Survey provides insight into what seekers want from church

NASHVILLE, Tenn.: Spiritual growth and genuine community are the top motivators for attending church. That’s according to a new survey of spiritual “seekers” aged 18-34, conducted by Barna Group on behalf of United Methodist Communications.

The top reasons to attend church as cited by survey respondents were:

•    Church helps my spiritual development (39 percent)
•    Opportunity to find out more about God (38 percent)
•    Opportunity to make friends and nurture friendships (38 percent)
•    Knowing that anyone will be welcomed into the church community (38 percent)
•    Opportunity for support during difficult times (37 percent)

Barna president David Kinnaman makes a presentation at United Methodist Communications. Photo by Kathleen Barry.

David Kinnaman, president of Barna and director of the study, says the findings point to ways church leaders can offer genuine community for young seekers across a variety of life circumstances, especially looking at the differences between married and single young adults

"Young adults are connected to social media nearly every waking hour, but four of the top-five reasons they might attend church point to a profound need for community that is deeper than what's available virtually," said Kinnaman. “In fact, twice the number of U.S. adults tell us they are lonely compared to 10 years ago—and that relational gap represents a real opportunity for churches that want to reach young seekers."

According to the survey, feeling welcomed into a community and instilling values in their children are the top motivators for marrieds, while a desire for spiritual growth, support and friendships would more likely drive singles to church.

The survey found that favorable impressions of The United Methodist Church increased from 25 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in 2015. Married respondents were more likely to have a favorable impression of the denomination (51 percent) compared to single respondents (32 percent), and 49 percent of Gen-Xers (ages 32-34) had a favorable view compared to 35 percent of Millennials.

Three-quarters of seekers – especially Gen-Xers, marrieds and women – find the denomination’s tagline (“Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.”) appealing.

The online survey, conducted from November 26 to December 7, 2015, included 406 adults aged 18-34 who are not attending or committed to a church, but who self-identified with at least four of nine statements regarding spiritual development. The sample was weighted by gender and region to be nationally representative.

Barna conducted an expanded online survey among 500 adults 18 to 49 years old, with no other screening criteria. The goal of the survey was to gain insights about the general population’s attitudes regarding spiritual development, community orientation and motivations related to church.

The survey found that 79 percent valued some sort of spiritual development in their lives and 69 percent believe that church has something to offer them.

The complete survey results are available online.


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