When churchgoers find a new congregation, most say their reasons for change had a little to do with both their old and new churches.
Lifeway Research studied 1,001 U.S. adults who identify as Protestant or non-denominational, attend church worship services at least twice a month and have attended more than one church as an adult.
During the research screening process, it was determined 53% of U.S. regular churchgoers say they have attended more than one church as an adult. Among those who have switched congregations, 63% say they’ve regularly attended only two to three churches as an adult, while another 22% have attended four to five congregations. Fewer say they’ve been active at six to seven churches (8%), eight to nine (3%) or 10 or more (4%).
For most of those changing churches, changing homes was a factor. Three in 5 church switchers (60%) say a residential move impacted their decision to leave their previous church and begin attending a new one.
“The reason pastors and churchgoers talk about church switchers is because it is not a negligible number of people changing churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “However, chronic church switching is not the norm. The biggest group of churchgoers are those who have been at the same church throughout their adult lives, and the next biggest group are those whose church changes were necessitated by moving too far to attend their previous church.”
Same place, new church
Still, 40% of church changes were driven by something other than a residential move. When examining reasons people switched to a new congregation without moving, several factors stand out.
More than 1 in 4 church switchers say they changed because some things changed about the church they did not like (29%), the church was not fulfilling their needs or reasons for attending church (29%), they became disenchanted in some ways with the pastor (27%) or they became disenchanted with the church (26%).
For 22%, the change happened because they could not agree with some of the church’s teachings or positions on issues or politics. Around 1 in 5 say they felt out of place at their previous church (20%) or changes in their life situation caused them to stop attending (18%).
Issues related to COVID-19 drove 13% of church switchers to find a new congregation. Around 1 in 10 say they left because they had problems or conflicts with someone else at the church or the congregation itself had a conflict (11%) or their beliefs or attitudes toward church and religion changed (9%). For 2%, they had to find a new church because their previous one closed. Another 23% say they stopped attending for other reasons.