Length of time attending current church, by denominational group…

One-third of all churchgoers are

not fully loyal to their church

(Original release date:  February 8, 2007)  Research conducted for Facts & Trends magazine shows one-third of all American Protestant churchgoers feel less than positive they will continue attending the same church in the near future.  And if they do switch, only about one out of four would only consider another church in the same denomination.

 

The findings are from a study conducted for Facts & Trends by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona among a representative sample of 1,184 adults who attend a Protestant church in the U.S. at least once in a typical month.  The study examined loyalty to denominations and specific churches, as well as length and frequency of attendance.

 

The average length of time adults have been attending the same church is 13.7 years.  However, averages can be skewed by a relatively small number of people who cite very high numbers, and some churchgoers have been attending the same congregation for decades.  Probably a more accurate reflection of churchgoers in general is the median figure of 6.6 years, which means half of all churchgoers have been attending the same church for less time than this, and half for a greater length of time.

 

Out of all churchgoers, 13 percent have been attending their current congregation for less than a year.  Another 16 percent have been at their current church for one to two years, 11 percent for three to four years, 18 percent for five to nine years, 16 percent for ten to 19 years, and 26 percent have been attending the same congregation for two decades or longer.

 

People who are 55 or older are particularly likely to be long-time participants in the same church; the median length of attendance at the same congregation is 15 years among older adults.

 

Lutheran and Presbyterian denominations are particularly likely to have people attending the same church for years and years; the median length of attendance among Lutherans is 12.5 years, while it is 10.6 years for Presbyterian congregations.  Non-denominational churches (median of 3.9 years) and Pentecostal/charismatic denominations (median of 5.0 years) are among the ones with the shortest time of attendance.

 

Ironically, while Lutheran churches have people going to the same congregation for many years, participation is less frequent than in other denominational groups.  Among all Protestant churchgoers, 30 percent typically attend services or activities at the church less than every week, 29 percent go weekly, and 41 percent attend more than once a week (this could entail one worship service and one Bible study per week, for instance).  But among Lutherans, 46 percent attend less than weekly, while just 15 percent participate in worship or activities more than once a week.

 

The denominational groups most likely to show frequent (i.e. more than once a week) attendance or participation in church are Pentecostals and Baptists.  In general, people attending evangelical churches are more likely to be involved more than four times per month than are those attending mainline Protestant churches (46 percent to 36 percent).  People under the age of 35 are also less likely than others to be involved more than four times per month.

 

Two-thirds of all churchgoers said they definitely will continue to attend the same church in the near future.  Twenty-five percent said they will “probably” continue attending the same church, while 7 percent said they may or may not do so, and 1 percent were already making plans to leave their current church.

 

Loyalty to a specific church does not vary much among different types of churchgoers; there are no substantial differences by age, gender, income levels, race, or other factors, for instance.  Methodists are slightly more likely than average to express loyalty to their current church, but denominational differences are few.

 

What does vary is loyalty by length and frequency of attendance.  Forty-eight percent of those who attend less than once a week definitely plan to continue attending the same congregation, compared to 74 percent among those who attend weekly or more.  Similarly, 72 percent of adults who’ve attended the same church for four or more years definitely plan to continue doing so, versus 62 percent among those who have attended for one to three years, and 49 percent for those who have attended their current church for less than a year.

 

Although most people are not planning to switch, the study looked at denominational loyalty by asking what their feelings would be if they had to change churches (for instance, if their current church shut its doors or if they moved to a different area).

 

Twenty-eight percent of all churchgoers said they would only consider attending a church of the exact same denomination they attend right now.  Another 41 percent would strongly prefer this, but would have at least some openness to another denomination.  Fourteen percent show some preference to their current denomination, but are open to others.  Sixteen percent say the exact denomination of the church really doesn’t matter to them, while two percent frankly would prefer to switch denominations.

 

There are not strong differences in denominational loyalty between people in mainline and evangelical churches, but there are some very distinct differences among different major denominational groups.  Lutherans are clearly the most loyal group, as 52 percent of them say they would only consider attending a church within their current denomination.  Methodists are less likely than average to say they would only attend their current denomination (16 percent), but more likely to say they would strongly prefer to remain in their denomination (59 percent).  Baptists are about average in their denominational loyalty.

 

Among the least denominationally loyal are people attending Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and non-denominational churches.  Pentecostals are almost twice as likely as average to say the exact denomination of the church does not matter to them.  Only one out of ten people from non-denominational churches would only consider another non-denominational church, and the same is true for Presbyterians (compared to 28 percent of all churchgoers).

 

Denominational loyalty is strongly connected with the length of time people have spent in their current congregation.  The longer they have been attending the same church, the more likely they are to say they strongly prefer or would only consider a church in that same denomination.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that the study may help pastors think about and understand their own congregation a bit more.  “In the typical Protestant church, about one out of every eight people in the congregation has been attending that church for less than a year,” Sellers observed.  “What should this mean for the typical church?  Does the church have a strategic plan for involving newcomers in the life of the congregation?  Does the church leadership make the assumption that everyone in the church knows how the church works and what it believes?  These things are very important when so many relatively new people are in the typical congregation.”

 

Sellers also noted that it would be a mistake for individual churches or denominations to assume a level of loyalty among attendees which may not exist.  “In the typical Protestant congregation, one-third of the people in the pews are not definite in their plans to continue attending that church.  If they were to leave, three out of ten would not consider it a big deal to switch denominations,” Sellers said.  “It’s important that pastors or denominational leaders don’t automatically assume the people in the pews are ‘our people,’ because the data suggests a significant minority don’t hold a level of loyalty that would make that an accurate assumption.”

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more is accurate to within ±2.7 percentage points under the same parameters.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of laity from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ demographics, geography, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the

motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and

the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.

Rensis Likert, U.S. Psychologist and

Developer of the Likert Scale

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Grey Matter logo

Frequency of church attendance, by denominational group…

Frequency of church attendance, by age, theology, and length of time at the same church…

Likelihood of continuing to attend the same church, by denominational group…

Likelihood of looking for a church of the same denomination if they had to switch, by denominational group…

Likelihood of looking for a church of the same denomination if they

had to switch, by age, theology, and length of time at the same church…

 

How Likely to Look for Same

Denomination if Switching

 

Age

<35

 

Age

35 – 54

 

Age

55+

 

 

Mainline

 

 

Evangelical

<1 Year

in Same Church

1 – 3 Years  in Same Church

4+ Years  in Same Church

Would only consider same denomination

25%

28%

30%

21%

30%

16%

22%

32%

Would strongly prefer same denomination

38

42

43

51

39

35

41

42

Would somewhat prefer same denomination

18

16

10

15

13

17

16

13

Exact denomination doesn’t matter to you

20

13

15

11

18

29

18

12

Somewhat prefer different denomination

--

--

2

--

1

--

2

--

Strongly prefer different denomination

--

1

1

1

--

2

--

--

Length of Time

at Current Church

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

Non-
Denom.

All Others

Less than a year

13%

14%

12%

10%

8%

11%

11%

21%

11%

1 – 2 years

16

14

12

11

20

29

12

19

12

3 – 4 years

11

10

12

15

6

9

9

16

10

5 – 9 years

18

20

17

16

13

24

16

25

15

10 – 19 years

16

12

16

21

15

15

21

11

18

20 years or more

26

30

31

27

38

12

31

8

34

Average years

   at the same church

 

13.7

 

15.9

 

16.5

 

13.8

 

17.9

 

8.1

 

18.1

 

6.3

 

16.7

Median years

   at the same church

 

6.6

 

6.5

 

7.9

 

7.7

 

12.5

 

5.0

 

10.6

 

3.9

 

10.4

Attendance in Typical Month (Any Services/Activities)

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

Non-
Denom.

All Others

Less than once a week

30%

28%

18%

32%

46%

28%

31%

30%

25%

Once a week

29

22

27

36

39

15

29

34

29

More than once a week

41

50

55

34

15

57

40

36

46

 

Attendance in Typical Month

(Any Services/Activities)

 

Age

<35

 

Age

35 – 54

 

Age

55+

 

 

Mainline

 

 

Evangelical

<1 Year

in Same Church

1 – 3 Years  in Same Church

4+ Years  inSame Church

Less than once a week

36%

31%

23%

28%

28%

37%

43%

24%

Once a week

28

24

33

36

26

32

24

30

More than once a week

36

45

45

36

46

31

33

46

How Likely to Continue Attending Current Church

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

Non-
Denom.

All Others

Definitely will continue

   to attend this church

 

67%

 

63%

 

69%

 

76%

 

68%

 

62%

 

68%

 

61%

 

70%

Probably will continue

25

29

25

22

25

24

28

28

22

May or may not continue

7

6

6

3

6

12

4

9

6

Probably will not continue

1

1

--

--

--

1

--

1

1

Definitely will not continue

--

1

--

--

1

1

--

--

--

How Likely to Look for Same Denomination if Switching

 

All

Southern Baptist

Other Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

 

Presbyterian

Non-
Denom.

All Others

Would only consider

   same denomination

 

28%

 

30%

 

31%

 

16%

 

52%

 

22%

 

10%

 

10%

 

37%

Would strongly prefer

   same denomination

 

41

 

46

 

39

 

59

 

30

 

38

 

46

 

45

 

32

Would somewhat prefer

   same denomination

 

14

 

9

 

13

 

16

 

13

 

9

 

22

 

21

 

15

Exact denomination

   doesn’t matter to you

 

16

 

12

 

15

 

9

 

4

 

30

 

16

 

24

 

15

Somewhat prefer

   different denomination

 

1

 

1

 

1

 

--

 

--

 

--

 

6

 

--

 

--

Strongly prefer

   different denomination

 

1

 

2

 

1

 

--

 

--

 

--

 

--

 

--

 

1