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.