Consider this research as you plan ahead on how to reach your community and grow your congregation this new year.
1. 81 percent of church attenders say becoming closer to God is one of the primary reasons they attend
The vast majority of people in your pews are there because they believe your church will help them grow closer to God. Regardless of what else you do as a congregation, make sure you are helping people accomplish that goal.
Even those who aren’t showing up to church still want to grow closer to God. Among self-identified Protestants who attend a few times a year or less, 48 percent say they’ve found other ways to practice their faith.
2. 20 percent of Americans draw the most meaning in their life from their faith
While 1 in 5 Americans mentioned spirituality and faith when asked what gives them the most meaning, twice that number points to their family.
When attempting to reach others or even disciple the congregation, church leaders should recognize many people value faith or religion, but family is the priority for most.
3. 62 percent of Americans say churches aren’t responding well to issues like sexual assault
Most Americans say churches have done a poor job of dealing with sexual harassment and assault, but 60 percent of white evangelicals say the church is doing a good job with those issues.
According to a Lifeway Research study, more than 8 in 10 pastors say they are aware of the #MeToo movement, but they may not be aware of the perception churches have in the public.
4. 81 percent of Protestant pastors say their congregation is made up of one racial or ethnic group.
A Lifeway Research study found most churches are still monoethnic, but multiethnic congregations are growing. The number of churches made up of only one ethnicity is down five percentage points from 2013.
A separate study from Baylor University also found multiethnic churches doubled from 6 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012.
5. 69 percent of parents would let their child attend VBS at someone else’s church if invited
Vacation Bible School remains a popular outreach for churches and with good reason. Two-thirds of parents say their child is likely to go to VBS this year and most are open to an invitation.
Nine in 10 adults who went to VBS as a child have positive memories of attending. Even among those who didn’t go as a kid, 61 percent have positive thoughts about the program.
6. 62 percent of churchgoers say they’ve invited at least one person to church in the last six months
Lifeway Research found that most churchgoers made at least one invitation to church in the last six months. A quarter said they’ve made three or more invitations, while 29 percent said they’ve not invited anyone.
When asked why they’ve haven’t brought more guests with them to church services, the most frequent answer (31 percent) was, “I don’t know.”
7. 21 percent of Baby Boomers say they’ve become more religious in the last decade
You may be surprised to hear that many older Americans who rejected faith previously are more open to religion as they age. Factors such as a change in interest in worldly things, concern about children and grandchildren, and experiencing a loss drove older adults to become more religious.
Generation Z may also be more religious than expected. While members of Gen Z are twice as likely to say they’re atheist (13 percent) than the rest of the population (6 percent), the percentage who are Protestant (42 percent) is essentially the same as millennials (44 percent) and Generation X (43 percent).
8. 77 percent of churchgoers gave to at least one charity beyond their church
Churchgoers remain some of the most generous people, as 15 percent donated to one additional charity and 58 gave to multiple ones besides their congregation, according to Lifeway Research.
For those looking to understand why churchgoers give, it’s a personal connection. Knowing someone who worked at the charity (21 percent), interacting with someone representing the charity (19 percent), and knowing other people who supported the charity (18 percent) were the top reasons for giving to a charity for the first time.
9. 46 percent of churchgoers say they prefer to attend a church where people share their political views
That’s especially true for those under 50, as 57 percent say they’d prefer to attend a church where people agree with them on politics. And self-identified evangelicals (85 percent) are also more likely than non-evangelicals (78 percent) to see politics as important.
10. 60 percent of Americans say religious belief is a matter of personal opinion, not objective truth
The 2018 State of Theology Study from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research revealed significant information about what Americans believe about God—and it’s complicated.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Seven in 10 Americans believe there is one God in three persons, but 57 percent say God created Jesus, and 59 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.[/epq-quote]While most say religion is about opinion and not truth, 50 percent say the Bible is 100 percent true in all it teaches, and 53 percent say the Bible has the authority to tell us what we must do.
Seven in 10 Americans believe there is one God in three persons, but 57 percent say God created Jesus, and 59 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.
11. 63 percent of evangelicals say they read the Bible at least once a week
More than 6 in 10 evangelicals and black Protestants say they read the Bible at least weekly; that’s significantly higher than the 35 percent of all Americans who say they do the same.
Lifeway Research found 49 percent of Americans with evangelical beliefs say they read at least a little bit of Scripture every day.
12. 51 percent of churchgoers say they’ve never heard of the Great Commission
Despite how much of the Bible they may or may not be reading, half of American churchgoers say they’ve never heard of the phrase “the Great Commission.” Another quarter say they’ve heard of it, but can’t remember the exact meaning.
Only 17 percent say they’ve heard of it and know what it means.
13. 66 percent of Christians say many religions can lead to eternal life
Two-thirds of all Christians and half of evangelicals (52) believe that people can gain eternal life from many different religions. When asked specifically about non-Christian religions, 50 percent of all Christians still agreed those can lead to eternal life.
14. 85 percent of churchgoers say they’ve not considered switching churches in the last six months
Lifeway Research found more than half (57 percent) of churchgoers say they are completely committed to continuing to attend their current church. About a quarter (28 percent) are “very much” committed, while 11 percent are moderately committed.
When asked what would make them consider changing congregations, churchgoers said if the church changed its doctrine (54 percent) or they moved residences (48 percent).
Fewer said they would consider leaving over a preaching style change (19 percent), a pastor left (12 percent), a family member wanting to change (10 percent), different political views (9 percent), they didn’t feel needed (6 percent), music style changed (5 percent), conflict with someone (4 percent), or friends stopped attending (3 percent).
15. 37 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans don’t believe in God
Most Americans who claim no religious identity say they question a lot of religious teachings (60 percent) and around half (49 percent) don’t like positions churches take on social and political issues.
But significantly fewer say they don’t believe in God (37 percent), say religion is irrelevant to them (36 percent), or don’t like religious leaders (34 percent).
16. 45 percent of Protestants say they attend church weekly
Protestant church attendance has been consistent since the 1950s. In 2017, 45 percent attended weekly. In 1955, it was 42 percent. Even among Protestant 20-somethings, a higher percentage attend today than did in the 1960s and 70s.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Protestants are as faithful to church as they ever were, but there are fewer around to be faithful.[/epq-quote]But there are fewer American Protestants than in previous generations. In 1955, 71 percent of Americans were Protestant. That number has fallen to 47 percent.
Protestants are as faithful to church as they ever were, but there are fewer around to be faithful.
17. 83 percent of American churchgoers believe tithing is a biblical command that still applies today
More churchgoers believe tithing is still a command for today than do Protestant pastors (72 percent). But churchgoers aren’t as stringent on where their tithes can go.
Ninety-eight percent say money from tithes can go to their church. Half (48 percent) say funds can go to a Christian ministry. A third say tithes can go to another church (35 percent) or an individual in need (34 percent).
18. 97 percent of Christian parents say it’s important their teen develops a lasting faith
The vast majority of engaged Christian parents want their teenager to carry their faith into adulthood, but many aren’t discussing significant issues about that faith with their child. (Christian parents are considered engaged, according to the study by Barna, if they have attended church within the past six months and strongly agree with four specific statements about their faith.)
A majority have discussed Christian perspectives on current events (60 percent) and biblical perspective on sexuality and marriage (52 percent).
Fewer have talked to their teenager about healthy consumption of pop culture or media (41 percent), historical evidences of Jesus (40 percent), biblical perspectives on gender issues (40 percent), Christian perspectives on poverty or social justice issues (37 percent), and the relationship between science and the Bible (36 percent).
Not many engaged Christian parents at all have discussed origins of the Bible (29 percent), how teens can integrate their faith into their career (24 percent), or how to discern God’s will in their college choice (16 percent).
19. 84 percent of churches have a Facebook page
In 2010, Lifeway Research found only 47 percent of churches had a Facebook page. By 2017, that number had jumped to 84 percent. The same percentage of churches have a website as use Facebook.
However, this growth has come as many Americans, especially younger Americans, are using Facebook less. More than 4 in 10 (44 percent) of 18- to 29-year-olds have taken the Facebook app off their phone in the past year.
If churches want to leverage social media (and most say they do), church leaders must rethink their approach and implement new strategies to reach the widest audience—inside and outside of the church.