Churchgoers Say Doctrine, Not Worship Music, Is What Keeps Them Coming Back to Church

Inside a church
Parishioners sitting on church pews as seen from above. |

A new study by LifeWay Research shows that Protestant churchgoers stay at a church because of its beliefs, and not its music or who the preacher is.

LifeWay surveyed more than 1,000 Protestant churchgoers, who attend services at least once a month, and 54 percent of them said they would seriously consider leaving if church doctrine changed.

Only 19 percent said they would leave if the preaching style changed, 9 percent said they would leave over politics, 6 percent said they would do so if they didn't feel needed, and only 5 percent would leave if the music style changed.

Churchgoers care about doctrine, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. "Still, pastors can't assume everyone in the pews agrees with their preaching. Overall, 94 percent believe most or all of their church's teaching. But there's still substantial wiggle room. Every time a pastor gets up to preach, there's a good chance more than a few people in the pews are going to disagree."

The survey shows that 35 percent of churchgoers have stayed in their church between 10 and 24 years, 27 percent for 25 years or more, 21 percent for less than five years, and 17 percent for between five and nine years.

"Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure," the study said.

"Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor," noted McConnell.

The study further found that over 57 percent of churchgoers say they are completely committed to continuing to attend their current church, 28 percent said they are "very much" committed, 11 percent are moderately committed, 2 percent are slightly committed, and 1 percent are not committed at all.

The more people go to church, the more committed they are to remaining in the same church in the future, and churchgoers with evangelical beliefs are more likely to be completely committed than those who don't have evangelical beliefs, the survey showed.

According to a report released by The Barna Group in January, 35 percent of teenagers identify as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated, a higher percentage than millennials. This is one reason why pastors think of deviating from traditional worship.

Some churches have been planted or have shifted their worship style to reflect the preferences of younger generations in hopes of reaching these religiously unaffiliated demographics. These include The Table in Washington, D.C., City of Truth in Kansas City, Missouri, and Grace Capital City in Washington, D.C., where millennials are not only part of the church, they basically are the church.

"We put away our suits and pulled out our T-shirts and jeans," Quincee Jackson, director of ministry culture at City of Truth, told The Christian Post. "We basically felt our message would be better received if we didn't set a false tone that those who attended our church would have to look a certain way. Another change we made was shortening our services. Of course we didn't eliminate necessary elements ... we just felt it was important to eliminate the things we would do that really added no value to our services. And we found out that we could do the important things more efficiently."

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