While congregants might complain if their place of worship suddenly switches music styles or their preacher leaves, this isn’t often enough for them to leave their church. A disagreement or breakdown in theology, though, is a completely different matter and will often result in a family finding another church home. This somewhat unexpected fact was discovered during a recent study performed by LifeWay Research.
LifeWay Research studied 1,010 Protestant churchgoers, who attend church at least once a month, to find out what if anything would cause them to leave their church. Although many pastors complain and worry over the dreaded “worship wars” breaking out in their congregation, according to the executive director of LifeWay Research, very few would actually leave due to dislike of music. He said the following about the unexpected findings:
“Mess with the music and people may grumble. Mess with theology, and they’re out the door,” the study’s authors said.
The research found that only 5% of the study’s participants would leave due to a change in music with which they didn’t agree. Some 19% of participants said they would hit the door if their preacher’s style changed. However, an astounding 54% of participants said they would leave their current church if leadership made doctrinal or theological changes with which they didn’t agree. This made it the most likely reason for church congregants to leave their place of worship, beating out all other reasons. Relocation came in at a distant second.
To better understand the findings of the LifeWay Study, it’s helpful to look at the participates in more detail. Of those interviewed, 35% have been at their church anywhere between 10 to 24 years. Some 27% of them have been at the same church for at least 25 years or more. Another 21% have been attending their current place of worship for less than five years, and some 17% have attended from five to nine years.
To ensure these findings were accurate, LifeWay Research interviewed people who attended several denominations. Of those interviewed, 52% were Lutherans, 40% were Methodists, 31% were Baptists, 13% were Pentecostal/Assemblies of God, and 11% were nondenominational.
This research is a great indication that church members are a lot more flexible when it comes to style than previously thought. Ministers and pastors alike can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they aren’t likely to lose faithful members if they decide to go a slightly different direction with their worship service — provided the underlying message doesn’t change.
This research also reveals that many congregants do care about what they are being taught from the pulpit. They aren’t passively attending a church service, but are committed to learning and spiritual growth. Therefore, when this element is changed in their current place-of-worship, it can lead to issues.
While the growing numbers of mega-churches and dwindling growth within small congregations can be disheartening, this LifeWay Research study found most people are happy right where they are, church wise. They don’t want to leave for the new church down the road, or have an interest in finding another church family. This indicates that a desire to plant deep roots within a church body is still alive and well.
In fact, according to McConnell, participants, for the most part, were committed to staying put, and as he said, “most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor.” The study found more than half of churchgoers, some 57% were committed to continued attendance at their current church. Another 28% said they were very much committed and only 11% indicated they were only moderately committed to staying at their current congregation.
This research reveals a positive outlook in overall church health throughout America. Most congregants are happy where they, are and have no plans of leaving. The only element that might force their hand is basically a change in theology and/or doctrine and honestly, since a church should be based on sound doctrine to begin with, that isn’t really a bad thing.
~ 1776 Christian