Protestants and Bathroom Tissue

January 21, 2009 — 10 Comments

According to a new Ellison Research study, Protestant churchgoers are no more loyal to their denomination than they are to bathroom tissue. Just for clarification, people are not that loyal to bathroom tissue. This statistical snippet comes from the study:

Just 16% of Protestant churchgoers will only consider attending their current denomination. Fifty-one percent do express preference for one denomination, but would also consider others. Thirty-three percent do not have any preference for one specific denomination. This is little difference between the loyalties of people who attend evangelical Protestant churches and those who attend a mainline Protestant denomination.

Protestant denominational loyalty is about the same as the brand loyalty with bathroom tissue: just 19% of Protestants will consider only one brand of bathroom tissue.

The research also included a survey of Catholics, with a much different conclusion:

Six out of ten active Catholics would only consider attending a Roman Catholic church, and another 29% prefer this, although they do not rule out other denominations.

In short, Catholics are more loyal than Protestants in only attending a church within their denomination (60% versus 16%). Most Roman Catholics will remain Roman Catholic if they switch churches. Conversely, Protestants are much more likely to switch denominations. I wonder if Roman Catholics stick to their brand of bathroom tissue as well? The study didn’t go there.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, explains one reason why this difference in loyalty exists between Catholics and Protestants:

It’s not as though there are two hundred different Roman Catholic denominations. On the Protestant side, there are scores of different denominations, with some of them fairly similar in practice and theology. The story of this research is that many Protestants may not see a lot of difference among some of these denominations. It may not be lack of loyalty so much as it is the presence of so many options that is causing Protestants to be about as loyal to a brand of toothpaste or bathroom tissue as they are to their church denomination.

Sellers has a point, but I think the issue of loyalty is much bigger than the myriad of denominational options. I think the bigger issue is the dearth of churches, regardless of denomination, remaining loyal to the Great Commission. Most every denomination is losing people. Let’s first refocus on winning the lost (not our brand), then we’ll see more loyal people excited about sticking with a church that is fulfilling its mission.


Sam Rainer

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Sam S. Rainer is the president of Rainer Research and the Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Rainer Publishing.

10 responses to Protestants and Bathroom Tissue

  1. Nominally Baptist January 21, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I attended my first SBC church when I was 4 weeks old. My father was an SBC seminary student, and later pastored a mission of an SBC church. One way or another I was in every SBC program offered to me from the cradle roll to college. My husband attended the same seminary, pastored one established SBC church and started 3 more. Until the mid-80’s we would not have considered joining a church that wasn’t Southern Baptist. However, when the politics became embarrassing, we left. The behavior I observed at one convention meeting caused me to wonder if some pastors from both camps had personal relationships with Christ. They certainly failed the John 13:35 test.

    If we had not moved, we would still be members of the church we joined in the mid-80’s. In subsequent moves to different cities we have prayerfully chosen which churches to join on a church-by-church basis. It so happens that we have been members of SBC churches in these 2 cities, but could have easily joined others.

    This is not a conservative vs. moderate/liberal issue. Our beliefs are more in line with the current leadership. We want to be involved in a church that is Biblically sound, pro-life, and evangelistic. We also want a pastor who is not involved in public arguments about doctrine.

    I prayed about posting this as a comment to Ed Stetzer’s post on the decline in SBC membership last week. It’s my personal opinion that when the fighting began, God withdrew His hand from the convention, though not from some individual churches. Southern Baptists had a chance in the mid-80’s to reach every un-reached people group by 2000, but ONLY if we acted on the decision in that meeting. It was squashed. I cannot speak to the merits of that specific proposal, and don’t remember who made it. And it can be argued that many “baptisms” during the peak years were “dunkings” that did not represent real conversions. But the subsequent decline of the baptism rate makes me suspect it seriously grieved our Father.

    There is no doubt in my mind that corrections were required. Some SBC seminaries taught doctrine that was not biblically sound. My husband threw away more Sunday School material than he taught. But every argument that I have heard FOR the way in which the takeover/revolution took place is nothing more than situational ethics: “the end justified the means”. THAT is not biblical.

    A Southern Baptist – at least for now

  2. Excellent post Sam. I am still a Southern Baptist, but I wonder about this denomination at times. We are more known for what we are against than our love of the Gospel and others. I know your post was not just about the SBC, but it really hit home for me. Thanks.

  3. I actually heard this information on Christian radio a few days ago; it was disheartening then and still is now. Your diagnosis is correct though, Sam. If we are concerned about members changing churches, then only symptoms are being treated. But getting to the root of what membership in a church means, such as living out the Great Commission, then we are treating the problem.

    I do hope that my church continually seeks to be a Great Commission church, but before that I hope that I personally become a Great Commission believer. That is my prayer.

  4. Do you view these findings in light for your recent post about the trends in the church in general, specifically the trend of the declining importance of denominationalism in view of large, multi-campus churches or do you attribute this to other factors?

  5. Nominally Baptist and kdb – As an SBC pastor, one of my great desires is to see our local churches get passionate about reaching people for Jesus. While I love my denomination for many reasons, I do not hang my hat on the SBC. It is my prayer that we will lead by example in reaching our nation, but nothing would make me happier than for any denomination, network, or church to be God’s vessel in sparking revival.

  6. Soon2b – I agree 100%! We’ve all got to take personal responsibility. If we wait on a denomination to do something, it will never happen. A Great Commission church is full of individual Great Commission believers led by a Great Commission pastor.

  7. Alex – I believe the decline in denominations would have occurred regardless of the popularity of multi-site churches. While the trend is rising multi-site churches and declining denominations, ideally, I believe both can work together and enhance the work of the other. For instance, my church is a multi-site church in the SBC. We work within our denomination and also within our campuses.

  8. Great post Sam, and a really sad commentary on where we (SBC) as a denomination have fallen. Nut I must agree with many of the above posters; the SBC has brought it on themselves.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Paltry protestant loyalty » JakeBouma.com - January 21, 2009

    […] Contact This is the permanent link for a digression that was posted on January 21st, 2009 and tagged catholicism, christianity, church, ecclesiology, protestantism, religion, survey. If you would like to see all posts filed in the Digressions category, click here. A new survey points out that Protestant churchgoers are no more loyal to their church denomination than they are to brands of toothpaste or bathroom tissue. “Just 16% of Protestant churchgoers will only consider attending their current denomination. Fifty-one percent do express preference for one denomination, but would also consider others. Thirty-three percent do not have any preference for one specific denomination. This is little difference between the loyalties of people who attend evangelical Protestant churches and those who attend a mainline Protestant denomination.” By contrast, a whopping 60% of Catholics “would only consider attending a Roman Catholic church”. (HT: Sam Rainer) […]

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