25 September, 2022

Why Do We Gather?

by | 1 September, 2022

By Kent E. Fillinger 

As a movement, we’ve striven from the beginning to be a church based on New Testament principles. Where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent. No creed but Christ and no book but the Bible.  

When was the last time your church staff or elders stopped to consider what these maxims mean when it comes to worship gatherings? When did you last study the New Testament to see what it teaches about our purpose for gathering? Have your church leaders ever considered why you do what you do when you gather for worship?  

It’s always important to start with the “why” when considering any initiative. Why do we gather? To worship? To fellowship? To pray? To study the Bible? To fellowship with one another? To reach the lost? To encourage one another? All the above? 

How Churches Design Worship Gatherings 

Our most recent Christian Standard survey asked church leaders to respond to this statement: “Our weekend services are designed primarily for people who already have a faith in Jesus.” Response options consisted of strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, and strongly disagree. 

Overall, almost half (47 percent) of the 405 Christian church and church of Christ ministers who participated said they either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that their weekend services were designed primarily for Christians. Leaders of very small churches (average weekly attendance of 99 or fewer) were the most likely to respond this way, while leaders of emerging megachurches (averaging 1,000 to 1,999) were the least likely (66 percent vs. 26 percent, respectively). Small churches (averaging 100 to 249 weekly) were the only other size category where over half (55 percent) of the ministers responded this way. 

Conversely, only 19 percent of the church leaders overall said they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that their worship services were geared toward believers. Almost half (47 percent) of the pastors of large churches (averaging 500 to 999) responded this way. By comparison, less than 10 percent of small and very small church ministers said the same.  

Just over one-third of the church preachers surveyed (34 percent) “neither agreed nor disagreed” that the focus of their worship services was on existing Christ followers. 

The Christian Church Leadership Network surveyed almost 1,500 active churchgoers from 26 Christian churches and churches of Christ in late 2021. Their research showed that 75 percent of the respondents said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that Sunday worship services are the place to “train believers.” In the same survey, half of the respondents said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” Sunday worship services were the place to “reach the lost.” 

The longtime, engaged Christians in this study placed a greater emphasis on Sunday worship services “equipping the saved” rather than “reaching the lost.” Thus, these two studies show that church leaders and churchgoers differ on the “why” (or focus) of worship services. 

How Long Should Sermons and Services Be? 

Comedian George Burns said, “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.”  

A May 2017 Evangelical Leaders Survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals found that on average, evangelical leaders believe sermons should be 30 minutes and church services should be 75 minutes. 

Pew Research Center examined almost 50,000 online sermons from more than 6,400 churches in 2019 and discovered the median sermon is 37 minutes long. This research showed that Catholic sermons had a median length of just 14 minutes, mainline Protestant sermons were 25 minutes, and sermons in evangelical Protestant congregations were 39 minutes. Historically black Protestant churches have the longest sermons (by far) with a median length of 54 minutes. 

Grey Matter Research & Consulting surveyed more than 1,000 American evangelical Protestants and shared that 85 percent of evangelicals were “satisfied” with the overall length of the sermons and worship services at their church (as reported in The Congregational Scorecard: What Evangelicals Want in a Church in early 2022). 

Seven out of ten evangelical churchgoers (69 percent) were fine with the current depth of teaching in the sermons in their church. Among the 30 percent of evangelicals who want something different, they almost all wanted more in-depth teaching. Only about 0.5 percent would like the teaching in sermons to be less in-depth.  

The younger the evangelical, the more likely they want more in-depth teaching from a sermon. In fact, evangelicals under age 40 were nearly twice as likely as the oldest evangelicals to call for more in-depth teaching at church (39 percent vs. 20 percent). 

The amount of music currently satisfies 76 percent of evangelical churchgoers. Close to one-third (29 percent) of those under age 40 said they would prefer more music, which was the highest of all age categories. Meanwhile, 68 percent of evangelicals were perfectly happy with the style of music their church uses in the service. 

The Worldview of Christian Pastors 

An August 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 81 percent of U.S. adults who attend worship services at least once or twice a month said they attend church “to become closer to God,” and 69 percent said they attend church “so their children will have a moral foundation.”  

These reasons sound encouraging, but the larger question is, What is the worldview of the pastors who are helping to shape the beliefs and actions of churchgoers?  

It’s not good, according to the American Worldview Inventory 2022 conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The study asked 54 worldview-related questions of 1,000 Christian pastors; the questions fell within eight categories of belief and behavior such as “purpose, calling,” “God, creation, history,” “faith practices,” “Bible, truth, morals” and “sin, salvation, God relationship.” 

According to the May 2022 report analysis written by George Barna, slightly more than a third (37 percent) of U.S. Christian pastors overall have a biblical worldview. The majority (62 percent) possess a hybrid worldview known as syncretism, which is the blending of ideas and applications from a variety of holistic worldviews into a unique but inconsistent combination that represents personal preferences.  

“This is another strong piece of evidence that the culture is influencing the American church more than Christian churches are influencing the culture,” Barna said. 

Only 12 percent of youth and children’s pastors have a biblical worldview. So, the people primarily responsible for teaching our children and students sorely lack a biblical perspective.  

Barna cautioned,  

Keep in mind, a person’s worldview primarily develops before the age of 13, then goes through a period of refinement during their teens and twenties. Discovering that seven out of eight of Children’s and Youth Pastors lack a biblical worldview helps to explain why so few people in the nation’s youngest generations are developing a heart and mind for biblical principles and ways of life, and why our society seems to have run wild over the last decade, in particular.  

In May 2022, Everett Piper, a columnist for the Washington Times, wrote the following warning regarding the American Worldview Inventory:  

It has been said that wolves in sheep’s clothing are dangerous, but wolves in shepherd’s clothing are downright deadly. America’s church leaders have become wolves disguised as shepherds. Our pastors and Christian faculty, who are supposed to be salt and light to a dying culture and dark world, are now little more than pallid milk toast to a nation in desperate need of the strong drink of the Gospel. Christ himself said he would spit such a people from his mouth. 

Other research shows that most pastors believe they are theologically in tune with the Bible; Barna noted that this runs counter to the findings of the American Worldview Inventory.  

I encourage church leaders and preachers to take a long, hard look in the mirror to better discern how well their beliefs, behavior, and sermons conform to biblical principles and commands.  

Kent E. Fillinger

Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and regional vice president (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) with Christian Financial Resources.

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