Experiencing God in church

How often do you experience God at a church service? Have you ever? Would you like to do so more often?

A few days ago on the Out of Ur blog, Skye Jethani wrote a post that pointed to a study done by the Barna Group about what people experience at church services. 66% of people report having experienced "a real and personal connection with God" at least once in their lives while attending a church service. That means 34% of people have never had what they would identify as a connection with God in a church service. Never. The Barna Group also reports, "Also, when asked about frequency, most of those who have attended church describe these encounters as rare." Percentages are better for people who actively attend church. "Among those who attend church every week, 44% said  they experience God's presence every week and 18% do on a monthly basis."

One moral of this story is: go to church regularly, and you are more likely to connect with God. Sporadic attendance leads to difficulties in connecting with God when you do go to church.

Among the questions these findings bring up  is the question of how people know whether they are connecting with God. It is my belief that we experience God a lot more often than we think we do. The theological reasoning goes like this. If God is really omnipresent (present everywhere) at all times, and we do not experience him, that's probably because we fail to notice him. I for one am really good at not noticing things in my surroundings when I am paying attention to other things. Our skills in noticing and discerning God's presence have a lot to do with connecting with him.

I have also thought about how we approach church. As a result of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday, I wondered how many people come to church spiritually prepared by praying before they come and actively seeking to tune in to God's presence.

The study also brings up questions for church leaders. In another conversation yesterday, one of our leaders and I discussed how we "do" church services. To what extent do we fall into patterns in church because that's the way we usually do things or that's the way other churches do things? If we are falling into rote patterns, that could dull our openness toward God. On the other hand, creating an interesting and entertaining church service wouldn't necessarily lead to actual connections with God. It is very possible to find God during boring church services and lose track of him during entertaining ones.

Comments

  1. In your experience, have you seen any Sunday morning services starting out with prayer and quiet time? Currently in my church (newly planted, under a year old), we have background music playing semi-softly until service begins (upbeat welcome and scripture reading, and then right into worship in song). This is how we've always done it. But something has been missing for me. I'm wondering if we can put more emphasis on inviting God, and becoming more aware of Him, in a reverent way before singing and getting busy with the program.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dela, thanks for a great question. If I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds like you are feeling that the beginning of the service is too busy and too focused on our energy rather than putting ourselves into an inviting, discerning, and revering posture before God. I have some pretty strong feelings about that, having sat through some services where I felt like "the energy in the room" was more important than worship. I'm not saying that's what your church is doing. It's just something I have felt before, and I am aware of how easily we can drift into misplaced priorities.

      I think of a couple of issues here. One is that honestly, we are often more comfortable with ourselves than we are with God. Focusing on our activities and energy is easier. We understand what that looks and feels like. Focusing on God's presence is harder. We often feel clumsy and confused about what God looks and feels like as he moves among us. So a lot of church services are built around a model that leads from the shallow waters to the deep waters, so to speak. People tend to want to go on a journey from familiar ground to an intimate encounter with God (although there are churchgoers who never really want too much intimacy with God).

      Also, the beginning of the service is generally viewed as a transitional time. We come to the service from all manner of contexts. Parents might have just struggled to get their kids to church and then to children's ministry. Spouses might have argued on the way to church. All of us have a variety of things going on in our heads and hearts. When we walk into the service, we want to have a time of communion with God together. But it takes most people time to get there. Seeing the beginning of the service as transition might help.

      All that said, I really resonate with the questions you want to focus on. What is God doing among us? How can we notice him? How can we open ourselves to his presence? How can we show reverence to him? I think if you incorporated some words into the opening of the service about opening ourselves to God, wanting to notice him, and wanting to revere him, it might help people in their transitional time to prioritize God's presence over our energy.

      This makes me think about how we do church services at Sanctuary. Thanks for that!

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