Why Americans Attend Church: Data and Discussion
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs | © 2018
A Pew Research study released this week noted the top reasons Americans attend church worship services. The most common answers include:
- 81% attend to become closer to God
- 69% attend so their children will have a moral foundation
- 68% attend to “make me a better person”
- 66% attend for comfort in times of trouble/sorrow
Interestingly, among those who attend church, one in five adults mention they “do not usually feel God’s presence.” A brief look at the data in the study reveals some interesting information.
First, the overwhelming majority of adults who attend church services do so to grow closer to God.
This is obvious, yet often overlooked when church leaders plan services. Instead, there is frequently a focus on the technology used in the service, the music, or other “performance” aspects of the worship service.
Yet these tools are secondary to the reason most people attend church gatherings—to grow in their faith. For example, among evangelicals, 76% find the sermons valuable. There is less concern with style than substance among those who regularly attend. What would happen if church leaders evaluated every service by asking, “How well did people grow closer to God today?”
Second, two out of three churched adults attend for their children.
This should communicate strongly to church leaders. Simply put, if a parent sees his or her child (whether young toddler or teen) enjoying church and growing in faith, they are much more likely to return.
Another finding in the study is that 55% of those who attend church services are age 50 and over. Though not surprising, the graying of the American church continues to emphasize the need to invest greater effort into children, youth, and parents to develop a healthier church today and in the days ahead.
Third, most people attend church to improve their lives now.
While eternity is a critical focus of the church, it is also important to emphasize how the truths of Christianity can change our lives today. This can include addressing how a biblical passage applies to marriage, parenting, singleness, school, work, friends, and family.
In some modern churches, there has been a shift toward pragmatism that panders to “here and now” issues while neglecting matters of eternity. This is not the answer. However, there is a balance churches can pursue between declaring the eternal teachings of God and how they apply to people Monday through Saturday.
Fourth, people attend church when they are hurting.
Don’t forget the person beside you on a Sunday morning may be enduring a battle that weighs heavily on their heart. Pray for those around you as you worship the Lord during church gatherings. Encourage those around you, seeking to be like Jesus who came to serve rather than to be served.
Remember, church is both for us to worship God and to show Christ-like love to those who attend with us. When we actively pursue both aspects of worship gatherings, we may find we experience God’s presence in a much greater way.
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Dr. Dillon Burroughs
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.