He'll forgive me anyway
'the devastating life of marshmallow grace
switching from church to church, powered by a mix of dissatisfaction
and yearning, according to the study by LifeWay Research. The
organization is part of the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist
Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
But 42% of the people say they
switched because another church offered more appealing doctrines and
preaching or the preacher and church members' faith seemed more
may believe in the same doctrine, the same God and study the same
Bible, but we are also imperfect human beings who mess up, who are not
always living out those beliefs," says Scott McConnell, associate
director of LifeWay Research. He adds in the rise of "consumerism and
narcissism" — when people expect to customize every experience to
More than half (54%) of
switchers changed denominations as well. Fewer than half (44%) said
denomination was an important factor in choosing a new church.
study, conducted in December, surveyed 632 Protestant adults who said
they switched churches. For findings on the 415 people who had not made
a residential move, the margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage
The study follows LifeWay's 2006 research on 469 "formerly churched" Protestants who quit church altogether.
Of the switchers, 76% call themselves "devout Christians." Only 19% of the quitters said the same.
The nation's largest denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, sees similar trends.
boundaries that once kept people in one faith, one church, have become
more permeable," says Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research
in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
number of new converts to Catholicism leveled off at about 150,000 a
year for the past decade, while immigration from Catholic countries in
Latin America, Asia and Africa has pushed the tally of U.S. Roman
Catholics to 64 million. But the church has no mechanism for tracking
who washes out of the pews unless they've died, been excommunicated or
publicly renounced their faith.
"Catholics are very sticky. They may not go to church but they still stick to that identification," Gautier says.
the LifeWay research finds most switchers move to larger churches,
don't blame megachurches for poaching the sheep, says Scott Thumma of
Hartford Theological Seminary, author of an upcoming book, Beyond Megachurch Myths, based on several studies of churches.
1,200 or so megachurches (defined as churches where 2,000 or more
people attend weekend worship) are only one-half of 1% of all U.S.
churches and account for only 5% of all weekend worship attenders,"
"And my sense, after years of
examining megachurches, is that 80% of the people who join, including
those who go through new member classes, are gone within the first two
Says Brad Waggoner, LifeWay's vice
president of research and ministry development: "There's no simple
answer why people are so restless."
ago, American culture supported church loyalty out of respect for the
church, obligation to family, or social expectations. Now, he says,
that culture has shifted.
Waggoner also sees
other factors at work, such as increased skepticism or cynicism in the
wake of clergy sexual abuse or financial scandals. And some are turned
off by divisiveness in denominations over doctrine and practice, he
The Southern Baptist Convention, he
says, still feels the effect of a revolution in leadership in the 1980s
that restored theological conservatives to power. The Episcopal Church
is struggling now with dissention over views of the Bible and the role
of gay clergy.
Though individual churches and
pastors can't erase those overarching concerns, the survey suggests
there is a great deal they can change or do to stem the restless tide
of switchers and dropouts, Waggoner says.
"We have a biblical responsibility to care for every person in our flock."Another Pastor and discussed this article with great hope in that - perhaps if USA Today is right then our better days are around the corner !