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Study: Younger Christians Care Less About Church

The Barna Group has released a study of what American Christians experience in their hearts and minds during their time in church, revealing the gaps in experiences regarding denomination and age.

One category that was monitored was connecting with God, which the study described as the most important outcome to churches.

According to the study, 66 percent of churchgoers said they have had a personal connection with God during church service, while one-third of churchgoers never felt a connection God during church.

The report says that 44 percent of people who attend church weekly feel God's presence every week and 18 percent feel God on a monthly basis.

Overall, 26 percent of people who had been to church before said that their life had been changed or affected greatly by attending church, according to Barna's study. 46 percent said that their life had not changed by going to church.

One of the findings of the research was that church size does not matter. The report found that members of small, medium and large churches all had similar experiences during services. The only difference was that members of churches with 100-299 members were less likely to report positive outcomes that smaller churches.

Large churches with 300 or more were likely to say that they gained new spiritual insight and understanding and that their church makes it a priority to serve the poor.

When it comes to the category of spiritual insight and understanding, however, most Christians cannot even recall when they last had such experiences. The polls found that 61 percent of people say that could not remember a significant new insight or understanding related to faith from their last church visit.

There were some differences in the denomination of churchgoers, concerning experiences.

Barna found that Catholics who attend church every week have less positive outcomes in their congregation that Protestants did. According to the polls, only 29 percent of Catholics said that attending church affected their life greatly and only 45 percent said they gained new spiritual insight or understanding.

About one quarter of Americans said that they experienced transformation in their lives from going to church and about half said that they had no transformation. Another 25 percent of Americans reported that attending church somewhat influenced their lives.

The Barna research found that church experiences differ the most for people in different generation gaps.

The generation gap least affected by church is the 18-27 group. Only 47 percent feel a connection to the church versus 71 percent in the 28-46 age group and 71 percent in 47-65 age group. Only a fifth of 18-27-year-olds say that church has affected their life greatly and 56 percent feel a personal connection with God.

Recent studies have displayed why younger Christians fail to show a connection with church. A 2007 publication called, "unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters,” gives insight to the statistics.

In the book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, interviews from two demographic groups, the Busters (born 1965-1983) and the Mosaics (1984-2002) are included. The book says that these two groups hold overwhelmingly negative perceptions of Christians and Christianity.

They charge Christians with being anti-homosexual, too political, hypocritical, insincere and sheltered. In fact, the book found that most Mosaic and Buster Christians shared the same negative views of Christianity as the rest of the world.

Attitudes towards sexuality have changed with homosexuality, cohabitation and premarital sex seen as acceptable to some younger Christian groups.

Speaking on results of the Barna study, Kinnaman said that it is good that a number of churchgoers experience a diverse and rich set of experiences, but pastors should not take this for granted.

"Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking," Kinnaman said on the Barna website. "Entering the New Year, consider spending more time thinking and praying how your faith community can identify, plan, and measure more holistic set of experiences."

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