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Study shows people want to experience God

Rural church in Southern Illinois Photo: Jim Allen/Flickr/Creative Commons

Rural church in Southern Illinois Photo: Jim Allen/Flickr/Creative Commons

One of the defining attributes of the early church in the Book of Acts is that they experienced God. Services did not consist of three hymns, announcements, offering and then for the finale a sermon. The Holy Spirit was moving in a powerful way and to  a large extent this is what caught everyone’s attention.

According to  a report on CBN, a study conducted by Duke University suggests that church members today have a growing desire to experience God and it is showing up in changing church services.

Called the National Congregations Study, Duke analyzed the results of three surveys of American congregations conducted in 1998, 2006-07 and then again in 2012 and noted there have been significant changes over the 14-year period.

These surveys included all forms of churches —  Catholic, Evangelical and Liberal. In 2012, Evangelicals dominated the religious landscape making up 38% of the population, followed by Roman Catholic at 28%, mainline (usually liberal denominations) at 17% and Black congregations at 13%.

The report stated that churches are moving away from an emphasis on doctrine and towards “experience and emotion.” Though doctrine is important, in fact it is vital, people also want to experience God.

The study noted testimonies in church services are up 7%. People want to hear of healings and stories of how God is moving in their congregation. Testimonies are important. The Apostle John tells us that they are one of the tools used to defeat Satan (Revelation 12:11).

It also said shouting, jumping and dancing in services was up 9% — from 19% in 1998 to 27% in 2012. Shouting “amen” was up 6%. Raising hands in praise up 14% and applause 10%.

Duke noted these changes reflected an increased spontaneity in services.

Speaking in tongues in Church services was also up. In 1998, it was taking place in 24% of the congregations surveyed and by 2012 the percentage had increased to 30%.

In many ways these changes reflect people’s desire to be participants in church services not just spectators. To some extent, this was how the early church functioned:

26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASV)

Another interesting development is the growing trend to non denominational works. The study reported that between 1998 and 2012, the number of non denominational churches increased by 6% from 18% to 24% and were highest among evangelicals where 30% are non denominational.

As well, churches are becoming more ethnically diverse. The number of churches dominated by 80% or more of one ethnic group had dropped from 80% in 1998 t0 75% by 2012.

The study also noted that these changes are trending and will continue well into the future.

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