NCLS Research

Religious experience of Attenders

The heightened religious experiences of mystics and ascetics have long been a part of the fabric of the Church. Each era however has had groups in many traditions that experience the presence of God in a variety of ways. A theme of the present charismatic movement and Pentecostal churches has been the experiential dimension. However, while the percentage of people often having any given spiritual experience is highest among Pentecostal attenders, significant numbers of attenders in other denominations also identify important religious experiences. The most common response among Anglican and Protestant attenders was that they experienced God in the flow of everyday life (44%). Most had at least occasionally received a specific call to action, a powerful experience of nature, or answer to prayer in unusual circumstances. Over a quarter of those surveyed in the 1996 NCLS had often or occasionally experienced miraculous healing, vivid mystical experiences, dreams or visions. Catholic attenders responding to a similar set of questions in 1996 identified some of the religious experiences they had. Some 39% had received a clear answer to prayer, while 29% had a sense of God calling them or guiding them to act in a particular way. When asked if they had experienced being healed by God’s power in body, mind or spirit, 29% of Catholics indicated this experience. Some are wary about an excess of emotion or the perceived seeking of the experiential. One fifth of Anglican and Protestant attenders believe there is too much emphasis on the personal experience of God in churches today. Almost half of Anglican and Protestant attenders however disagree with this statement, a remaining third are neutral. While various traditions view the experiential dimension of faith differently, and a proportion of attenders have concerns about a potential overemphasis, it is evident that this is a part of the journey of faith for the majority of attenders.

Source: Taking Stock, 1999

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