In the study of adults who switch churches, Lifeway Research found a common theme: Church switchers often choose a new church that is different in several ways from their previous church.
The study was conducted among Protestant adult church goers who have attended more than one church as an adult. To understand the voluntary changes being made in the type of church people attend, 415 surveys were conducted among church switchers whose latest church change was for reasons other than a residential move.
More than one in five church switchers move away from traditional worship when they move to their current church.
Previously, a majority of “Non-mover” church switchers (53 percent) attended traditional style worship. After changing, only 29 percent attend traditional services. Blended worship is the most popular, with 38 percent attending this style service. Contemporary worship attendance became the second most popular, with the numbers going from 24 percent to 33 percent after the switch.
Scott McConnell, director of Lifeway Research noted, “Clearly, selecting a new church with a more contemporary worship style is a current trend. These changes are intentional, as indicated by eighty percent finding worship style an important factor in selecting a new church.”
Three-fourths of adults who switch churches find a church of different size than they previously attended.
Forty-six percent of switchers go to a larger church, while 29 percent switch to a smaller church. Twenty-five percent choose a church the same size as their previous one.
Seventy-nine percent of those who attended a church with worship attendance of 100 or less switch to a larger church. In contrast, 57 percent of those who attended a church with more than 500 in worship attendance switch to a smaller church.
“The trend clearly shows church switchers are moving to larger churches,” McConnell said. “However, there is a smaller counter-trend among those who attended larger churches; some of them select smaller new churches.”
Overall, half of church switchers change denominations when they select a new church to attend (54 percent).
“This high rate of change in denomination is actually an indication of how few church switchers value denomination,” McConnell noted. “Other factors drive the church selection decision, and most people give less consideration to denomination.”
Denomination is only an important factor in selecting a church for 44 percent of church switchers.
One exception is those who could not agree with their previous church’s teachings or positions on issues. 71 percent of those who have these doctrinal disagreements change denominations.
Only 4 percent of Non-mover church switchers indicate that one of the reasons they actually left their previous church is they could no longer identify with that particular denomination.
Twice as many church switchers typically consider the preaching at their current church to be relevant, interesting, understandable, and challenging compared to their previous church.
Ninety-one percent say the preaching is relevant; only 44 percent found the preaching relevant at their previous church. Similarly, 91 percent say at their current church, the preacher holds their attention; only 37 percent were this interested at their previous church. Eighty-six percent are challenged by the preaching at their current church to live and think as Scripture teaches; only 39 percent were challenged in this way at their previous church.
Eighty-seven percent base their selection of a church on preaching. Nine out of ten church switchers have found preaching that meets their need for relevance, interest, and clarity.
“The importance of the pastor and preaching in a believer’s spiritual journey cannot be overstated,” McConnell said. “From the church switchers’ perspective, changing churches has enabled them to find better preaching that addresses two of the top reasons they left their previous church: lack of help to develop spiritually and the pastor was not a good preacher.”
The research indicates that church switchers are at least as involved in their current church as they were in their previous church.
Almost all switchers attend worship (97 percent), and most contribute financially (84 percent). Sixty-four percent choose to volunteer when opportunities arise.
More than half of switchers (60 percent) attend a small group, Sunday school, or discipleship class at their current church.
When compared to their previous church, more switchers are consistent financial supporters (84 percent versus 69 percent previously) and more are volunteering (64 percent versus 51 percent previously).
Similarly, slightly more church switchers choose to join their current church (74 percent). Only 69 percent were members at their previous church.
While it appears that a desire for greater involvement is a significant motivation for why some individuals switched churches, it appears that the level of involvement after making the switch is not significantly higher.