Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Is Your Experience In Church?

Do you attend church? If so why? If not, why not?

Recently the Barna organization surveyed Americans who have attended church sometime in the past and discovered what they say about their experiences.

1. Connecting with God was most important. Around 66% said they have had a personal connection with God when attending a church. That would mean that roughly a third would say that they haven’t connected with God when attending a church. What’s more, those who said they have connected with God when in a congregational setting describe the encounter as rare.

What about you. How frequently do you connect with God when attending a church? What helps or hinders?

2. Experiencing Transformation or that life had been “greatly affected” by attending church was said by 26%. Another 25% said attending church had been “somewhat influential”. The other half said that their lives had not been changed at all by attending church.

This is an interesting factor. One of my passions is life transformation. I pray and serve people with the hope of seeing transformation. However I would probably say that I’ve experienced little if any transformation by attending church. I can be inspired, informed, encouraged, and equipped but the life change really comes when I put into practice the things I feel stirred about. Obedience to God changes my life.

3. Gaining New Insights was a disappointing factor in the survey. Asked to describe what insight they gained the last time they attended church 61% could not remember anything of significance related to faith.

This of course is one of the frustrating and perplexing realities to those who speak in church every week. I’ll typically spend a dozen hours preparing for a 25 minute talk which is similar to a lot of other pastors. Yet we know that many of the people listening attentively in the moment will not remember 95% of what they hear because they are not writing any notes or deciding on any action steps to take in light of what they have heard.

The rest of the story is that many of us don’t grow in our ability to communicate. Means of communication are exploding all around us yet the Sunday message can often be a talking head that seems to drone “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

4. Feeling Cared For measured whether church attenders felt significantly connected to other people at church. Around 68% said they feel like they are a part of the group. Another 23% opined that being at church feels “like a group of people sharing the same space in a public event but who were not connected in a real way.”

If a church has over 100 people and regularly has new guests showing up it’s difficult for everyone to connect with everyone. This is one of the reasons that I’m a strong proponent of small groups. When I have meaningful connections in my small group of a dozen people I then have a capacity to reach out to and connect with several people on Sunday. I don’t feel as great a need regarding who, if anyone is attempting to connect with me.

5. Helping the Poor was the final factor measured by the survey. The question was whether you believed your church prioritizes caring for the poor outside of the congregation. Adults who attended a church said their church cared a lot (44%) or somewhat (33%).

What’s your opinion about the way your church cares for the poor? What part do you play in caring for the poor?

The survey addressed additional influences on the above factors like church size, age of participants, and denominational affiliation that you can read about here.

I’ve served the church for 35 years. I’m very acquainted with how churches fall short of God’s calling and I’ve been blessed to experience the church at her best. Many find healing and hope through the church while others find it boring and irrelevant. Some have even been abused by the church.

Nevertheless, the church is a primary expression and experience of God in our world. I’m committed to see the church as a people and place that glorify God and edify people. I’m convinced that sacrificing my life on behalf of God’s work in and through the church is worth it.

What about you?


Lisa Ursino Pavitt said...

My "expectations" of church have been varied as I grew from a toddler to an adult. When I figured out that all the statues in the church weren't ever going to come alive, reach out and pick me up, I would just focus on the music. As a child, it was a time where I could use my imagination and dream while the rest of the people mumbled prayers, stood up, kneeled down, stood up, sat down...... As a teenager, I was the first person to bring a guitar into our church. Horrors! the adults cringed and the teenagers felt we could sing how we felt, to God. This would be the start of my realizing I could have a personal relationship with God.
Just as it takes time for us to appreciate our parents, it took time for me to appreciate God and then use "church" time to thank Him and praise what he can do in our lives. I absolutely love hearing a crowd of people singing their praises to God! It lifts me up to a place I can't speak of!
It is such an intimate place. My church now, (Meadowbrook in Redmond) is my family in which I can depend on, to celebrate with, cry with, attend to the needy with....and just live life with! My church is no longer a 1 hour weekly event where I have to slip away into my own imagination to find God.

Scott Brewer said...

Lisa, I'm grateful that you're part of the Meadowbrook family and that we get to worship and experience God together.

Your childhood experiences illustrate the importance that architecture and room ambiance can play in our experiencing God.

There's an important line between how much should be spent on buildings versuses caring for the poor but setting for the gathering of God's people has always been important.

Anna said...

If anything, I've been thinking about #4 & #5 (Feeling Cared For and Helping the Poor) quite a lot.

An old high school friend who lived on the Eastside used to be so fired up about God and wanted to become a pastor when we were in class. Just a year ago I found out he had such a bad experience in the church because his family was poor, and they looked down on that. He turned away from the church and his faith completely. His whole goal afterwards was to make as much money as he can so he would feel he was worth something.

Then a homeless man (that I bumped into when you preached about getting a "pinch" from God) I see and talk to once in awhile. He actually attended a well-known church in Seattle and said he didn't really fit in. He said, "It's just that I'm different..I'm poor and homeless".

My heart just breaks thinking about this. While churches can't cater to every single person perfectly (and developing relationship goes both ways), it seems there is still some things fundamentally missing.

I read another pastor's blog who had an interesting take on a "successful" church plant: http://john-imagodei.blogspot.com/view/classic#!/2011/10/successful-church-plant-closing-its.html

Scott Brewer said...

My heart likewise hurts for your friend and those who have had similar struggles. There are too many out there like that.

Appreciate the referral to the other blog. I agree with a lot of his observations.