By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
WASHINGTON D.C. (Worthy News)-- The Barna Group recently surveyed Americans who attended church and reported on their worship experiences.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts research, produces media resources about spiritual development and facilitates the spiritual growth of Christian ministries
The survey found that connecting with God was the most important outcome facilitated by churches; most (66%) felt they had "a real and personal connection" with God while attending church, yet one-third of church attendees never experienced God’s presence.
Overall, one-quarter of Americans said their life had been profoundly changed by attending church, while one-fourth described church attendance as "somewhat" influential. Nearly half said their life had not changed at all.
The study revealed that nearly seven out of 10 respondents said they felt "part of a group of people who are united in their beliefs and who take care of each other in practical ways." Conversely, one-quarter agreed that church felt "like a group sharing the same space in a public event, but who were not connected in a real way." One in 11 said they were "not sure."
The survey also examined whether Christians believed their church cared for poor outside of its congregation; 40% of church-going adults said caring for the poor was emphasized "a lot," while 33% said it was "somewhat" of a priority.
Concerning congregation size, attendees of small, medium and larger churches described similar outcomes, while attendees of mid-sized churches -- those with 100-299 adults -- were less likely to report positive outcomes than those in both larger and smaller congregations.
Those attending larger churches (300 plus members) were more likely than average to have gained new spiritual insight and understanding.
Not surprisingly, older adults generally reported the most favorable experiences while in church, while the youngest generation -- ages 18 to 27 -- was significantly less likely to describe positive outcomes from attending church. There were also significant gaps between younger and older adults when it came to feeling cared for, experiencing God's presence, knowing their church emphasizes aiding the poor and being personally transformed.
The Barna survey also compared the experiences of Catholics, mainliners and non-mainline church attendees. Mainline denominations included American Baptist Churches in the USA, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. Non-mainline denominations are Protestant churches outside of those in the mainline category.
The research revealed that practicing Catholics generally had less positive outcomes in their congregational experiences than did Protestant attendees, where "practicing" described adults who attended a monthly Christain worship service and who said that faith was very important in their life.
"This research points to both good news and causes for concern," said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. "On the positive side, many churchgoers receive a diverse and rich set of inputs by being involved in a church or parish, most notably connecting with God and others.
"Yet, the research results are also a reminder that faith leaders cannot take these things for granted. Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking. Entering the New Year, consider spending time thinking and praying how your faith community can identify, plan, and measure a deeper, more holistic set of experiences and outcomes so that people are not mere observers of ministry, but genuine participants."
The Barna report was based upon telephone interviews of a random sample of 1,022 adults -- age 18 and older -- selected from across the continental United States.