American churchgoers good at relationships but bad at discipling, poll finds

Transformation Church
Attendees worship at Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina. |

Most American churchgoers have no problem developing relationships at church but they are less likely to use their time to help fellow Christians grow in their faith, a new LifeWay Research poll suggests.

This week, LifeWay Released released data from its 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study, a project that seeks to identify traits of Christian discipleship. Over 2,500 Protestant churchgoers participated in an online survey completed between January 14 and January 29.

Respondents were asked whether or not they agree with the statement: “I have developed significant relationships with people at my church.”

A total of 78 percent of respondents said that they “strongly” or “somewhat” agree with that statement while only 8 percent said they strongly or somewhat disagree and 14 percent said they “neither” agree nor disagree.

Although over three-quarters of churchgoers surveyed agree that they have developed significant relationships at church, only 47 percent of respondents strongly agree or somewhat agree that they “intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith.”

Thirty-four percent of respondents said they neither agree nor disagree that they have spent their time to help other believers grow spiritually while 19 percent said they strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement.

“There is a different element to relationships at church that the majority of churchgoers haven’t prioritized,” LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. “One of the ways a believer shows they have love for God is by investing in other believers. The relationship isn’t just about mutual interests; it is about proactively being interested in the faith of others.”

LifeWay Research found that black Protestants (24 percent) and evangelical Protestants (21 percent) are more likely than mainline Protestants (12 percent) to “strongly agree” that they intentionally spend time with other Christians to help them grow spiritually.

When broken down by ethnicity, Hispanics (32 percent) are most likely to strongly agree that they spend intentional time to help build up the faith of fellow Christians. By comparison, only 22 percent of African-Americans, 17 percent of whites and 17 percent people of “other ethnicities” said the same.

“In an American culture in which significant relationships are hard to form, most churchgoers have had at least some success at making friends at church. But the majority aren’t as confident as they could be about the significance of those relationships,” McConnell added.

The survey also found that a strong minority of churchgoers in the U.S. do not attend typical small groups or classes that their churches offer throughout the week, such as Bible study, young adult groups or adult Bible fellowships.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they don’t usually attend small groups at all during a typical month, while 22 percent of respondents said they attend small group sessions or classes four times in a typical month.

Twenty-eight percent of churchgoers said they attend small group classes or sessions anywhere between one to three times in a typical month, while 13 percent of respondents said they attend small group sessions five times or more in a typical month.

The data shows that mainline Protestants (48 percent) are more likely to say they don’t attend church small groups at all in a typical month than black Protestants (36 percent) and evangelical Protestants (35 percent).

“For much of church history, small groups or classes have been one of the most effective ways churches offer for attendees to connect with others, study the Bible and serve together,” McConnell explained. “This avenue of seeking God together is both relational and devotional.”

LifeWay Research is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The release of the 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study comes after LifeWay Research found earlier this year that over half of Protestant churchgoers failed to share to engage in evangelism in the last 6 months.

“The task of making disciples of all nations has not been fully embraced in the American church — especially by the majority culture,” McConnell said in a statement at the time. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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