How Do Americans Feel About the Church Experience?
American Pastors Network’s Sam Rohrer Considers 5 Illuminating Trends
March 2, 2020
PHILADELPHIA—Going to church on Sunday morning with family has been part of the American culture for generations. But Sunday morning traditions are changing, along with attitudes and habits, as well as wants and needs, regarding church attendance.
For these reasons, the American Pastors Network (APN) is particularly interested in new Barna Research on “Five Trends Defining Americans’ Relationship to Churches.” Some of the trends include “church hopping,” differing opinions on the value of church, expectations about the outcomes of going to church, the importance of church on younger generations and the perception of the Church’s relevance to the community.
APN President Sam Rohrer says the drastic changes in people’s connections to their churches dramatically impact pastors.
“Nearly every pastor in America will likely report that the nation’s ‘church culture’ has shifted significantly over the past 20 years,” Rohrer said. “No longer is a deep, family connection to a local church the norm. In a society where we experience on-demand technology and up-to-the-minute communication, the wants and needs of churchgoers have changed as well. This affects pastors, not only in how they lead and preach, but in how they work to engage people to spread the message of the Gospel.
“Because of these cultural shifts,” he added, “pastors experience challenges that are new and foreign to many of them. It can be a constant struggle to ‘figure out’ what people want when they attend church. What moves them to action and what causes them to stay and be engaged?”
For decades, Barna has conducted research specifically on churches and church leaders, uncovering what they and others believe about their role in the church, as well as shedding light on their concerns and aspirations for both the local church. The most recent study on trends is part of Barna’s State of the Church 2020 project, a year-long examination of the spiritual and religious trends that define American life.
The five uncovered trends include the following:
- Nearly 2 in 5 churchgoers report regularly attending multiple churches. Declining church loyalty—or “church hopping”—is becoming more common, Barna says. While a majority of churchgoers tends to stick with a single congregation (63% churched adults, 72% practicing Christians), a sizable minority is at least occasionally attending other churches, including nearly 2 in 5 churched adults (38%) and one-quarter of practicing Christians (27%).
- Churchgoers are divided on the value of church. Another element of the churchgoing landscape is the paradoxical perceptions that churchgoers hold of church itself, Barna reports. Says Barna President David Kinnaman, “Those who frequent worship services do so largely because of personal enjoyment, but many churchgoers also readily admit that they believe people are tired of church as usual.”
- Churchgoers experience—and have come to expect—positive emotions and outcomes by going to church. Overall, churched adults say they leave worship services feeling inspired (37%), encouraged (37%), forgiven (34%), as though they have connected with God or experienced his presence (33%) and challenged to change something in their life (26%), every time.
- Church membership is still a common practice and is correlated with positive outcomes—but its importance is declining among younger churchgoers. Of those who attend church at least every six months, a little over half (54%) report being an official member at their place of worship, with 37% reporting they regularly attend but are not members. Practicing Christians show deeper commitment, with 71% noting they are members and 26% claiming regular attendance without membership. Generationally, Boomers are more likely than both Gen X and millennials to be formal members of their congregation, with nearly 7 in 10 churched Boomers (68% vs. 48% churched millennials and 51% churched Gen X) confirming membership. Younger generations of churchgoers were also more likely to mention “not applicable,” which suggests that the category of membership isn’t even part of their church’s nomenclature.
- The perception of the Church’s relevance to the community is under question—especially among non-Christians. While practicing Christians firmly believe that Christian churches have a strong community impact (66% very positive, 28% somewhat positive), the rest of the U.S. population is not as sure. Only 27% agree that churches have a very positive impact—the same percentage who say it has no affect at all. Non-Christians, meanwhile, are inclined toward indifference (39% no impact) or more willing to see harm in churches’ local contributions (8% very negative, 10% somewhat negative). These numbers challenge the church’s place in society, Barna says.
As the local church ministers to all ages, APN hopes thousands will join the ministry for its national prayer movement called “52 Tuesdays,” in which the faithful from around the country will come together to pray for the moral and spiritual renewal of our nation every Tuesday leading up to Election Day 2020.
This dedicated season of prayer not only addresses the important 2020 presidential election but also other topics close to Christians’ hearts. Prayer warriors nationwide can add their name to the growing “52 Tuesdays” list here.
Rohrer, along with Pennsylvania Pastors Network Executive Director Gary Dull and North Carolina Pastors Network President Dave Kistler, hosts the popular daily radio program, “Stand in the Gap Today,” which airs on over 400 radio stations nationwide; many carry the show live from noon to 1 p.m. ET. The trio invites cultural experts to the show to discuss a variety of pressing topics and headlines from a biblical and constitutional perspective. Archived programs can be viewed here; find a station here. Rohrer also hosts the daily short radio feature “Stand in the Gap Minute, and “best of” shows from the week are broadcast on “Stand in the Gap Weekend.”
Likewise, “Stand in the Gap TV” considers transcending complex and divisive cultural issues, seemingly difficult to navigate, from a biblical worldview perspective while bringing clarity to cultural confusion and making sense of the nonsense around us.
View the media page for APN here, which also details information about “Stand in the Gap” radio programming. For more information on APN, visit www.AmericanPastorsNetwork.net, its Facebook page or follow APN’s Twitter feed, @AmericanPastors. For information about forming a state chapter of APN, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To interview an American Pastors Network representative, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or ext. 102.