or church-​related (5%); and educational (4%). Personal improvement responses included being a better person; giving more; having more personal or leisure time; organizing their life or home; and having a better life in general.

While people concentrate on themselves when making priorities for the New Year, it is telling that so few Americans say they want to improve relationships with others. There were virtually no mentions of volunteering or serving others; only a handful of comments about marriage or parenting; almost no responses focusing on being a better friend; and only a small fraction of people mentioned improving their connection with God.

Facts about Resolutions

Younger adults are far more likely than older adults to make resolutions. Perhaps less affected by past failed resolutions, younger adults emerged as far more likely than older adults to make personal commitments for the New Year. Among Mosaics, 44% plan to make at least one resolution for 2011, which was second only to the 51% among Busters (ages 27 to 45). Boomers (ages 46 to 64) and Elders (ages 65-​plus) were comparatively unlikely to expect to make any resolutions (39% and 26%, respectively).

Disengaged adults do not bother with resolutions. Those who have never made New Year’s resolutions exhibit a disconnected profile in other areas of life as well: they are likely to be non-​voters, unchurched adults, atheists and agnostics, and those never married.

Perspectives on Resolutions

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, put the findings in context: “Americans maintain a love-​hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions: millions of people make them, but they rarely report success as a result. This research underscores that most humans want to experience some sort of personal change in their lives, but achieving such objectives is both difficult and uncommon.

"Maybe most problematic, Americans hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing almost exclusively on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others. Churches and faith communities have a significant opportunity to help people identify what makes for transformational change and how to best achieve those objectives – especially by relying on goals and resources beyond their individualism."

[Source:  "Individualism Shines Through Americans' 2011 New Year's Resolutions."  The Barna Group.  3 Jan. 2011.  Web.  6 Jan. 2011.]