Formerly Churched Adults
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Formerly Churched Adults. Summer 2006. Report Contents. Background and Methodology 3 Summary of key findings 4

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Report Contents

  • Background and Methodology 3

  • Summary of key findings 4

  • Factors influencing departure from regular church attendance 7

  • Motivations and attitude toward resuming regular church attendance 13

  • Other characteristics of the formerly churched 20


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Background and methodology

  • In August 2006, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of 469 Formerly Churched Adults

  • “Formerly churched adults” were defined as those whose religious preference is Protestant, who currently do not attend church (less than 5 times a year), but who previously attended church on a regular basis (at least twice a month) as an adult

  • The objective of the survey was to better understand why people stop attending church, and what it would take to bring them back

  • The study was conducted as a web survey using a representative national panel of Americans



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CAN THE CHURCH CLOSE THE BACK DOOR? Why People Leave

  • Changes in life situation represent the top bucket of reasons why adults stop going to church – 59% of the formerly churched

    • Specifically, “simply got too busy” (19%) and “family/home responsibilities prevented attendance” (17%) are the top two reasons for not attending church

    • Other less preventable life change reasons include “moved too far from church” (17%), “work situation” (15%), and “go divorced/separated” (12%).

    • Rounding out the top five reasons are “church members seemed judgmental,” “church members seemed hypocritical,” and “moved too far away from church”

  • Disenchantment with pastor/church is the second most common category of reasons adults leave the church – 37% of the formerly churched

    • Specific sources of disenchantment that are prevalent are church members “seemed hypocritical” (17%), “were judgmental of others” (17%)

    • A number also indicate that “the church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement” (12%).

  • Formerly churched adults most commonly identify themselves as Christians, but “not particularly devout” – 42%

    • Many consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious” (24%)

    • A smaller number consider themselves “a devout Christian with a strong belief in God) (19%)

    • Fewer yet are wavering on Christianity (10%) or belief in God at all (6%)

  • Many formerly churched adults stay away from their former church for the same reasons they initially left, but 16% say “nobody contacted me after I left” and another 16% say “nobody seemed to care that I left”


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FORMERLY CHURCHED INDICATE OPENNESS TO RETURN

  • Overall, 62% of the formerly churched are not actively looking, but are open to the idea of attending church regularly again

    • 6% would prefer to resume attending regularly in the same church they had attended

    • 4% are actively looking for a church to attend regularly (other than their previous church)

    • 28% are unlikely to consider attending any church regularly in the foreseeable future

  • Motivation to return would be most often driven by a desire “to bring me closer to God” – 46%

    • 34% would be motivated to return “to fill a gap felt since stopping regular church attendance”

    • Building relationships in a Christian community is another strong motivator with 32% wanting to “be around those with similar values” 31% “to make friends” and 30% “to make a difference/help others”

  • Prompting the formerly churched to return is complex

    • 58% would be prompted “if I simply felt it was time to return to church” and 31% “if I felt God was calling me to visit a church”

    • Clearly, invitations matter as 41% would respond to an invitation from a friend or acquaintance, 25% from their children and 25% from an adult family member

    • 35% would be prompted “if they knew there were people like me there”


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Factors influencing departure from regular church attendance


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Of all reasons for no longer attending church regularly, changes in life situation represents the top general category

  • Becoming disenchanted with pastor/church is also a general cause of breaking from regular church attendance for 37% of respondents

  • 64% of women report a change in life situation, compared to just 51% of men

Q3. What are ALL the reasons that you no longer attend church regularly?

Base: All (n= 469); Male (n=176), Female (n=293)


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Changes in life situation

Became disenchanted with pastor/church

Church not fulfilling needs for attendance

Changes in beliefs/interests/attitudes

Bucket-level category

Of all reasons within all categories, simply got too busy is the number one specific reason for no longer attending church regularly

  • Family/home responsibilities, church members seemed hypocritical, church members were judgmental, and moved too far from the church round out the top five overall reasons

Q3. What are ALL the reasons that you no longer attend church regularly?

Base (Varies by level)

Note: to obtain a pure comparison of ratings across categories, individual level ratings have been multiplied by percent rating in each category; resulting percentages represent a percent of ALL respondents selecting each particular level


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Less important reasons for not attending church -- listed by category

Changes in Life Situation

  • Just wanted a break from church (10%)

  • Moved to college (8%)

  • Taking/going with someone else who no longer attended (5%)

  • Illness/infirmity prevented me from attending (3%)

  • Children’s sports activities were on Sunday (2%)

  • Depended on someone taking me who became unavailable (1%)

Disenchanted with Church

  • Pastor was judgmental of others (11%)

  • Pastor seemed insincere (10%)

  • Pastor seemed hypocritical (9%)

  • Pastor was not a good preacher (9%)

  • Pastor had moral/ethical failure (6%)

  • Pastor was unfriendly/unwelcoming (5%)

  • Pastor settled for mediocrity (3%)

  • Pastor had no clear purpose/vision (2%)

  • Pastor lacked conviction about his beliefs (2%)

  • Pastor discouraged others from getting involved (1%)

Disenchanted with Pastor

  • Church didn’t seem to be a place in which God was at work (11%)

  • Church members seemed insincere (10%)

  • Church had too many expectations of time and money (8%)

  • Church was unfriendly/unwelcoming (5%)

  • Church settled for mediocrity (4%)

  • Church members lacked conviction about their beliefs (3%)

  • Church had no clear purpose/vision (3%)

  • Child had a bad experience (2%)

Q3. What are ALL the reasons that you no longer attend church regularly?

Base (Varies by level)

Note: to obtain a pure comparison of ratings across categories, individual level ratings have been multiplied by percent rating in each category; resulting percentages represent a percent of ALL respondents selecting each particular level


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Less important reasons for not attending church -- listed by category

Church Not Fulfilling Needs

  • Did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful work in church (11%)

  • Did not become close with anyone at the church (10%)

  • Church did not help me find answers to questions in my life (9%)

  • Church did not help me find happiness (6%)

  • No one seemed to care about my situation/problems (5%)

Changes in Beliefs/Attitudes toward Church

  • Simply lost interest in going to church (9%)

  • Didn’t think that church was relevant to my life any longer (7%)

  • No longer believed in that particular church’s teachings/approach (6%)

  • Was only going to church to please others, not for myself (6%)

  • Went through a loss and/or crisis of faith (3%)

  • Was really only going to church out of habit in the first place (3%)

  • Could no longer identify with that particular denomination (3%)

  • Became angry at God for personal reasons (2%)

  • Felt that God had abandoned me when I needed him (1%)

  • Stopped believing in God altogether (1%)

Felt Out of Place at Church

  • Had different view of church/religion than most other members (12%)

  • Home/family situation was different than most other members (6%)

  • Felt out of place in terms of social class/education (5%)

Q3. What are ALL the reasons that you no longer attend church regularly?

Base (Varies by level)

Note: to obtain a pure comparison of ratings across categories, individual level ratings have been multiplied by percent rating in each category; resulting percentages represent a percent of ALL respondents selecting each particular level


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Less important reasons for not attending church -- listed by category

Could Not Agree with Teachings/Positions

  • Teachings on moral issues (11%)

  • Pastor/church was generally too conservative (9%)

  • Teachings on how to apply the Bible to life issues (6%)

  • Pastor/church seemed aligned with particular political party (5%)

  • Teachings on theological issues (4%)

  • Pastor/church was generally too liberal (2%)

Something About the Church Changed

  • Pastor/other staff I liked left the church (9%)

  • Too many things changed in general (6%)

  • Church’s teachings on political/social issues changed (5%)

  • Worship style changed (4%)

  • Church’s religious teachings/beliefs changed (4%)

  • Other members I liked no longer attended (3%)

  • Program I liked was changed/discontinued (2%)

  • Newer members of the congregation were too different from me (1%)

Problems with Other Members, Staff, or Clergy

  • Church generally seemed embroiled in conflict (3%)

  • Some individual(s) were critical/judgmental of me (3%)

  • Specific conflict(s) with individual(s) about personal issues (2%)

  • Mistreated by some individual(s) (1%)

  • Specific conflict(s) with individual(s) about church business (1%)

  • Pastor/other leaders were mistreated by some individual(s) (1%)

Q3. What are ALL the reasons that you no longer attend church regularly?

Base (Varies by level)

Note: to obtain a pure comparison of ratings across categories, individual level ratings have been multiplied by percent rating in each category; resulting percentages represent a percent of ALL respondents selecting each particular level


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Live too far away category is a top prohibitive factor to resuming church attendance for more than half of respondents

  • Other reasons for not returning to church involve personal situations and situations within the church

Q4. What keeps you from returning to the same church that you used to regularly attend?

Base: All (n= 469)


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Motivations and attitude toward resuming categoryregular church attendance


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Nearly two thirds of respondents claim that, although they are not actively looking to resume regular church attendance in the future, they are in fact open to the possibility of attending

  • While the majority of remaining respondents say it is unlikely that they will consider regularly attending church in the foreseeable future

  • 36% of males are unlikely to consider regularly attending church, compared to just 23% of females

  • And a whopping 58% of those age 65 and older are unlikely to consider attending church, a full 30 percentage points higher than the 28% average

Q5. Which of the following statements best describes your attitude toward resuming regular church attendance in the future?

Base: All (n= 469); Male (n=176), Female (n=293); 65+ (n=72)


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More than half of respondents would return to church if they simply felt that it was time to do so

  • Nearly as many would return to regular church attendance if a friend/acquaintance invited them

prompt

  • Approximately 60% of those age 18-35 are likely to consider regular church attendance if a friend/acquaintance invited them or if they knew that there would be people like them there – indicating that younger adults are more heavily influenced by their peers in regards to their church attendance

Q6. What would prompt you to visit a church, with the idea that you might start regularly attending?

Base: All (n= 469); 18-35 (n =83)


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The top motivating factor for respondents to start attending church regularly is to become closer to God

  • Other specific motivators are to fill a gap that they’ve felt after stopping regular church attendance, to be around those with similar values, to make friends, and to make a difference/help others

Q7. What motivations would you have to start attending church regularly again?

Base: All (n= 469); Male (n=176), Female (n=293); 18-35 (n=83), 65+ (n=72)


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Overall, denomination preferences have not changed since respondents stopped attending church regularly

  • While more than half would consideranother Protestant denomination or a non-denominational Christian church…

  • … less than 20% would actually prefer to attend these types of churches as opposed to the 64% who would prefer to return to the same denomination of church that they once attended

Q8. From the following choices, please first check all of the religious affiliations you might consider for resuming regular church attendance in the first column, then check the one you would most prefer in the second column.

Base: All (n= 469)


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When visiting a church for the first time, respondents overwhelmingly prefer to slip in anonymously and not introduce themselves until the second visit if they decide to return

Q11. Which of the following best describes how you might visit a church for the first time?

Base: All (n= 469)


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Overall, 95% of respondents maintain some sort of residual belief in God or a higher being, and 61% still think of themselves as Christians

Q9: Which of the following statements best describes your current beliefs about God?

Base: All (n= 469)


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Other characteristics of the formerly churched belief in God or a higher being, and 61% still think of themselves as Christians


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Methodist belief in God or a higher being, and 61% still think of themselves as Christiansis the number one Protestant denomination preference of formerly churched adult respondents

  • Presbyterian, non-denominational, Southern Baptist and Episcopal round out the top five denominations, accounting for a combined 56% of all preferences

S2: Which category best describes your Protestant denomination preference?

Base: All (n= 469)


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Adults who qualify as formerly churched are largely comprised of female baby-boomers

S6. What is your age?

Q14. Are you: (male/female)?

Base: All (n= 469)


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Formerly churched adults previously attended church for an average of 10.7 years and have been away from regular church attendance for an average of 14.1 years

Q1. For how many years since you turned 18 were you attending church regularly (twice a month or more), before you stopped going that often?

Q2. And how many years has it been since you attended church regularly?

Base: All (n= 469)


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At one time, nearly half of all respondents were involved in some type of small group/Sunday School/discipleship class or volunteer work with the church

  • And almost all respondents once attended worship services on a regular basis

Q10. In what ways were you involved when you did attend church regularly?

Base: All (n= 469)


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