By Bob Smietana
LifeWay Christian Resources
NASHVILLE — Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher, according to a LifeWay Research study released June 26. But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus.
The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed, according to the study, which was conducted Aug. 22–30, 2017.
Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music. Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.
“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”
LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers — those who attend services at least once a month — to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.
From the survey, researchers found most churchgoers stay put.
Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.
Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.
“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” McConnell said.
More than half (57 percent) of churchgoers say they are completely committed to continuing to attend their current church.
About a quarter (28 percent) are “very much” committed, while 11 percent are moderately committed. Two percent are slightly committed, while 1 percent are not committed at all.
The more people go to church, the more committed they are to attending their same church in the future. Those who attend at least once a week are twice as likely to be completely committed to attending their church (62 percent) than people who go once or twice a month (31 percent).
Those who attend once or twice a month are more likely to be moderately committed (36 percent) than those who go at least once a week (7 percent).
Older churchgoers are also least likely to want to leave their church. When asked if they’ve thought about going to another church in their area, 92 percent of those 65 or older say no.
For the most part, churchgoers say they agree with their church’s teaching.
About half (52 percent) say their beliefs are completely aligned with those of the church. Forty-two percent say their beliefs are mostly aligned.
Fewer than 3 percent say their beliefs are slightly aligned, not aligned or they don’t know their church’s beliefs.
Two-thirds (62 percent) of churchgoers who have evangelical beliefs say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology, while a third are mostly aligned.
By contrast, 39 percent of churchgoers who don’t have evangelical beliefs say they are completely aligned, and about half (53 percent) are mostly aligned.
Sixty percent of churchgoers at big churches — those with more than 1,000 attenders — say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology. That drops to 46 percent at churches with fewer than 50 attenders.
Baptists (57 percent) and nondenominational churchgoers (61 percent) are more likely to say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology than Lutherans (43 percent) or Methodists (25 percent).
Still, churchgoers don’t like to see changes in their church’s doctrine.
More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed say they’d seriously consider leaving if church doctrine changed.
Researchers asked about other factors that might cause churchgoers to switch churches.
Nearly half (48 percent) would change churches if the churchgoer moved to a new home, had a conflict (4 percent) or if a friend stopped attending (3 percent) their church.
The survey shows churchgoers care about doctrine, McConnell said.