Gallup asked Americans why they go to church. It’s not for the music.
On Good Friday, Gallup published results of a survey that asked respondents why they go to church (or some other place of worship).
Some fifteen hundred adults across the nation were asked to which degree these seven things were important to them:
1. Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture;
2. Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life;
3. Spiritual programs geared toward children and teens;
4. Community outreach and volunteer opportunities;
5. Religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring;
6. Social activities that allow you to get to know people;
7. A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music.
As one can see from the results below, respondents identified sermons as the primary factor they go to church.
In fact, more than nine out of ten respondents said the sermon—both to learn about scripture and to help connect religion to one’s own life—was a factor in their decision to attend religious service; three in four respondents said it was a “major factor” they attend.
What ranked last? Music. Just 38 percent said it was a major factor for them.
I found this last item amusing, surprising, and telling. A lifelong Protestant, I grew up in a small-town Pentecostal church. Since that time, I’ve mostly been a free agent, playing the field for numerous other evangelical teams—Baptist, Lutheran, non-denominational, and probably other denominations I can’t remember. (My excuse for this lack of religious fidelity: I moved a lot.)
Each church, to one degree or another, had different theologies, religious dogmas, and social protocols. But the one thing they had in common: lots of music. I mean lots of it.
Some of the music was good; much of it, in my opinion, was less than good. Regardless of the quality of the music or the talent of the performers, attendees were of course expected to worship God to the music and be deeply moved.
Between me, you, and the internet—I never liked this part of church very much. This is not the fault of the performers. I’m simply not a hip-swaying, hand-waving guy. I saw Florence and the Machine live last year; I was the one guy in the Xcel Energy Center who never budged.
I bring all this up because I’ve always assumed evangelical churches feature music heavily because that’s what people want and demand. But this Gallup poll suggests that might not be the case.
The poll made me wonder: When and why did music became such a prominent part of evangelical services? And are these churches missing out by focusing on music at the expense of other aspects of church life?
I suspect the former question might be linked to the increasing need for people in our culture to be entertained.
“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other,” Neil Postman famously wrote in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. “They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images.”
I’m not suggesting churches need to stop playing music. I’m merely wondering if dedicating nearly half of a church service to musical performances is the most efficient use of time.
One wonders if people in pews would not receive more spiritual nourishment from other church-led activities: An extended reading of scripture? Silent prayer? A longer sermon?
I’m curious what readers think. (And below is a satirical example of what I’m talking about – for purely entertainment purposes.)
[Image Credit: Touch Canada Broadcasting]