Study: Most churchgoers say they can walk with God alone

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The majority of Protestant churchgoers believe they can walk with God without other believers — yet also say they need other believers to help them in that walk, a new study has found, highlighting the lack of discipleship in today’s churches. 

A LifeWay Research survey sponsored by the Center for Church Revitalization at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary found that the majority of those who attend U.S. Protestant or nondenominational churches at least monthly agree with the two contradictory sentiments. 

Three in four Protestant churchgoers (75 percent) say they need other believers to help them to grow in their walk with God, with 38 percent strongly agreeing. However, 65 percent of Protestant churchgoers say they can walk with God without other believers, with 36 percent agreeing strongly.

Kenneth Priest, interim director of the Center for Church Revitalization at Southwestern, said those two statements contradict one another and highlight the need for greater discipleship in churches. 

"I believe this is primarily a discipleship issue," Priest said, explaining that the "spiritual apathy" seen in many churches is due to "the lack of pastors and spiritual leaders equipped to effectively preach and teach a text-driven life application of God's Word."

As a result, many churchgoers fail to see the church as a crucial part of their spiritual formation. 

"The 'needing, yet not needing' responses demonstrate an internal turmoil of individuals desiring community, but not seeing the church as the place to have those needs met," he said. "Solo Christianity is an inward desire to seek after spiritual matters without the realization biblical community is what will fulfill the desire they are seeking.”

Interestingly, the survey of 2,500 Protestant churchgoers conducted Jan. 14–29 found that specific groups are more likely to say they need other believers to help them grow in their walk with God than others. 

Those attending church in the South (41 percent) are more likely to strongly agree than those attending in other parts of the country; younger churchgoers, those 18 to 34 (41 percent) and those 35 to 49 (40 percent), are more likely to strongly agree than older churchgoers; and evangelical Protestants (42 percent) and black Protestants (37 percent) are more likely to strongly agree than mainline Protestants (28 percent).

Women (38 percent) are more likely to strongly agree than men (33 percent) that they can walk with God without other believers, and African Americans (50 percent) are most likely to strongly agree.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said the findings reflect the individualistic spirit of the age. 

"Americans don't like to admit they can't do things themselves. That is true of Christians as well," McConnell said, adding that the "biblical metaphor of the body illustrates that believers should both value and depend on each other."

"One's walk with God should include dependence on God and mutual dependence among believers,” he said. 

LifeWay’s latest study corroborates earlier research revealing churchgoers have no problem developing relationships at church but are less likely to use their time to help fellow Christians grow in their faith.

In the May 2019 study, 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. However, 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.”

In a previous interview with The Christian Post, pastor David Jeremiah explained that many churches today have “forgotten” their purpose, focusing on entertainment and relevance rather than biblical discipleship. Many Christians, he said, feel uncertain when it comes to living each day as followers of Christ — and this is often a failure on the part of church leadership.

“Christians have two major markers in their lives: When they become Christians, and when they go to Heaven. But most Christians don’t know what to do in between those two markers, and that’s because churches don’t teach them,” Jeremiah said. “The whole idea that God expects us to build character in our lives is a foreign thing to so many people because it hasn’t been taught and explained from our pulpits.”

“2 Peter 1 says God has given us everything we need for a godly life; not ‘some things’ — everything. I see people running around trying to find the things they supposedly need as believers, and here is God telling us, ‘I’ve already given you everything you need.’”

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