Are Churches Really Failing?

I saw this article and thought I’d share it with you. Let me know what you think.

Study Says God-Connections at Church are “Rare”
Are churches failing, or are our expectations too high?
by Skye Jethani

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.

-Finally, a friend of mine has vented in the past about all of the “transforming lives” talk that permeates ministry gatherings these days. “Transformation isn’t our job,” he rants, “it’s God’s! All we can do is lead people to him.” Granted, my friend is highly Reformed, but he has a point. Might it be time to consider what Paul said about ministry in 1 Corinthians 3? Some plant the seeds, others water it, but ultimately it is God who causes the growth. I don’t believe we should ignore outcomes or allow lazy, ineffectual discipleship to take root in our churches. But we must also admit that life transformation is more mysterious, more God-driven, than making widgets in a factory.

I welcome your responses to the Barna study.

Serving Alongside,

One thought on “Are Churches Really Failing?

  1. As a blood washed child of the Most High God for 40 years I can offer this. The primary purpose of the church is the rescuing of the lost. Then the making of disciples from that effort. I remember when numerous souls were lead to a saving knowledge of Christ each and every service. As I witness in todays Church’s there is a void in addressing sin, its consequences and remedies. Repentance has been exchanged for “worship”. I was saved from wickedness and in turn grateful to the extent of a burning desire to share this transformation with others. Music is a vehicle rather than an end.

    …For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

    A simple word study on “preach” vrs “teach” adds a good deal of clarity. How can we expect to have the “connection” outside of transformed lives being witnessed by the congregation?

    Try this; have your congregants labor to bring two lost souls each with them to a Sunday AM service and you PREACH like hell was tomorrow with no further chances and view all these first timers as your own children,and you’re their only hope and then let someone get saved at an old fashioned alter (yes that means a real invitation) with real tears of repentance and sorrow for their sin against God followed by the peace that passes all understanding displayed across their countenance, concluded by an invite for the crowd to come down and welcome the converts into the fold and that infectious “connection” becomes real.

    Too much pride, too much flesh, and way too much appeal to the people rather than the God of the people is where the failure originates.
    And may I add that the resurgence of the “Reformed” think tank is nothing more than a cowards way of dealing with the lack of results ~~ remove the responsibility and the guilt diminishes .
    No guts, no converts. No converts, no excitement.

    And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

    The greatest truth you can covey is “This man receiveth sinners”,

    May our God move you and bless you as you follow the old book, preacher.

    Don Sivyer

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