Where Church-Swappers Hop

Sam Rainer

May 21, 2008

People who change churches don’t necessarily switch to larger, more contemporary churches according to Ellison Research as reported by the Christian Post.

The research reveals some counter-intuitive findings on those who change churches:

When choosing size, Americans are nearly evenly divided between a larger or smaller congregation. Forty-three percent of American Protestants have moved to a larger congregation and 45 percent switched to a smaller one. Just 11 percent switched to a place that is about the same size of the place they left.

Only 31 percent of Protestants say their current church has a more contemporary worship style while 42 percent say their new church is more traditional in worship.

The above findings add support to the research in my book, Essential Church, in which was found that most people do not drop out of a church because of worship style preferences. But the Ellison research pointed to other intriguing findings:

With the rise of megachurches over the past few decades, and the increase in the use of contemporary forms of worship such as rock music, drama, or the folk mass, two common concerns are that traditional forms of worship are dying out, and that small churches may become a vanishing breed. There has been a slight trend toward more contemporary worship styles among people who switch where they worship, but certainly not a wholesale move away from traditional styles.

And there has been just as much movement toward smaller congregations as toward larger ones. Observers may worry about people leaving small congregations and going to the megachurches, but they need to realize there are about as many people moving down in size as moving up.

Lastly, this pithy tidbit:

Theologically, 53 percent of adults who changed their place of worship say their current place is about the same as their old one; 28 percent moved to a place that is more theologically conservative; and 12 percent switched to one that is more liberal.

Style, venue, size, and location are important considerations for a church. But they are not primary. What does seem to be of some importance is the theology of the church. What’s your take?

4 comments on “Where Church-Swappers Hop”

  1. toddthomas says:

    Interesting research, Sam… It’s actually a tad humorous – most smaller church pastors that I am in contact with express the fear that they will lose their members to “bigger and better” ministries, and yet that isn’t the case. Regardless of the “Style, venue, size, and location”, all pastors/churches must strive for excellence in theology and practice. Nice research find.

    P.S. – I need to get my hands on this NYT Best-Seller called “Essential Church”…

  2. Sam Rainer says:

    Todd –

    Ha! If it makes the NYT list, I’ll send copies to everyone in your church…

  3. toddthomas says:

    I’ll hold you to it… Signed copies for all.

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