More Data on Why People Change Churches

There is very interesting article in USA Today that provides some hard data on how often people leave their church, and why:

The faithful are restless, a new study of Protestant churchgoers suggests.

They're switching from church to church, powered by a mix of dissatisfaction and yearning, according to the study by LifeWay Research. The organization is part of the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Most of the switchers who changed their house of worship without making a residential move (58%) say their old church failed to engage their faith, or put their talents to work, or it seemed hypocritical or judgmental.

But 42% of the people say they switched because another church offered more appealing doctrines and preaching or the preacher and church members' faith seemed more "authentic."

"We may believe in the same doctrine, the same God and study the same Bible, but we are also imperfect human beings who mess up, who are not always living out those beliefs," says Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. He adds in the rise of "consumerism and narcissism" — when people expect to customize every experience to personal taste.

More than half (54%) of switchers changed denominations as well. Fewer than half (44%) said denomination was an important factor in choosing a new church.
The study, conducted in December, surveyed 632 Protestant adults who said they switched churches. For findings on the 415 people who had not made a residential move, the margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Here are some specific results of the survey:

Why they left their old church

• Disenchanted with the pastor or church: 51%
• It wasn't fulfilling their needs or the reasons they attended: 44%
• Something changed about the church: 33%
• Felt out of place at church: 31%
• Could not agree with church teachings or positions on issues: 27%

Why they chose a new church

• Beliefs or doctrines of the church: 89%
• Authenticity of church members/pastor: 88%
• Quality of the preaching: 87%
• Prefer the worship style: 80%
• Found more evidence of God's work/changed lives: 76%
• New church cares for the community: 76%

Read it all. Note that doctrinal disagreement played only a modest role in church changing--most of the reasons given for changing were local--problems with the church or minister. I also think that the most interesting statistic is that while more than half of those who changed congregations also switched denominations, fewer than half said that this was an important reason in choosing a new church. The lesson here for mainline churches like my own is that it is the quality of the worship experience and faith community at each individual congregation that matters most.

By the way, I think Nicholas Knisley's comments in the post below are quite timely in light of this study.

Hat tip to Episcopal Cafe for pointing me to this article.


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