Survey: How to Bring Back Formerly Churched

In a "surprising" survey response from formerly churched adults, LifeWay Research found that more than more than two-thirds of them are open to the idea of returning to the pews on a regular basis.

LifeWay released the second part of its study on the formerly churched to cite reasons why adults left the church in the first place and ways churches can get them back.

In response to the large percentage of people showing possibility of resuming church attendance, Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, said, "We were delighted to see such a large percentage of the formerly churched willing to consider church again in the future. This was particularly surprising because the average formerly churched adult has not attended regularly for 14 years."

The majority of the formerly churched adults (62 percent) said they are open to the idea of attending church regularly again, but not actively looking. For others, 28 percent said they are unlikely to consider regularly attending church in the foreseeable future; six percent said they would prefer to resume attending regularly in the same church they had attended; and four percent said they are actively looking for a different church to attend regularly.

"The small portion who are ‘unlikely to consider’ returning should be encouraging when you think about the three out of four who are willing to give it another try," noted McConnell, according to LifeWay.

The study went further to find what situation prompts people to resume regular church attendance. According to the results, 58 percent said they simply felt that it was time to return to the church; 41 percent said a friend or acquaintance invited them; 35 percent said they would return if they knew there were people there like them; 31 percent felt that God was calling them to visit the church; 25 percent said they would resume if their children asked them to go with them to church; and another 25 percent they would go if an adult family member invited them.

For the large majority who were self-motivated to return to church, the most common motivation that 46 percent of the surveyed adults said was to bring them closer to God.

"Many members are vulnerable to attrition because of either a nonexistent or immature faith," said Brad Waggoner, director of LifeWay Research, in a released statement. "When individuals begin to seek out membership, they should be guided through a process whereby they are clearly taught the gospel and then, following salvation, grounded in strong biblical truth. Far fewer people would drop out of church if their spiritual foundation was deep and strong. The church also must be sensitive to this combination of a less developed but genuine desire for faith as they approach the formerly churched about returning."

The second common motivation for going back to the church was building relationships in a Christian community with 32 percent wanting to be around those with similar values, 31 percent wanting to make friends, and 30 percent wanting to make a difference of help others in their community.

McConnell warned, "Too often churches wait for people to be spiritually mature to engage them in service when many projects or tasks are ideal entry or re-entry points for people on their faith journey."

LifeWay suggested ways churches can bring people back into the pews.

Waggoner said that the findings "indicate that churches should seek out those who have lapsed as well as take steps to reduce further departures by meeting members’ needs for a welcoming and spiritually fulfilling church environment."

He also recognized the significance of affinity with adults wanting to relate with similar people in the church.

"Affinity will never happen at a significant level without the church fostering a culture of concern, fellowship and involvement," said Waggoner. "The openness of the majority of the formerly churched to rejoin the flock is reason enough for the church to seek them out. That means having an effective outreach strategy for identifying, praying for and contacting formerly churched adults to shepherd them back to the fold."

Not only church members, but friends, family members and the work of the Holy Spirit are also major factors in bringing people back to the church, Waggoner added.

The survey was conducted in the summer of 2006 on 469 formerly churched adults. This was the second half of a two-part study that sought to better understand why people leave the church and find ways to bring them back.

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