Alabama Baptists, others consider why only half of U.S. adults say attending church is importantcomments (13)
April 3, 2014
By Jennifer Davis Rash
The answers are as varied as the 375 people who answered them, but one thing they all agree on is that church is indeed important. And they aren’t ready to lose the battle over church attendance.
According to a Barna Group study released March 25, U.S. adults are almost evenly divided on the importance of attending church. The study found that 49 percent said it is “somewhat” or “very” important to attend church, while 51 percent said it is “not too” or “not at all” important.
The Alabama Baptist staff emailed the question “Why do you think only half of U.S. adults believe attending church is an important part of life?” to several thousand people the evening of March 25. More than 100 responses came in within the first hour and most of the rest within the first 24 hours.
Some of the common answers included:
- People are too busy and there are lots of commitments competing for their time.
- Church is not relevant to them or is not meeting their needs.
- They were not raised in church and have not been taught about church.
- They are not believers, are weak in their faith or are not grounded in the Word of God.
- They have been hurt by church or Christians in the past.
- They are following a perception established by society.
Several people also said that if the church attendance naysayers knew what they were missing, then they would want to attend.
Patty Burns, of Prattville, said, “Only half of U.S. adults realize that attending church is about worship. It’s about quality time with Jesus. It’s not about checking something off a things-to-do list.”
Still overall church attendance has dropped from 43 percent in 2004 to 36 percent in 2014, according to Barna Group’s tracking data.
Along with the growing sense of not needing church at all, the trend of an inconsistent participation among churchgoers also seems to be growing. More than one-third of Americans had gone six months at a time without participating in church functions of any kind in the early 2000s, but that number has now grown to two-fifths, according to Barna Group.
“The nature of churchgoing is changing,” Barna Group reported. “Regular attenders used to be people who went to church three or more weekends each month — or even several times a week. Now people who show up once every four to six weeks consider themselves regular churchgoers.”
Part of the reason for the inconsistency is that church is no longer the center of the family’s activities like it used to be, said Sammie Jo Barstow, a member of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa.
“Busyness is also a factor,” she said. “Families under a great deal of ‘time stress’ will sometimes choose to use Sunday as a day to relax and renew, but that doesn’t necessarily include attending worship services.”
Barstow also said she senses a decline in fathers leading their families to worship. “Mothers frequently step in to take that role,” she said. “But when parents are not united in their commitment to Christ, church attendance is weakened.”
Jim Reaves, of Mobile, agreed.
“Look around the sanctuary in your next weekend service,” said Reaves, a member of Covenant Church, Mobile. “What is the ratio of men to women?
“Large numbers of men believe the church is no longer relevant to them,” he said. “Without the men/fathers in the church, there is less direction for the children. ... Churches must focus on programs to help men find a place where they will feel the message of the church is more important than the other distractions for their time.”
But the problem isn’t only with men in the churches, several responders noted.
“I believe many churches have failed to make necessary changes to remain relevant in the eyes of many in our society today,” said Steve King, pastor of Ozark Baptist Church. “People are voting with their absence, but we, the typical church, isn’t listening.
“I think we have so programmed our churches to death that we have failed to rely upon the supernatural provision of the Holy Spirit to create real life transformation among us,” he said.
Jason Duckett, pastor of Moundville Baptist Church, added, “The fateful choice of many local congregations to prioritize religious tradition over biblical relevancy, finite reliance over Spirit empowerment and self promotion over Kingdom advancement has led countless souls to believe that the message of the church is simply unbelievable.”
Larry Morrison, minister of education and administration for First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, agreed the church must shoulder the responsibility.
“The cultural response is a result of the church failing to obey Jesus,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘Come. Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.’
“The church has chosen not to come and not to be fishers of men,” Morrison said. “Until we expect church members to attend church why should our culture place value on church attendance?”
Randy Howell, of Wadley, noted, “We must also cultivate a lifestyle of discipleship.
“Jesus spent time with His disciples and taught them to be fishers of men,” Howell said. “The local church must not change the message, but we must change the fishing bait as we strive to exhibit excellence in worship.”
Edwin Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Athens, added that many church members’ attitudes also are impacting church attendance.
“Those of us who are in the church have not demonstrated by our examples, attitude and teaching how vital church attendance truly is,” he said. “The world is following our lead. When we recover the joy and enthusiasm for God and the things of God, the world will want what we have. They will follow us to church.”
Maintaining a vision for the glory and grandeur of God is vital, said Roger Willmore, pastor of Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville.
“Christians are now affected by the culture of casualness in their understanding of the nature and character of God,” he said. “This casualness is seen in how they talk about God and the things of God.
“It is seen in how they approach God in worship,” Willmore said. “We have lost our awe of God and our reverent respect for Him.”
John Alexander, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Romulus, described it as regaining “a sense of mystery in worship.”
“We need to regain a sense of the sacred and pass it to the next generations,” he said. “We need to understand — and teach — that certain benefits come only to those who attend corporate worship.”
Tim Gold, minister of education and administration for First Baptist Church, Pell City, said concern over church attendance can be boiled down to one question.
“Is church attendance important because of ... the need to impress ... or do we have a true relationship with God through His Son and see the biblical value of gathering together as a corporate body?
“To worship Him, learn about Him ... pray for and encourage each other, hold each other accountable — in short to be the disciples Christ has called us to be.
“There is a world of difference between adhering to and practicing cultural Christianity as opposed to adhering to and practicing true biblical Christianity,” Gold said. “And there is an eternal difference between being a disciple in name only and being a truly committed disciple of Christ who takes up his or her cross daily and follows Him.”
Church attendance is a vital part of following Christ, said Katie Jones, a member of Safford Baptist Church.
“Attendance shows sacrifice putting God before all other plans,” she said. “Church is a choice.”
Micah Simpson, college minister at Brookwood Baptist Church, Mountain Brook, added, “You cannot live the Christian life apart from the local body of believers.
“We hear from God in community. We are encouraged in our walk in community. Scripture should only be interpreted in community,” he said. “Theology should be done in community, and we grow into Christlikeness as we are sharpened by one another in community.”
Ginger Cain, a member of Keener Baptist Church, Attalla, described church as her “fueling station.”
“It helps me survive in the world we live in,” she said. “Worshipping God and being with His people who are going through life’s trials just like I am ... helps me so much.”
“If we show the world through our everyday lives and actions how Jesus changed us, loves us and helps us, then I think more people will feel a stronger desire and need to attend church,” she added.
As responders referenced “attending” church, most inferred or stated directly that strictly attending is not enough. Involvement is the key.
Lisa Clem, secretary at Cave Spring Baptist Church, Decatur, said, “Being involved with a church is one of the most important things you can do in your life other than believe in, live for and worship our loving God.
“The church was built to support God and a place where all believers can come and worship Him freely.”
Kris Green, pastor of Rockwood Baptist Church, Russellville, added, “Church is the encouragement that gets us through life. To me Sunday being the first day of the week is the pregame speech. By Wednesday we are all a little tired and beaten down, so Wednesday night is the halftime speech.
“Church members are there to encourage one another,” he said. “If you are not there, then who is not getting encouraged or who is not able to encourage you?”
Stephanie Woods, a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Monrovia, echoed the others’ reasons for attending church and added that it also is an opportunity to be a positive role model.
“Attending church sets a positive example for your children, nonbelievers and even believers,” she said. “It’s an inspiration.”
But even with all the positives of being active in church, the numbers prove that church is becoming less and less important to people in the U.S.
Benjamin Gray, pastor of Gravel Hill Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, agreed with the previously discussed variety of reasons why but also offered two main reasons.
1. “The advent of other avenues of community.”
2. “Lack of effective discipleship in churches,” which is not a new thing, he said.
Jane Blankenship mentioned the second item herself.
“The church is not helping U.S. adults grow in a significant way in their relationship with Christ,” she said. “They don’t see the value of the church service because it only presents itself as an activity to participate in.
“Adults are still searching for something the church is supposed to provide but is not.”
The Christian mask is another issue turning people off, said Jan Hunter, office manager for Southside Baptist Church, Huntsville.
“We go inside our clean buildings, in our clean clothes and sit in classes where everyone is wearing the ‘good Christian’ look and no one says what is really going on in their life,” she said. “People are looking for truth and in many of our churches all they get is a list of things to not do.”
It’s this type of lack of connection and involvement that can provide an easy out for even the typically active church members, said Jessica Palmer, small group minister at The Church at Eastern Oaks, Montgomery.
She speaks from experience. Despite being brought up attending church every Sunday and Wednesday and continuing that routine into her young adult years, Palmer found herself not making it to church consistently shortly after getting married.
“I craved the encouragment, discipleship and fellowship ... but once the routine was abandoned, it was easier to come up with excuses to miss church,” she said. “Once we decided missing church was not an option ... those excuses were no longer valid.”
Martha Green, a member of Tannehill Valley Baptist Church, McCalla, also walked through a period in her life where she was out of church. But unlike Palmer’s experience of other commitments and situations conflicting with her church schedule, Green left church over some deep hurts.
“I put my Bible on a shelf and didn’t open it at all ... for about 10 years,” she said. “My heart was cold since I had some hard things happen to me. ... Deep down I always wanted to glorify God in my life, but I just felt like church was not relevant since my previous church had failed me when I needed them the most.
“The Lord was gracious ... and pulled me back to Him and the church,” Green said. “In a good church, we are always pointed to Jesus and taught to be responsible for our lives in the Lord.”
Another McCalla resident, Cindy Berry, is still working through her painful church experience from three years ago.
“It has been a difficult path,” she said. “We are still not active in church but do attend fairly regularly. ... We still seek because we are not giving up believing our role in a church family is important.
“While I believe church attendance is important, finding a church that is true to the Word of God and where God is truly first and people and their agendas are not is difficult,” Berry noted. “I believe this, coupled with misplaced priorities, lead to so many convincing themselves that church attendance is not important.”
Becki McAnnally, pastor’s wife at Bethlehem East Baptist Church, Hanceville, encourages those “jaded by things that have happened in some of our churches” not to let that prevent them from accepting Christ and/or finding a church home.
And Caroline Jones, a member of North Shelby Baptist Church, Birmingham, said finding the right church is key.
“The right church embraces individuals in ways that are comfortable and supportive, providing acceptance, encouragement and a safety net when needed,” she said. “Staying away from church once one has identified the right church for him or her makes one hungry to experience that special fellowship again and again.”
Janie Johnson from Baldwin County added, “The Church needs to go back to seeing people like Jesus sees them and loving people like Jesus does. Then we can ‘have church.’”
And while the Church definitely has work to do, the individuals do as well, said Dara Murphy, assistant to the minister of worship at Hill Crest Baptist Church, Anniston.
“Commitment to attending church services and serving within the church involves sacrifice and self-discipline. In as much, so does living your life for Jesus Christ,” she said. “Jesus commands us to honor and glorify Him with our lives and to put Him first.
“If we truly love the Lord and have committed our life to Him, I would say we would desire to come to His house as we would an old friend’s,” Murphy said. “We would want to come and worship Him, our Creator, to give thanks and praise for all He does.”
David Patty, director of missions for Sand Mountain Baptist Association, agreed.
“To identify with the person of Christ is to join yourself to the body of Christ,” he said. “To surrender to His commands is to commit to His Church.
“How can we say we love Jesus and not love His bride, the Church?”
Andy Wilbanks, minister of children at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, added that while we are saved as individuals, “we are also saved to be part of the people of God — the Church.
“Like the family, the Church was designed by God to bring Him glory, spread the gospel and pass down faith to the next generations,” Wilbanks said. “Through authentic community in the Church, we belong to a group of people who can teach, love, support, encourage and hold us accountable.
“We are designed for authentic community because God Himself exists in authentic community,” he noted. “Many have replaced this void with false community found in other places or do not realize the necessity of such a community.”
Cleve Mallory, minister of music and students at Bethsalem Baptist Church, Billingsley, said, “We can’t just preach ‘church attendance.’ We must be willing to admit that the problems with people’s perceptions of any aspect of church life, whether fair or unfair, are our problems to solve.
“The longer I complain about those in my congregation or community who view attendance as unimportant, the longer I contribute to the problem.”
“[T]he assumption among Christian leaders ... is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates — edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated website that includes online giving.
But ... we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances. In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church.”
Rachel Held Evans
CNN Belief Blog
July 27, 2013
“Since a lower percentage of Americans are identifying as religious in general, it’s not surprising that half of them think that attending church is ‘not too’ important.”
Jerry Z. Park, Ph.D.
assoc. prof. of sociology
“Since God’s church constitutes our family of faith, we are designed to connect to the Lord and each other for nurturing encouragement and accountability. Here’s God’s great truth: We need Jesus and we need each other.”
Pastor Jay Wolf
“Christians tend to blend in with the world rather than stand out. There’s nothing attractive to the lost world when we’ve become just like them.”
Readers recommend books to read
Ben Chandler recommends
“Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them” by Thom S. Rainer.
Cary Hatcher recommends “I Am a Church Member” by Thom S. Rainer.
Carol H. Bailey Jr. recommends “Why Men Hate Going to Church” by David Murrow.
Jessica Palmer recommends “Every Member in Sunday School” by Bob Wood.
Why do you attend church?
43 percent of all churchgoers say “to be closer to God.”
34 percent of Protestants say, “The Bible says to be with other believers.”
31 percent of Millennials say, “I need to learn more about God.”
(Source: Barna Group)
Why don’t you attend church?
40 percent of all churchgoers say, “I find God elsewhere.”
35 percent of all churchgoers say, “Church is not relevant to me personally.”
(Source: Barna Group)
Bible verses about fellowship and church
Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Corinthians 12:25–27 (NIV)
There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.
Matthew 18:20 (NASB)
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
Hebrews 10:24–25 (NKJV)
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Acts 2:42 (NRSV)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.
1 Timothy 4:13 (KJV)
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
Philippians 2:1–2 (NCV)
Does your life in Christ give you strength? Does His love comfort you? Do we share together in the Spirit? Do you have mercy and kindness? If so, make Me very happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and having one mind and purpose.
1 Corinthians 12:12 (HCSB)
For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body — so also is Christ.
Galatians 6:10 (RSV)
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Church becoming ‘irrelevant’ for younger generations
Millennials (those 30 and under) stand out as least likely to value church attendance; only two in 10 believe it is important. And more than one-third of Millennial young adults (35 percent) take an anti-church stance. Millennials who are opting out of church cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35 percent cite the church’s irrelevance, hypocrisy and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church, and one out of 10 senses that legitimate doubt is prohibited, starting at the front door. Millennials are the generation born between 1984 through 2002.
(Source: Barna Group)
About the research
The research used in this coverage is part of Barna Group’s FRAMES project. The project included four separate nationwide studies conducted between May and August 2013. Additional details about the research effort are available here: www.barna.org/frames/methodology
(Source: Barna Group)