Last week, Pew published the results of a survey on why Americans either go to church or stay home. A summery of the study, written by Jeremy Weber, appeared on Christianity Today’s website. A full write-up on the study can be found on the website for the Pew Forum.
In the study, Pew asked 4,729 people the reasons they either attend church or do not attend church. The full results are indeed interesting but not overly surprising. In the survey respondents were given possible reasons for attending or not attending church and they were asked to respond to each by ranking it “very important, somewhat important, or not important.”
Because the possible reasons were given, and the respondents simply had to rank each one, I don’t see anything too surprising in the findings. For example, the top three reasons that were given as “very important” reasons for not attending church:
I practice my faith in other way: 37%
I am not a believer: 28%
No reason is “very important”: 26%
Slightly more interesting were the reasons that church-goes listed as “very important” reasons that they do attend church. The top three included:
To become closer to God: 81%
So children will have moral foundation: 69%
To make me a better person: 68%
In fact what most shocked me about the survey wasn’t the results but the reasons that were given as choices- especially in the “Why I go to church” section of the survey. Out of the ten choices given, all ten could be argued as ego-centric. Meaning, they are all about “me.” They are all about what I get, how I feel, how it affects me and how it affects my family.
There are no reasons that point directly to glorifying God or serving others.
But that’s exactly what we see in the church in Act 2:42-47. The church in Jerusalem met together, they “went to church” in other words, for three reasons. I think we see these three reasons in these verses and I also think that these should (key word “should”) be the same reasons we continue to meet together as the church.
- They met together be grow closer to God. Here Acts and the Pew survey are in agreement. Acts 2:42 says that the believers devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching” (which means both hearing the teaching but also doing what was taught), “the breaking of bread” (which can be fellowship but also the fellowship of Communion), and “to prayer.” All of three are actions that help us grow closer to God. They were, and still are, reasons to go to church.
- They met together to glorify God. While this is second on the list, it is not second in importance. As Christians all parts of our lives should be lived to bring glory to God- attending church not excluded. In Acts 2:43 it says they were in awe and wonders and signs were taking place, which leads them in 2:47 to praise God. These early believers met together to praise and glorify God for the wonders and signs that were taking place and for the number of people coming to salvation day by day. Glorifying God should be the most important thing in our lives as Christians and should be the most important reason we gather together to as the church. However, nowhere in the Pew survey is glorifying God a possible reason for church attendance.
- They met together to serve. Verses 44-46 speak of the way that serving occurred in the Jerusalem church. They served one another, and I think it’s clear they also served those outside the church, by monetary support in times of need. They served one another, and, again, those outside the church through hospitality and joy. They served and loved one another in truly selfless ways. But in the Pew survey, there is nothing about serving. There is nothing about serving one another inside of the church as brothers and sisters in Christ and nothing about serving those outside of the church in the love of Christ.
This is why I think the Pew survey fails before it begins. The respondents were only able to rank the reasons given by the researchers. I hope the researchers were doing their best, but they missed the biblical reasons for meeting together as the church and therefore presented reasons that only reinforced the ego-centric model of modern Western Christianity.
Let us work to reject that ego-centric model that makes attending church and following Jesus all about me and return to the model of the early church. Then, perhaps, we will also see wonders and glorify God as we see people coming to salvation day after day.