The results of a new survey from Lifeway Research may come as a surprise to pastors and worship leaders.
The study found that most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher, but they will choose to leave a church if the foundational beliefs are tampered with.
These findings can serve as a wake-up call, says the American Pastors Network to pastors who may be trying to reach people through music, programs, or style rather than the substance of the Gospel.
“It is crucial that American churches return to the core of the Gospel—the true focus of who and what the church should be,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “Today’s pastors can get caught up in the style of music, programs offered, the environment, and even how leaders dress. While these things may deserve some attention, they should not be the focus. The foundation of the church must be its theological position and how strongly it is rooted in the Word of God. Rightfully so, the people in the pews realize this.”
According to the survey, most churchgoers are committed to staying at their current church for the long haul, but more than half of respondents (54 percent) said they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s core beliefs or doctrine changed.
Perhaps the reasoning for staying at a current church is that, 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; 42 percent say their beliefs are mostly aligned.
“We see many churches today wrestling with what should be foundational beliefs for any church, such as God’s definition of marriage, his design for sexuality and gender, and many other cultural and societal issues,” Rohrer added. “While churches must maintain biblical positions on these matters and address them from the pulpit, it is a grave mistake for them to change their foundational beliefs in order to welcome more people, appease more members, or otherwise engage the culture.”
Of the 1,000-plus surveyed, 35 percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years, and 27 percent have been there for 25 years or more—meaning that most church members have been at their church longer than the pastor. Just under 40 percent have been at their current church for nine years or fewer. Overall, 15 percent of churchgoers say they have thought about going to another church in the past six months. Eighty-five percent say they have not.
Besides a change in church doctrine, churchgoers say several other reasons might cause them to switch:
- 48 percent would change churches if they moved to a new home
- 19 percent if the preaching style changed
- 12 percent if the pastor left
- 10 percent if a family member wanted a new church
- 9 percent would leave over politics
- 6 percent would leave if they didn’t feel needed
- 5 percent if the music style changed
- 4 percent if they had a conflict
- 3 percent if a friend stopped attending