Friday, June 22, 2007

Why Do Adults Change Churches?

I don't know if you've gotten in the habit of reading from the LifeWay Resources site or not. They have some helpful research and articles that I believe help us in our work.

A recent article on their site revealed some thoughts regarding the reasons people change churches/what they are looking for in a church. Like me, I am certain there are some of you who believe many change churches due to spiritual immaturity and simply being disgruntled about something or someone in the church. Nonetheless, I think there are some things we can learn from their research and I encourage you to read and glean that which might be of help to you as you serve in the local church.

According to the LifeWay Research, 89 percent of adult “church switchers” state that they select a new church "based on what the church says it believes." I find that interesting.

Look closely - they choose because of what the church SAYS it believes. Are we to imply that means they are in agreement with the church's beliefs? That they - as members - will live in accordance with those beliefs? Down the road, if they see that what we SAY and HOW WE LIVE is in contrast, will they switch again or strive to lead the church to do what they SAY they believe?

LifeWay states that the second most significant factor in a church switcher’s decision to attend their current church is the preaching. 87 percent listed that as a major factor. In a church climate where the average preacher stays 18 - 24 months, I think there are some major concerns with switching church membership on the basis of who the pastor is at the moment and enjoying his style of preaching.

86 percent of the people stated that "authenticity of the church members and the pastor important factor. Again, their PERCEPTION is that their NEW church is more real/genuine in their beliefs than then OLD church. I pray the membership would be genuine, but my fear is they are just new to the members and it feels right. Again, what happens when the newness wears off and they get to know the new church "warts and all."

The study further found that 80 percent said worship style is important and 69 percent say music is among the top ten most important factors in their choosing a church. Other top factors in their church selection include:

6. care for community (76 percent)
7. evidence of God's work and changed lives (74 percent)
8. church members with whom to build relationships (73 percent)
9. unity among church members (71 percent)
10. opportunities to learn biblical truth (70 percent)

If these people are ENGAGED in the ministry of their local church, then I place high merit in the opinions of these people. If these people are merely "chuch switchers," then I fear their "reasons" are simply excuses as opposed to legitimate reasons to leave one church and join with another.

LifeWay research went on to reveal issues that were not as significant factors in choosing a new church. Some of these may be surprising to us:

For half of the "church switchers," the denomination of the church is not important. This does concern me - if we join a church because of what a church says it believes, should not the distinctives of the denomination also be important?

Only 49% stated the location of the church as being a significant factor. I have heard of people driving over two hours to go to a particular church (this case is a mega church). The times for worship and having acquaintances in the church were only significant factors for 47%. The size of the church was not a factor for 69%.

I place a lot of emphasis on the use of technology. Yet this study reveals that only 21% of the people use technology in their search for a church. Many churches - including new church plants - devote a lot of money for local advertisements and/or mailings, yet only 19% state this as a factor in their selection process.

The study revealed that 25 percent of switchers stop attending church for more than three months and 20 percent stop attending for a year or more.

Perhaps we can learn a great deal from such studies. There is probably some degree of truth as people reveal some things about who they are and where they are in their walk with the Lord. In fact, we may even learn some things that we - as churches - can do to reach out to those that are searching. But I also believe we can "read between the lines" a little.

People have sometimes told me the exact opposite as to the reasons they leave one church and go to another. In personal conversations, their reasons are not so "lofty." A young man that was marginal in his local church recently shared with me that he and his wife had not been to their church in several months. His wife had been a pre-school teacher and both had been nominally involved in the choir (sporadically). Both have changed jobs within recent months and he is now working on Sunday mornings and unable to attend. She works many Sundays as well. He was visiting another church one Sunday night and I asked him why. His statement - "no one from our church has even called us." I reminded him that he and his wife do not have a land phone and unless they had shared their cell numbers with the church, there was no way to contact them as cell numbers are not listed. So perhaps LifeWay needs to find some additional ways for people to share all.

To be truthful, we can still learn from this study. Often times we devote a lot of time striving to attract people. We change who we are - and perhaps we should/perhaps we should not. If it is not natural, then it is not an accurate reflection. I concur, if I were searching for a church, I would want the church to be genuine.

Perhaps you would like to share insights and opinions regarding this information. Feel free to respond.

God Bless!

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