3 Reasons Why You Believe in "Prayerism"

September 23, 2009

Is prayer becoming a religion unto itself? That was the question that The Wall Street Journal asked in its recent article entitled “Prayer’s Place in America.”  A disconnect between prayer and religious affiliation has arrived:

  • 39% of Americans attend church weekly yet 75% pray at least weekly, according to the Pew Religion Forum.
  • And maybe most remarkably: 35% of those who don’t identify with any religion at all — the “unaffiliated”– pray weekly or daily.
  • In fact, 58% overall, and 66% of American women pray daily.

With 39% of Americans attending church and 75% praying at least weekly, there seems to be a separation between religion and prayer.  Or at least church attendance and prayer.  If you are reading this blog, you probably do not attend church, but you are more likely to pray weekly.  Statistically speaking of course.

The WSJ expounds on these notions:

But these statistics, as well as the popularity over the years of books like the Prayer of Jabez and The Secret and many other devotional books, show that prayer has become popular on its own, sometimes detached from the tradition of church. Call it Prayerism.

“Prayerism”.  That’s a new term, but an old concept.  The whole, “I’m not religious, I’m just spiritual” lends to this thinking of believing in prayer, but not attending church.  Why?

Here are 3 reasons why you probably believe in “prayerism”, but don’t go to church:

  1. We are a highly individualized culture, thus our religious ideas are individualized. It’s all about me, me, me…  We want to be in control of our fate.  We don’t want a 4,000 year old book to tell us what to believe.  In the western world, we are freed from the sigma of not going to church.  Fifty years ago, if you did not attend church you were a heathen.  Now, you are just busy.  Believing in a prayer life devoid of a faith community leaves us with all the self-fulfilling warm emotions without the commitment of going to church.  No longer do we pray as a group.  Now, we pray as individuals.  Post-modernity has allowed us to believe in anything we want.  We have our own “church” on Sunday morning with our coffee and newspaper.  Then, I pray when I want to.  On my terms.  God will still understand that I was busy.  Right?
  2. You have been burned by a bad religious experience. The one time you braved the world of church, the preacher was yelling about some ridiculous political topic that you disagreed with.  Your favorite pastor left the church you attended.  The church changed the color of the carpet.  People have a tendency to group all churches into the same category after one ill-fated experience.  We can be so turned off by one bad experience.  I once ate Moose Tracks ice cream and hated it.  I made the decision to never eat Moose Tracks ice cream ever again because of that one experience.  That is, until I ate Ben & Jerry’s Moose Tracks ice cream. Turns out, the ice cream I had the first time went bad.  Now, I love it. We cannot let one bad religious experience define our faith.  We cannot paint with such broad and ignorant religious brush strokes.  We turn our back on church so we create a religious life where we are flying solo and a religious community is no where to be found.
  3. You pray only when you need God. The old saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  When we are in extremely stressful times or situations we look to a higher power to save us.  Or, we hope in a high power to guide us. Most of the time, we do fine without God.  So, why go to church?  I mean, you only need God when you get married or when someone needs a loved one to be buried?  Unfortunately, faith is like a muscle.  If you never use it or never strengthen it you will not be able to lift or handle much of life’s weight upon our lives.  However, if you strengthen your faith by being committed to deepening your faith at your local gym (church) you can begin to lift the heavy weights of life.  Working out our spiritual muscles is not easy, but hey, weight lifting is not easy either.  Usually, most people have no “need” for God because we can find other things to fill our needs.

I hope you read this post as a challenge to think about your faith commitment and not a judgment upon your own religious situation.  If at least one of the above reasons are true, maybe you should start church shopping.  There is a lot that a church can offer you, and a lot you can offer a church.  Remember, a church is more than four walls.  Church should about people.

Facebook Comments


  • icewalker2g September 23, 2009 at 6:32 am

    I think one’s focus should not be about the “church” because the “church” (which most people see as the place of worship) cannot do much for you. However, your focus should be on fellowship, first with God then with your fellow man, as commanded by Christ. When you have this focus, the place of worship would follow suit automatically.

    I do agree with many of your 3 points. Individualism, as projected by western culture is seriously hurting the basic human need for fellowship. I hope many of those who pray according to your statistics will pray that individualism takes a back seat, and that family and fellowship will once again be our focus.

  • Alan Rudnick September 23, 2009 at 8:29 am

    The focus of the post is not the physical building of a church, but what happens there. Believing in prayer without a community of faith is the issue. By not going to church we avoid the commitment but want the fulfillment. We want our cake and eat it too.

  • Tripp September 24, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Alan, I think that icewalker2g stated something really important. I wonder if the church is supposed to do anything at all. Radical? Doubtful. Cynical? Likely. I think that we need to remember why we built the buildings in the first place. We put our money in the worship space. What does that tell us? Do we remember?

  • Alan Rudnick September 24, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I think there is a difference between redefining faith practices and redefining faith practices outside of community. People want prayer, but they don’t want the commitment of a congregation. In a world where soccer practice and going to church are looked upon as just another thing to drive our kids to, we have lost the essence of what it means to be a community of believers. Bonhoeffer said we need time away from each other, and time together. We should seek the balance.

  • Tripp September 24, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Bonhoeffer also said that Christian community was rare. Now we know why! Heh.

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