Survey: Unchurched Do Not Ponder Life's Purpose, Afterlife

Half of the Americans who do not attend church also do not wonder if there is an ultimate purpose for their lives or the possibility that God has a plan for them, according to a recent survey.


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The study by LifeWay Research, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults, also found that people with even a slight curiosity about a higher purpose to life are more likely to participate in worship services.

About 75 percent of the adults surveyed indicated that they either agree or strongly agree with the statement, “There is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life.”

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However, 50 percent of respondents who never attend worship services disagree with the statement.

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement that the study results have significant implications for churches.

“It is no wonder that many of the unchurched are unengaged in church activity when they don’t believe an exclusive purpose exists for their own lives,” McConnell said. “In other words, why go to church to learn about God’s plan if you don’t think there is one?”

The study also shows that more than two-thirds of those surveyed agree (strongly or somewhat) that “the pursuit of meaning or purpose is a priority,” but only half wonder about it each month.

A high percentage (78 percent) agree that “it is important that I pursue a higher purpose and meaning for my life.” Sixty-seven percent agree that finding one’s deeper purpose is a major priority in their lives.

When asked about how often they ask themselves: “How can I find more meaning and purpose in my life?” 51 percent of Americans indicated at least monthly, including 18 percent who wonder about it daily. Thirteen percent wonder about finding more meaning and purpose yearly and 28 percent never think about it.

The LifeWay study also asked about how often people think of specific aspects of the afterlife.

“How often do you wonder: ‘If I were to die today, do I know for sure that I would go to heaven?’” respondents were asked. Thirty-one percent wonder about this at least monthly, including 8 percent wondering about it daily. Eleven percent said they think about the question of whether they are going to heaven or not yearly and 46 percent never think about it.

Expressing their level of agreement with the statement, “I think often about what I must do to experience peace in the afterlife,” 42 percent say they agree (20 percent strongly) and 50 percent disagree (30 percent strongly). Those who never attend religious services are the most likely to strongly disagree (63 percent).

Researchers at LifeWay indicate that the survey is also reflected in previous studies done on young adults ranging from 18- to 29-year-olds. The most positive news appears to be about people’s willingness to hear about another person’s faith.

 Americans Queried on Afterlife

In his book, Lost and Found, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer found that 89 percent of unchurched young adults agreed when asked, “If someone wanted to tell me what she or he believed about Christianity, I would be willing to listen.”

In response to the question, “There is more to life than the physical world and society,” 88 percent agree, including 67 percent who strongly agree.

“The spirituality of Americans is clear,” McConnell said. “Even the slightest connection to church attendance corresponds to more consideration of possibilities beyond themselves, beyond physical and social realities. However, where there is no worship attendance, spiritual realities are not something they think about often.”

For those who never attend church, the study revealed this group is least likely to pursue purpose and meaning in life or to think about the afterlife:

– 19 percent strongly disagree that there is more to life than the physical world and society;
– 33 percent strongly disagree that there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life;
– 63 percent strongly disagree that they think often about what I must do to experience peace in the afterlife;
– 50 percent never wonder how they can find more meaning and purpose in their life;
– 68 percent never wonder if they were to die today, do they know that they would go to heaven.

“It sounds like an obvious statement to say that those with no connection to attending religious service think less often about spiritual things,” McConnell said. “But the implication is significant for the church. Christians might assume that those who do not attend church are wondering about spiritual things, but many of them rarely do – and starting faith sharing conversations assuming people are wondering when they are not could be the wrong place to start.”

“Our previous research has shown that the unchurched are willing to discuss spiritual topics, so Christians should not shy away from sharing the purpose in life and salvation that Jesus Christ provides, but it helps us to know where they are to start that conversation,” McConnell concluded.

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