Recently, the pollster George Gallup released the results of a survey of 1,500 people across the nation. Gallup wanted to know why people went to church (or another place of worship). He listed seven items and asked people to rank them from the most important to the least important. The results of the survey may be a surprise to some. Here are the results in order:
76 percent of respondents said that a major factor in their church attendance was “sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture.” 16 percent said it was a minor factor. Only 8 percent said this was not a factor at all.
75 percent of respondents choose “sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life. 16 percent chose this as a minor factor. Again, 8 percent said that this was not a factor.
64 percent indicated that their first choice was “spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers.” This was a minor factor for 21 percent of those surveyed. 15 percent said this choice was not a factor in their church attendance.
59 percent said that “lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities” are what were most important to them. This was a minor factor for 27 percent. This was not a factor to 13 percent of respondents.
54 percent choose “dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring. 28 percent said it was a minor factor. 17 percent said this was not a factor.
49 percent indicated that “social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community” was most important. The survey did not indicate whether “community” meant the church community or the community-at-large. 36 percent indicated this was a minor factor. This was unimportant top 14 percent of respondents.
38 percent said that “a good choir, praise band, cantors, or spiritual music” was what drew them to church. It was a minor factor for 36 percent. 25 percent said that this choice was not a factor for them.
Surprisingly, as one can see from the results, respondents identified sermons as the primary factor in where they go to church. In fact, more than nine out of ten respondents said the sermon — both to learn about scripture and to help connect religion to one’s own life — was a factor in their decision to attend religious service; three in four respondents said it was a “major factor” in their attendance.
In a world where electronics and gadgets have captured the attention of billions, the teaching and preaching of scripture is still the primary reason that people go to a particular church or house of worship.
This is not to say that the others factors involved are unimportant. In fact, all of the other areas that received less of a response, are meaningful to a sizable percentage of people polled.
The study does not address the unchurched, or so it seems, so it might not be all that helpful in evangelization. It could, however, prove useful in retention efforts. The average church loses 15 percent of its congregation each year to deaths, relocations, drop-outs, and transfers. Just to stay even, a church must grow by 15 percent each year.
But these findings do put the responsibility and onus on the pastor or faith leader. As busy as many pastors are, failure to deliver in the pulpit has great potential consequences.
This isn’t to say that a church whose growth is stagnant or declining has the preacher to blame. But, certainly, the pastor or priest should do a ruthless self-examination.
The Apostle Paul said, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” And it was Jesus himself who said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
It may just be that Jesus and St. Paul knew what they were talking about.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org) and the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South. He may contacted at email@example.com.]