All across the world this weekend, people will gather in groups—some bigger, many smaller—to worship Jesus. To sing songs, to pray together, to hear God’s Word preached. Voluntarily. No one forces millions of people to show up, to come together for worship, and yet it happens. It happens not just this week, but every single Sunday.
Unfortunately, as recent surveys show, the percentage of Americans attending church has declined in recent years, even in evangelical denominations. The decline of churchgoers isn’t massive, but the data suggest that the infrequent attenders from 20 or 30 years ago have moved further away while the religiously devoted (though a slightly lower percentage) continue to attend.
A survey from several years ago showed that only 35 percent of Americans believe that attending worship services constitutes an “essential part of being a Christian.” The theologian in me wants to quibble with that word “essential,” because I wouldn’t want to imply that going to church makes you a Christian, or that any person who is currently not attending church is necessarily lost. But the vast majority of people who answered that survey weren’t analyzing it theologically. They were simply asked what’s important or essential to being a faithful Christian. And only 35 percent of American Christians said church attendance is a big deal. That means most Christians see church attendance as something optional, something good if it helps you along in your personal spiritual life, but not something that is commanded, required, or essential to your faith. You can have a personal faith that’s strong, and if the church helps with that, great! If you’re fine on your own, that’s great, too!
Why such a low percentage of American Christians who believe churchgoing is necessary?
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