Most Adults Switch Churches to Flee Former Church

The top reason adults switch to a new church is to flee their previous church, a recent study found.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in a LifeWay Research study said the greatest impact on their decision to move to another church was "my need/desire to leave my previous church." The rest (42 percent) said they switched because of the desire to join their current church.

More specifically, 28 percent of churchgoers who choose to leave their previous church do so because the "church was not helping me to develop spiritually," the study revealed. And 20 percent of respondents leave because they "did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work."

LifeWay Vice President Brad Waggoner found the study results encouraging.

"The fact that the majority of church switchers express a desire to grow spiritually and become active in service should strike a chord of optimism for leaders."

Further research revealed 18 percent of respondents indicated "church members were judgmental of others;" 16 percent said the "pastor was not a good preacher;" 15 percent said "members seemed hypocritical;" 14 percent cited "church didn't seem to be a place where God was at work" and another 14 percent said "church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement."

Other reasons centered on the pastor include the "pastor was judgmental of others" (14 percent) and the "pastor seemed hypocritical" (13 percent).

Some church switchers leave because of too many changes in the church.

"These church switchers leave because they are unhappy with changes in the overall direction of the church," said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. "Respondents had the opportunity to select specific changes they did not like, such as worship style, teachings, or a staff member leaving, but the largest proportion selected too many changes in general – the culmination of many changes in the previous church they did not like."

Waggoner noted, "A common mistake of pastors, staff or even lay leaders in the church is attempting to initiate change without a clear understanding of the process one should follow.

"Let me insert upfront that change is unavoidable and even necessary for continued church effectiveness. However, the manner in which change is approached is crucial."

Overall, the study left Waggoner feeling optimistic.

He said that the study "indicates that most people are looking for truth, doctrine and engaging preaching and teaching." Thus, it is essential for churches to design a process – that includes a clear and thorough explanation of the gospel – of orienting and discipling new members.

The latest study builds on LifeWay Research's 2006 study of the formerly churched. Previous studies measured why people leave the church altogether and what would bring the formerly churched back.

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