Worship brings no transformational change for many

There’s a new study out from Barna. In the study it is reported that roughly a quarter of the people attending church on Sundays are experiencing profound life changing connections. A quarter are finding something is different. But almost half the people who go to church on a Sunday are feeling like nothing is different. For half the church going public, the experience of a transformational experience with God isn’t happening on Sunday morning.

The Barna report is found here. There’s quite a lot of information in the report, more than just the percentage of people who feel their lives are transformed by worship, but that to me is the most surprising result to be found.

Skye Jethani makes the following observations about the implications of the report:

“What should we conclude from this report from Barna? That is going to depend upon your own setting and congregation. But here are a few of my wonderings:

-Many (perhaps most) churches still have structures/values that appeal to those 50+. Despite all of the rhetoric since the 90s about “emerging generations” and new models of church, there is little evidence it has been implemented broadly or effective.

-Is the problem really our worship services, or what we expect from them? Some might look at these numbers and respond by updating their music selection, adding some icons or candles, and getting younger leaders up front. And that might be wise. But I wonder if most people aren’t “experiencing God” in these gatherings because they aren’t experiencing God Monday through Saturday either. Perhaps we (church leaders) have over-emphasized worship gatherings because they are something we can control, when we ought to be training people to commune with God apart from formal services.

-Finally, a friend of mine has vented in the past about all of the “transforming lives” talk that permeates ministry gatherings these days. “Transformation isn’t our job,” he rants, “it’s God’s! All we can do is lead people to him.” Granted, my friend is highly Reformed, but he has a point. Might it be time to consider what Paul said about ministry in 1 Corinthians 3? Some plant the seeds, others water it, but ultimately it is God who causes the growth. I don’t believe we should ignore outcomes or allow lazy, ineffectual discipleship to take root in our churches. But we must also admit that life transformation is more mysterious, more God-driven, than making widgets in a factory.”

I’m particularly taken with the last point. “God gives the growth” is a reminder to all us in active parish ministry that we don’t have to take responsibility for every perceived failure nor for every imagined success. Our job is to prepare the field and wait for God to send the sun, the rain, even the seeds. At best maybe we can get in a little weeding every now and then.

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