A study released Monday found that about one-third of American adults who have attended church have never experienced “a real and personal connection” with God while in a church service, and those who have experienced the connection say it is rare.
The research was conducted by the Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif.-based research organization, and sought to examine what Americans experience in Christian churches.
Of the 1,022 adults surveyed, 66 percent said they had experienced a personal connection with God during a church service. Only 35 percent of those surveyed said they connect with God on a monthly basis, while 44 percent of people who attend church services weekly said they feel His presence every week.
The Barna Group report identifies this connection with God as “perhaps the most important outcome facilitated by churches,” yet one-third of people said they had never connected with God in a congregational setting.
Whitman Toland, founding pastor of C3 Church Greensboro in North Carolina, says if churches want to see individuals better connect with God they should be less concerned with presenting a “performance” and more concerned with worshipping Him.
"We've become so influenced by our culture that we have polished performances but no presence of God. And we start evaluating success by how well we perform and the number of people in our meetings, and ... that standard is actually from a worldly measurement of success,” Toland told The Christian Post on Monday.
Many churches today know how to attract people, he explained, but their message is weak. Often pastors try to “get people to intellectually engage a spiritual God,” but what they need to do is seek God's will for the church and trust in Him.
"I think that we actually have to have a confidence that, as individual churches, we are doing what God asks us to do. And then it positions God to do only what He can do."
Other questions were also raised in the study about the impact churches are making today.
Only 26 percent of those who had been to a church said their life had been changed or “greatly” affected by doing so. Nearly half of those surveyed, 46 percent, said they had not been changed at all by attending church, and half of everyone who had attended church in the last week said they could not think of any significant insight they had learned during the service.
The study also found that 68 percent of survey participants felt connected with other individuals “who are united in their beliefs and who take care of each other in practical ways” while in a church setting, and only 23 percent disagreed. About 73 percent of those surveyed also said that caring for the poor was either emphasized “a lot” or “somewhat” by their churches.
“This research points to both good news and causes for concern. On the positive side, many churchgoers receive a diverse and rich set of inputs by being involved in a church or parish, most notably connecting with God and others,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, in the report on the group's website.
“Yet, the research results are also a reminder that faith leaders cannot take these things for granted. Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking. Entering the New Year, consider spending time thinking and praying how your faith community can identify, plan, and measure a deeper, more holistic set of experiences and outcomes so that people are not mere observers of ministry but genuine participants.”