Research: Church Relationships Are Missing Something

Relationships - Canada

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Many Canadian Protestants say they have significant relationships with people in their church. They also believe the best way to get to know people is to volunteer with them.

But relatively few spend time trying to help others grow spiritually.

Those are among the findings of a major study on Christian spirituality.

The “Transformational Discipleship” study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research looked at the spiritual habits and attitudes of 1,000 pastors and 4,000 Protestant churchgoers in North America.

Among them were 1,068 Canadians who go to church at least once a month.

Researchers say the project is one of the largest studies of its kind.

They looked at eight attributes of discipleship they say consistently show up in the lives of mature Christians. One of them was “Building Relationships.”

Just over three quarters (68 percent) of those surveyed agree with the statement, “I have developed significant relationships with people at my church.”

Nearly six in 10 say they also intentionally get to know new people they meet at church.

But most neglect regular classes for adults like Sunday school, Bible studies, or other small group activities.

Two thirds (64 percent) say they don’t attend such adult classes. And only about one in four (28 percent) intentionally spend time with other believers in order to help them grow in their faith.

Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said churchgoers might be missing out on chances to build friendships.

Those who attend adult classes—like Bible studies or Sunday school—tend to score higher on the “Building Relationship” attribute, said McConnell.

“The Bible frames relationships among believers as a proactive investment in other Christians,” McConnell said. “In fact, Hebrews 10:24 refers to the need to exhibit concern for other Christians in ways that encourage love and good works.”

Other actions that predict more spiritual maturity in building relationships include praying in a group with other Christians more often, praying for one’s church and church leaders, and having regular responsibilities at church.

“Most attendees have friends at church, but only a minority invest time to help other believers develop their faith,” McConnell said.

LifeWay Research used the study’s data to develop a questionnaire for believers, called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). This online evaluation delivers both individual and group reports on spiritual maturity based on eight factors of biblical discipleship. The TDA also provides practical suggestions for continued spiritual development.

For more information, visit The TDA is available at


Methodology: LifeWay Research surveyed a representative sample of 1,086 Canadian adults as part of the Transformational Discipleship study. Participants attend a Protestant church at least once a month. The sample included churchgoers from a range of Protestant denominations, including mainline and evangelical churches. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish and French. A demographically balanced online panel was used for the interviewing. Surveys were conducted Oct. 14-22, 2011.