Study Says God-Connections at Church are "Rare"
Are churches failing, or are our expectations too high?

Let's be honest for a minute. Most churches expend the vast majority of their resources on weekend worship gatherings. It's when facilities are most utilized, when programming is most robust, when volunteers are most required, and what many pastors spend the majority of their time preparing for. This great emphasis on Sunday is often justified because it's when people gather to meet with God.

But new research released this week from Barna reveals that most churchgoers rarely experience God in worship services. While most people surveyed can recall a "real and personal connection" with God while at church (66%), they also reported that these connections are "rare." Among those who attend church every week, less than half (44%) say they experience God's presence. And one-third of those who have attended church report never feeling God's presence in a worship gathering.

But "experiencing God" is a wishy-washy, emotional, and subjective idea, you might argue. We're in the business of transforming lives. Well, the Barna study has a dose of reality for you too.

The survey also probed the degree to which people say their lives had been changed by attending church. Overall, one-quarter of Americans (26%) who had been to a church before said that their life had been changed or affected "greatly" by attending church. Another one-fourth (25%) described it as "somewhat" influential. Nearly half said their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing (46%).

A closer look at the breakdown of the survey participants is also illuminating. Generally, the older generations (Elders and Boomers) reported more positive church experiences than younger generations (Busters and Mosaics). The report says "There were significant gaps between young adults and older adults when it came to feeling part of a group that cares for each other, experiencing God's presence, knowing the church prioritizes assisting the poor, and being personally transformed."

What should we conclude from this report from Barna? That is going to depend upon your own setting and congregation. But here are a few of my wonderings:

-Many (perhaps most) churches still have structures/values that appeal to those 50+. Despite all of the rhetoric since the 90s about "emerging generations" and new models of church, there is little evidence it has been implemented broadly or effective.

-Is the problem really our worship services, or what we expect from them? Some might look at these numbers and respond by updating their music selection, adding some icons or candles, and getting younger leaders up front. And that might be wise. But I wonder if most people aren't "experiencing God" in these gatherings because they aren't experiencing God Monday through Saturday either. Perhaps we (church leaders) have over-emphasized worship gatherings because they are something we can control, when we ought to be training people to commune with God apart from formal services.

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments

Gellian layag

September 07, 2012  2:09am

HEY GUYS! generally God is WISE! he can let you feel his presence if he wants to, it doesn't mean that when you go to church there's already presence of God, GOD IS EVERYWHERE! man schools,offices,markets etc. and i already felt Jesus at most places... and if you dont wanna believe me then don't, and if your wondering "WHY AM I NOT FEELING HIS PRESENCE?"... you can find the answers on yourselves, try asking yourself "why can't i feel God, and yet few people are feeling his presence" and try answering your own question, you will be amazed from your own answer! maybe you would answer I DONT KNOW! the only reason for that is you lack FAITH! keep on believing and keep on worshiping him, NEVER DOUBT! AND ACCEPT HIM AS YOUR LORD AND YOUR SAVIOR. THEN BURY THE OLD YOU, AND LET GOD TRANSFORM YOU INTO A BETTER PERSON! remember: SIN HINDERS US FROM GOD! watch your actions and DON'T sin!

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January 22, 2012  2:57pm

After being in church this morning I am again reminded that church serves two strongly Biblical purposes: 1. Instruction in the Word of God delivered by a preacher who has been called by God for this purpose and is therefore good at it. 2. The wonderful fellowship of believers who are born again and are lifting their hearts together with mine in praise to the Lord. One song from the service today had these words: "I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me; a sinner, condemned, unclean. How marvelous, how wonderful. And my song shall ever be, how marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me." - Charles H. Gabriel

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January 21, 2012  2:57pm

I don't know if this will be helpful coming from an Evangelical turned Orthodox, but I never leave an Orthodox liturgy or prayer service feeling I have not made a connection with God. Quite the contrary, I feel a vital and objective connection with Christ and the entire Church as it has existed through the centuries from earliest times that is deeply nourishing spiritually, and which I was seeking all my life. Sometimes, though, this connection is convicting and unsettling–it is not all comfy cozy, and it is something very different than the spiritual "high," or experiences we were sometimes seeking in the charismatic circles I once traveled! I suspect this has to do in part with the orientation of the Orthodox liturgy and prayers (all directed toward God and centered on Christ) and their content (rich in biblical truth as it has been digested and distilled in the Church by her Fathers and Saints through the ages). I would compare the sense of connection to God that I get to that of a child safely enfolded in the security of a loving parental embrace–not the spiritual high of an intense infatuation. On the other hand, because of the orientation and goal of the spiritual disciplines of Orthodox spirituality (including participation in the services), I am keenly aware that the purpose of that participation is not an end in itself, but is to transform me into Christ's image and make me fruitful for Him by drawing me into a real experiential union with Him. I guess I would have to say that genuine Orthodoxy has always been missional, rather than seeker sensitive.

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Colin Gent

January 18, 2012  6:32am

I think it's a case of lead by example and elders should not be elders unless they are given to hospitality. John Wesley encouraged meeting and eating together just like we read in the book of Acts with communion (which includes food ) begin taken in the home. Church is not about a religious ceremony with no relationship. Church is relationship and the sooner we see fellowship as something to experience up close and personal eg confessing our sins to each other and praying for healing! the sooner we will have some kind of spiritual life. How about 'one brings a psalm, hym or spiritual song' to a meeting? no this isn't for aliens or weird people, it's an essential ingredient for church life. Sunday can often be a stage managed event where we stand with a mug of coffee in our hands and watch the performance. This needs to stop we need to engage with each other and a lost world out there who will know us by our love. Church hospitality is about being a place of healing just like a community hospital but with God in charge.

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Robert Holaday

January 17, 2012  6:33pm

When we receive the Lord's Supper we receive the true body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under the elements. Thus, we encounter the Living God every time we come to His table.

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Joseph Watkins

January 17, 2012  5:42pm

My answer to this is your going to the wrong church. I attend a church (The Potters House / Denver) and when I leave there I'm charged like a battery all week. A lot of chuches I have checked out are too structured and not spirit lead. You need the Holy Spirit to lead the service not a scheduled program.

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January 17, 2012  4:46pm

I so agree. Lots of time for praise and worshipping our opposed to following an agenda. Worship is all about Him, giving to Him and comes out of a thankful heart that is in communion 24/7.

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Paul Almas

January 17, 2012  4:09pm

How about the idea that we go to church to give - not get. We gather as believers to give our worship to God first and foremost. In doing that mystical service we can receive blessing. Contemporary worship sends confusing messages because it uses the symbols and mediums of contemporary entertainment and music lyrics that tend to be directed to the worshipper's experience, not on the majesty and expansiveness of God. If it's all about us, it's not about much and that's very unsatisfying.

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January 17, 2012  3:15pm

It's my experience that the church service is too structured, program oriented. Three or four songs, offering, then the message. I started attending a church that has one hour and 45 minutes of worship. It was strange at first but I have come to see that the Holy Spirit is all over the place because they allow time, quietness, expressive worship, whatever might happen in the space of time. Sometimes the worship teams sings, sometimes they wait on the Lord. Sometimes there is individual expression. However the Spirit leads. Following the worship we have an interactive sermon where we can ask questions or express thoughts during the service. The Pastor will often ask our thoughts as we go along. Spiritual growth and connection to God is alive and well. It also fits "the Priesthood of all believers" as opposed to Pastor at top of a heirarchy. Following that we eat lunch together. As you can imagine this is a very small church but I love it. Reminds me of what a home church might have been like. Before this, I attended a mega church so have experienced both.

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k tra

January 17, 2012  2:41am

The problem is always the same. Lack of the Holy Spirit and focus on prayer. Most go to the service and sing 5 songs by formula and most demoninations deny the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is treated like a grand motif recital, when all you need to do is talk to God. I'm pretty sure he doesn't listen to the same "lords prayer" recitation every sunday. It isa blueprint of bullet points, not a prayer. When Jesus said if a carnal man can give great gifts to his son, how much more will the Father give the HOLY SPIRIT to him who asks, don't you think we should ask? When services are heading toward people getting uncomfortable and going forward to ask for prayer, and the pastor says...oh look at the time gotta cut it short...what do you expect to happen? You can praise Tebow mon nights, but are embarassed to praise God on Sunday. Scream for little billy to get that goal, but God has the Doctor say, oh it's the best kind...benign, we just cut it out no problem. And you say good doctor. Instead of PRAISE GOD. You take prozac for deprssion instead of focusing on that which is right, trustworthy, praiseworthy...need I go on?

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