Barna Study: Even Christians Are Leaving Our Churches
We were warned back in 2005 that this was coming, but few paid attention to it then. Many scoffed and pretended it could never happen. But it is happening. That is what a recent poll by the Barna Group has uncovered, and the implications of it are alarming.
In this article, I want to share some of Barna’s findings with you. I warn you: Brace yourself!
I invite you to join the discussion in the comment section, as well as answer the polling questions (there are two polls at the bottom of the post) so we can get a better idea of what is going on from your perspective. In the next post we will offer our analysis about why it is happening.
“What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith?”
When the Barna Group asked this question, people offered a variety of answers:
- Family or friends
- Reading the Bible,
- Even having children
But CHURCH did not even crack the top 10 list.
That is staggering in its implication. Christians of all persuasions don’t believe attending a church is an important activity to help grow their faith. Why would we feel that way, and how did we come to those conclusions?
Why We Go To Church:
The Barna study found that most people who DO attend church, do so for three primary reasons:
#1 To be closer to God (44%)
#2 To learn about God (27%)
#3 To Fellowship with other believers (22%)
That seems about right. We go to church to learn about God, to get to know Him better and to be with other believers who can sharpen our faith and help us be more faithful followers of Christ. That is why we go. But is that what is actually happening when we do attend? Not according to the research. Far, far from it.
What Actually Happens When We Go To Church? Not Much!
According to the report, “less than 20% of people who attend church actually feel close to God on even a monthly basis.” Over 80% of church goers DON’T feel close to God. How is that possible? Of the almost two-thirds of people who attend church to learn more about God, only 6% say that they learned anything about God or Jesus the last time they attended. Translation: a whopping 94% of us didn’t get much out of Sunday’s meeting! Worse still, 61% of church goers say they “did not gain any significant or new insights” about their faith when they last attended services.
Here is what Barna concluded:
The data shows two trends, often a crosscurrents. Adults are aware of their very real spiritual needs, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s attempt to meet those spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere.
These statistics should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks and force some serious contemplation. I suggest the first question we ask is: “What the hell are we doing wrong?” ( I do think hell is the right word here)
What are those who have left the Church Saying?
It get’s worse. The study also asked people 30 and younger who are no longer attending church services, why they have stopped attending. The number one reason? They “feel God is missing in church”. Another reason cited was the lack of relevancy. That makes sense to me: What is the MOST relevant aspect of a church service, if not God? If God is missing in a church service, that service is irrelevant!
We are Attending Church Less Often
According to Barna’s tracking data, there has been a 7% drop in overall church attendance between 2004 and 2014. Those numbers don’t really tell the whole story. What is actually happening is that you and I are attending church must less often that we once did. Not too long ago, we defined regular church attenders as people who went to church three or more times per month or even several times a week. Now we consider people who show up for service every four to six weeks as the typical or normal church goer. That is a big change in definitions! Given what this study has uncovered, it is not surprising that Christians are beginning to leave the church.
Houston, We Have A Problem
This study raises a gigantic red flag for all of us in leadership. People are not finding God or learning about the faith in our services and they are leaving in large numbers. People who currently go to church and those who have stopped going are saying the exact same thing! He who has an ear, let him hear what these stats are saying to the church!
The study concludes with a compelling challenge:
“The early church leaders didn’t have the things we now consider essential for our faith. They didn’t have official church buildings, vision statements or core values. They had no social media, radio broadcasts or celebrity pastors. They didn’t even have the completed New Testament. Christ-followers were often deeply misunderstood, persecuted and some gave their lives for their faith. Yet they loved and they served and they prayed and they blessed—and slowly, over hundreds of years, they brought the empire to its knees.”
How could the early church capture the imagination of the Roman empire while we, with all our resources and rigor, are slowly losing influence in our culture?”
Indeed how can we be losing so badly? It is not that we are losing influence in the culture at large. Of course that is true. This study shows that we are losing influence even among Christians. Church leadership needs to consider why this is happening. I have seen some of their suggested solutions to this problem. Unfortunately, they are pointing their fingers our way and blaming us for this decline. It is our fault!
In my next post, I am going to share some of my observations about why believers and seekers both are leaving our churches. Until then, please share your thoughts on this study, as well as why you think it might be happening.
Also, take the polls about your own church attendance below. Let’s see what our responses are. Be honest. Don’t answer the way you think a good follower of Christ SHOULD answer, or the way you would like to be able to answer. Tell the truth, or the poll means nothing. Of course, all answers are anonymous, we can’t see how you vote or even who votes. We just see the answers.
Posted on January 21, 2015, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model, Worship and tagged barna, Barna Group, christianity, church, church attendance, early church history, entertainment, faith, family, God, Gospel, inspiration, leadership, Life, news, Not For itching Ears, prayer, Purpose Driven, religion, seeker-sensitive, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 94 Comments.