Why Do People Go to Church? And Why Don’t They?

Why Do People Go to Church? And Why Don’t They? August 22, 2018

A Pew Research Study took on the question of Why Americans Go (and Don’t Go) to Religious Services.

Some of the findings were obvious.  The number one reason for going to church is to grow closer to God.  But some of the findings were not what one might expect.  For example, only 28% of those who don’t go to church don’t go because they are unbelievers.  Most non-church goers have other reasons, some of which a church might be able to address.

For the complete study, go here.  CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke summarizes and discusses the findings:

Top Reasons for Going to Church

  1. To become closer to God. (81%)
  2. So their children will have a moral foundation. (69%)
  3. To become a better person. (68%)
  4. For comfort in times of trouble or sorrow. (66%)
  5. They find the sermons valuable. (59%)
  6. To be part of a faith community. (57%)
  7. To continue their family’s religious traditions. (37%)
  8. They feel obligated to go. (31%)
  9. To meet new people or socialize. (19%)
  10. To please their family, spouse or partner. (16%)

 Top Reasons for Not Going to Church

  1. They practice their faith in “other ways.” (37%)
  2. They are not believers. (28%)
  3. No reason is “very important.” (26%)
  4. They haven’t found a house of worship they like. (23%)
  5. They don’t like the sermons. (18%)
  6. They don’t feel welcome. (14%)
  7. They don’t have the time. (12%)
  8. Poor health or mobility. (9%)
  9. No house of worship in their area. (7%)
Here are some of the unexpected findings, as Burke reports:
The survey complicates. . . stereotypes about Americans who rarely, if ever, attend religious services. As it turns out, they’re all not atheists, or even members of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Many say religion is important in their lives, and lean conservative, politically. . . .
The believers most likely to say they practice their faith in “other ways” aren’t spiritual freelancers with a disdain for discipline. They’re Republican women in their 50s, and lot of them are Christians.
Of those who believe in religion but don’t regularly attend religious services, nearly 7 in 10 still identify with a particular tradition, including 6 in 10 who say they are Christian.
More than half the people who believe but don’t attend religious services regularly are women. Many say they haven’t found a house of worship they like and so practice their faith in other ways.
And why so many women failed to find a house of worship they like? More than 6 in 10 said it’s because they have poor health or difficulty getting around. More than half (54%) said it’s because they haven’t felt welcomed by congregations. . . .
American pastors, imams and rabbis have spent endless amounts of time trying to cater to millennials’ tastes, or at least what they perceive to be millennials’ tastes: Coffee bars. Hip young clergy. Mission trips to exotic locales.
But this study suggests that there is an under-served group of believers who seem like they’d actually like to go to religious services — if only someone could help get them there and welcome them when they arrive.
 Once again we see that a significant number of those who do not attend worship services and are not members of churches–in the U.S. as well as other countries–are not really “nones,” “secularists,” or unbelievers.  Rather, they consider themselves Christians and are not without religious beliefs and practices.  For whatever reason, they just don’t go to church.
We need a study of those folks.  What, exactly, do they believe?  How orthodox or unorthodox are they?  How are they doing, practicing Christianity apart from the church?  Or do they have recourse to a church when they feel they need one (for a wedding, funeral, or crisis)?
Barna, Pew, LifeWay–how about taking this on?
Photo by James Thompson, “Michael Leading the Congregation in Worship,” via Flickr, Creative Commons License
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