Most practicing Christians and churched adults agree attending church is one of the most important experiences of their week. Even so, participating in a worship service can elicit a range of emotions from U.S. adults, from inspired and encouraged to guilty and disappointed.
As churches continue to think about what gatherings look like in the “new normal,” it’s worth taking note of the good, the bad and the reflective emotions U.S. adults experience in relation to church attendance.
The Good: Two-Thirds of Churched Adults Feel “Encouraged” After Worship Services
Largely, among both practicing Christians and churchgoing U.S. adults, data show that attending church prompts positive feelings. Over four in five practicing Christians (82%) and roughly two-thirds of churchgoers (67%)—U.S. adults who have been to church in the past six months—say they leave worship services feeling encouraged at least “most of the time.” Another three-quarters of practicing Christians (78%) and two in three churched adults (65%) agree that they feel inspired “most of the time,” or more often, after participating in a worship service. A similar percentage (77% practicing Christians, 65% churched adults) says they feel forgiven at least “most of the time” following church attendance.
The Bad: Half of Churched Adults Feel “Disappointed” After Church at Least Sometimes
Even though the majority of both practicing Christians (42%) and churched adults (34%) say they “almost never” leave church feeling guilty, roughly one-quarter each says this “sometimes” happens (29% practicing Christians, 26% churched adults). Churched adults are also more likely to say they feel guilty following a church service “about half the time” (18% vs. 11% practicing Christians).
Some practicing Christians and churchgoers also express feeling disappointed after attending worship services at their church. While the majority of practicing Christians (62%) and half of church adults (50%) say this “almost never” happens, that leaves a not-insignificant proportion feeling disappointed after a church service at least “sometimes,” if not more frequently.
The Reflective: Connections to God and New Ideas Are Common Outcomes of Service Attendance
The majority of both practicing Christians (77%) and churched adults (62%) say they feel as if they have connected with God or personally experienced the presence of God “most of the time,” or more frequently, following a church service. Roughly seven in 10 practicing Christians (71%) and three in five churchgoers (59%) also affirm that, “most of the time,” they leave worship feeling as if they’ve learned something new.
Over half of both practicing Christians (65%) and churchgoers (58%) say that, at least “most of the time,” they leave worship services feeling as if it was the most important experience they had all week. Similar percentages agree that “most of the time” church attendance challenges them to change something in their life (62% practicing Christians, 55% churchgoers).
While the majority of both practicing Christians and churched adults agree attending church elicits positive feelings and prompts them to take stock of their spiritual well-being, the gap between these groups is significant in many areas. Churched adults lag behind their more committed counterparts and are far less likely to say they feel connected to God or forgiven “most of the time” following a church service.
As churches continue to adapt to digital and hybrid ministry, leaders should seek to understand how churchgoers feel after worship and strive to cultivate an environment that not only prompts fruitful feelings for attendees, but also offers opportunities for people to find a deeper connection with God.
About the Research
State of the Church 2020 data: The statistics and data-based analyses in this study are derived from a national public opinion survey conducted by Barna among 1,606 U.S. adults, including 794 practicing Christian adults. Responses were collected online between December 5-18, 2019, using a nationally representative panel. The rate of error for this data is +/- 2.2% at the 95% confidence level.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Churchgoers / Churched adults attended a church service at least once every six months, on average, in the past year.
Barna Research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021