Feb 19, 2001

From the Archives

Worship Tops the List of Important Church-Based Experiences

If the Christian Church is called to help people know, love and serve God through six foundational faith practices – worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, stewardship and compassionate service – then the aspect that the greatest number of churchgoers embrace is worship.
A new survey among a national random sampling of regular church attenders conducted by the Barna Research Group shows that while worship is considered the most important faith venture, many churchgoers struggle to have a consistently positive worship experience – sometimes for reasons of their own making.

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Worship Was Top-Rated

Upon examining the pillars of faith practice, the survey revealed that three-quarters of all adults, and 92% of all churched adults, said that it is very important to them to worship God. Next most important to adults were the ability to learn about their faith (63%) and to experience moral and spiritual accountability (59%). Slightly more than half of all adults listed serving the needs of the poor as very important (54%). A minority of adults described each of the other four endeavors as very important: sharing their faith with non-believers (44%), feeling like they belong to a community of faith (41%), donating their time and money to the church (39%) and meeting with other believers (39%).

Among two groups of adults who are more religiously inclined – i.e., those who regularly attend Christian church services and born again Christians – all eight activities were deemed to be very important by a majority.

The study showed that there were significant differences in the perceived importance of some of these spiritual activities according to people’s background attributes. For instance, women were much more likely than men to describe evangelism and worship as very important. Blacks were considerably more likely than whites to say that meeting other Christians, sharing their faith, and serving the needs of the poor were very important. Hispanics were much less likely than whites to deem spiritual accountability and the giving of their time and money to a church to be important. There were even some noteworthy regional differences. Compared to the national average, adults in the West were less likely to define evangelism as very important; those in the Northeast were less likely to say belonging to a faith group was very important; and people in the South were more likely to view evangelism as very important. Baby Busters, the age group covering teenagers through those in their mid-thirties, were notably less likely to describe donating time and money to a church to be very important.

Indicators of Worship Efficacy

Although worship emerged as the most important of the spiritual undertakings tested, a survey among a national random sample of churchgoers shows that most of those adults do not always feel as if they experience the presence of God during church worship events. One-third of church attenders said they always feel they experience God’s presence or interact with Him at church, another one-third say that happens often, and the remaining one-third claimed to have such an experience less frequently. Men had such an experience less often than did women.

Part of the challenge may relate to personal preparation to worship. The study discovered that only four out of ten adults claim to always attend church having prepared themselves for worship. The individuals most likely to ready themselves for worship were women and residents of the Northeast. Similarly, many church attenders do not make worship a daily exercise, but reserve it as a special weekend activity. While two-thirds of all church-going adults (68%) said they always “look forward to worshiping God,” the survey shows that millions of churchgoers struggle to clear their minds to focus on God in worship.

According to George Barna, who directed the studies, many adults find that having a truly worshipful experience is not something they can turn on and turn off at will. “Without giving themselves time to clear their minds and hearts of their daily distractions and other problems, many people attend a worship event but never enter a worshipful frame of mind. A large share of churchgoers do not pray, meditate, confess or focus on God prior to the start of a church worship event. One consequence is that they find it difficult to connect with Him spiritually. Having never been taught much about worship, they find the inability to interact with God on a deeper level frustrating, but don’t know what to do about it.”

Barna also noted that other recent studies he has conducted related to worship have found that churches sometimes inadvertently facilitate worship anxieties and frustrations. Among the challenges fostered by churches are the failure to eliminate unnecessary distractions (e.g., seating late arrivals during the service), discontinuity in the midst of worship (e.g., making program and event announcements during the service), and the failure to position preaching or teaching during the service as an extension of worship rather than a means of instruction.

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Personal Spiritual Inventory

The data from the survey of regular churchgoers are drawn from an annual study conducted in relation to a spiritual growth evaluation tool created by Barna Research, the Personal Spiritual Inventory. A simple two-page test that is self-administered, the Inventory enables people to gauge their maturity in core areas of spirituality, to identify whether or not they are growing in those dimensions from year to year, and to determine the areas of spiritual development in which they need to grow. The Personal Spiritual Inventory is used by churches throughout the nation to help congregants focus on personal spiritual maturity and to provide them with an objective means of evaluating their efforts to grow.

Barna noted that one of the unique advantages of the Personal Spiritual Inventory is that there are National Norms on the Barna Research Group’s web site that can be accessed by churches that use the Inventory. The value of those averages is that they provide a church with benchmarks against which to compare the spiritual maturity of their congregation.
Research Methodology

The data described in this report come from two national surveys among adults. The first was a survey of 1017 adults completed in December; the other was a survey among 402 adults who attend church services at a Christian church at least once a month, also conducted during December 2000. Both of these surveys were conducted by the Barna Research Group from its telephone facility in Ventura, California. All of the survey respondents were 18 years of age or older, lived within the 48 continental states, and were selected for participation through use of a Random-Digit Dial sample, which produces a probability sample of all adults. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of 1017 adults is plus or minus three percentage points at the 95% confidence level; the maximum sampling error among the 402 churchgoers is plus or minus five percentage points. The distribution of the survey samples coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of obtaining a reliable distribution of adults.

“Born again Christians” were defined in the surveys as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who then indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to if they considered themselves to be “born again.”



Adults Who Describe A Faith Dimension
“Very Important,” By Subgroup
 allgenderborn again?attend church?
FAITH DIMENSIONadultsmenwomenyesnoyesno
learn about your faith63606682507950
experience moral and spiritual accountability59566277467248
serve the needs of the poor54505966466744
share your faith44385069276131
belong to a faith group41374560276125
meet other people of faith39344359245624
donate your time, money39354359245823

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. If you would like to receive regular e-mailings of a brief overview of each new bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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