Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A new survey from the Pew Research Center gives some insight into why Americans decide to attend church services in their communities—or skip church altogether and stay home.

Reported in Christianity Today, the research identified 10 reasons why people might attend religious services and eight reasons why they might not.

The American Pastors Network (APN, www.americanpastorsnetwork.net) says that whether or not these reasons are valid, pastors and church leaders must be aware of what drives people to church or keeps them away.

The top reasons American churchgoers seek out fellowship and worship in a church setting include: Becoming closer to God (81%), so their children will have a moral foundation (69%), to become a better person (68%), for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow (66%), they find the sermons valuable (58%), to be part of “a community of faith” (57%), to follow family’s religious traditions (37%), a feeling of religious obligation (31%), socializing and meeting new people (19%) or pleasing their spouse or family (16%).

“We can see from these reasons that the culture has pervaded, as least on some level, why people go to church,” Rohrer said. “But whatever the reasons, pastors should be thankful these souls have chosen to come through the doors of God’s house and are at least cognizant of the fact that’s where they should be on Sunday mornings or throughout the week. From this knowledge, pastors then have insight as to what brings people out to worship, learn more about Him and open God’s Word. And while pastors must not cater to these reasons to keep people in church, they can present them with the whole counsel of God and the unwavering truth of the Gospel, as well as biblical guidance on our most pressing societal issues.”

Even though the survey also found that the top reason churchgoers head to a service is to become closer to God, one in five adults who attend monthly or more also said they do not usually feel God’s presence; one in four don’t usually feel a sense of community; and four in 10 don’t usually feel connected to their faith’s history.

Additionally, Pew reported a decline in attendance at religious services from 2007 to 2014, with about a third of Americans now saying they worship weekly and about a third saying they go rarely or never.

Of those who do not attend services, the reasons include: they practice their faith in other ways (37%), are not believers (28%), haven’t found a church or other house of worship they like (23%), don’t like the sermons (18%), don’t feel welcome (14%), don’t have time (12%), are in poor health (9%) or there isn’t a church for their religion in their area (7%). More than a quarter (26%) said there is not one most important reason they don’t attend church.

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