New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

"Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher. But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research." - CToday

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Aaron Blumer's picture

Personally, I've seen more people leave churches for non-doctrinal reasons than for doctrinal reasons... by a large margin (and this is over multiple decades).

John E.'s picture

The link goes to an Ed Stetzer article about preferences. I read that article three times becoming increasingly convinced that I was either losing the ability to read or to comprehend what I was reading or both because I was unable to find the pull quote above. It wasn't until I looked at the side bar that I saw this article:

(Edit - the article I tried to link to below gives an error message. Methinks the problem is with CT and not the original poster here at SI)

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-...

John E.'s picture

Like Aaron, I'm skeptical, too. For one thing, it's a poll asking people what would cause them to consider leaving their church. Of course, any professing Christian who has been paying attention at any level is going to choose "Church changed its doctrine" when presented with that choice. I wonder what would be revealed by a poll taken of pastors asking the reasons why people have left their church.

What people say they will do and what they actually do are often two different things.

Steve Newman's picture

To me, our society is too full of consumerism for this to be true. 

Bert Perry's picture

....it has something to do with conflating cultural practices with evidence of faith.  If you read either side of the music wars, that is really what is at stake; it's sincerely held beliefs about what constitutes appropriate worship and the like.  Another way of viewing it is that whatever we might think the real issue is--even consumerism--the one leaving feels it's theologically significant enough to break fellowship and relationships.  

Didn't think I could put a more dismal cast on this than Steve did, but I think I succeeded.  :^)

Larry Nelson's picture

Has a pastor (any pastor, anywhere, at any time) ever said something such as this about any of their church members leaving (besides moving away) to go to another local church?: "Yes, the Peterson's left to attend another church, and they had legitimate concerns & reasons for doing do." 

 

John E.'s picture

If a Christian believes in full faith before God that a church's music violates the call to holiness, then I can respect their decision to leave even if I disagree with them. 

However, in my experience as a Christian, every single instance of someone leaving my church over music has been squarely in the realm of personal preference. As in, "The church's music is too conservative and I like contemporary music." Also, and sadly yet telling, in every single instance that I can recall, the individuals leaving disregarded actual theology - baptism, soteriological positions, teachings on sexuality, etc. - and joined with churches that taught doctrines that the leaving individuals expressed disagreement with. But the music was to their liking. 

I'm tired of having conversations with friends who are leaving a theologically solid church because the music is too conservative for their liking. 

John E.'s picture

You're correct, but if you were to ask me why people have left my church, I would honestly say that some have left over doctrinal issues. To be sure, it's because the individual's doctrine has changed and not the church's. But there have been a few that have left over doctrinal issues. However, the majority of people who leave (besides moving away) do so over things that fall under preference, like music, or not having the right kind of programs, or because they don't like the acoustics in the sanctuary, etc. 

TylerR's picture

On that note, I'm looking forward to proposing additions to my church's statement of faith in the next few weeks. Among other problems, we have no article on the doctrine of Christ (just a generic one on God, stolen from the 1833 NHCF), but we have three articles on different aspects of dispensational, premillennial eschatology! You can tell a lot about a church's past priorities by what they decide to spell out in great detail in a doctrinal statement ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Larry Nelson's picture

John E. wrote:

You're correct, but if you were to ask me why people have left my church, I would honestly say that some have left over doctrinal issues. To be sure, it's because the individual's doctrine has changed and not the church's. But there have been a few that have left over doctrinal issues. However, the majority of people who leave (besides moving away) do so over things that fall under preference, like music, or not having the right kind of programs, or because they don't like the acoustics in the sanctuary, etc. 

My church occasionally gets new attendees who have left other local churches.  They usually seem to come from two other local churches in particular.   I would argue that, coming from either church, they are leaving for a church (mine) that is far more doctrinally sound.  

One of the churches happens to be KJVO, and is avidly associated with the FBC Hammond/Sword of the Lord wing of fundamentalism.  (I can't fault these people at all for walking away from that theological morass.)  In fact, in talking to some of these people (like I did just yesterday morning), I have heard them say things such as "I'm free!" (when talking about their former churches).

And yet, without a doubt, those same people are being castigated and shunned by the pastors, staff, and the remaining members of the churches they have left behind.  Without a doubt, those churches are impugning the motives of those who have left.

Aaron Blumer's picture

TylerR wrote:

On that note, I'm looking forward to proposing additions to my church's statement of faith in the next few weeks. Among other problems, we have no article on the doctrine of Christ (just a generic one on God, stolen from the 1833 NHCF), but we have three articles on different aspects of dispensational, premillennial eschatology!

Good call. 

Bert Perry's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

Has a pastor (any pastor, anywhere, at any time) ever said something such as this about any of their church members leaving (besides moving away) to go to another local church?: "Yes, the Peterson's left to attend another church, and they had legitimate concerns & reasons for doing do." 

Here's an example, actually.  I would agree that it's not terribly common.

Bert Perry's picture

I once attended a church in Waseca that could be characterized in about the same way as Larry characterizes the KJVO church from whence many members at his church are refugees, and then I attended (once I figured out it was KJVO/etc..) the church where most former members of the KJVO church went.  The interesting thing is that when I would talk to them about it--and I never had to bring it up, really--the overall comment was that they tried the new church once, and said "I'm not going back."  Never really heard a theological explanation except for one family who described as feeling as if they'd gone from works to grace.  

Perhaps people sometimes know something is very wrong, but they (perhaps because the teaching at their former church is so wrong?) just don't know how to put a finger on it?

Richard Brunt's picture

I was a member of a Bible believing Baptist church for 30 years.  Why did I leave?  Lets see, the pastor retired and his son took over.  The preaching changed and then the doctrine started to change (things mysteriously disappeared from the doctrinal statement), and then the music started to change, and then the moral standard started to change so after much prayer and agonizing of soul we  sent a letter to the deacon board explaining why we were leaving and they never responded.  Why did we leave?  I guess all of the above.  

Richard E Brunt

John E.'s picture

Larry wrote:

And yet, without a doubt, those same people are being castigated and shunned by the pastors, staff, and the remaining members of the churches they have left behind.  Without a doubt, those churches are impugning the motives of those who have left.

Obviously, if someone leaves over a doctrinal issue (or any other issue, for that matter), the church is going to believe that the leaving member is wrong. If the leaving member has a valid reason, then the pastors should be willing to respond with humility and seek to grow in that area. So, operating under the assumption that pastors are most likely going to believe that the leaving members are in the wrong ... unless it's a church discipline issue, I see very little reason to air the dirty laundry of past, present, or future members in front of the congregation. And even if it's a church discipline issue, great care, humility, and charity should be exercised in how the matter is discussed. By God's grace, pastors need to be willing to take the slings and arrows of departing members without returning fire.

TylerR's picture

It's so pathetic they didn't respond to you, or make honest attempts to chat about doctrinal issues. Very sad story.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jim's picture

From a church's perspective:

  • All incoming transfers are spiritual Christians arriving for right reasons
  • All outgoing transfers are carnal Christians leaving for sinful reasons

A bit of a generalization but very common!

Also when:

  • A pastor leaves because "the Lord lead him" to leave
  • Not so for the so-called "layman"
John E.'s picture

When someone wants to transfer their membership from another like-minded area church, we reach out to the other church's Elders. And we've had some incoming members transferring from other churches whom weren't leaving their old church for the best of reasons. Two examples:

In one instance, we counseled the individuals that we believed that they needed to make things right with their current church before seeking membership elsewhere. Another time, after discussing it with the other church's Elders, we decided that it was in the individuals' best interest to welcome them with open arms. However, we did so knowing that they were hurting and struggling in their faith, needing much care and shepherding.

For the record, and we didn't tell them this, but we would have accepted the other individuals into membership if they had persisted. The issue wasn't a sin issue that we believed fell under church discipline. We believed that they were genuine Believers and didn't think that we could deny them fellowship if they desired it. As I stated, we did believe that the best choice was for them to seek unity with their current church. Once again, we were in communication with the Elders at the other church.  

G. N. Barkman's picture

I pray that all churches that claim to be Bible believing will act as you have described.  We have had similar experiences.  Sadly, most other pastors in our area do not cooperate with this approach, but we continue to operate in this way because it is right, and because we hope to set an example for others.

G. N. Barkman

Rolland McCune's picture

Tyler, For What Its Worth:

I am quite dubious about your proposed changes (or additions). For one, it appears to me to be far too hasty, your having just gotten there a few weeks ago and all. What's the rush? Few new pastors have earned the right to begin making such monumental changes at this early date. A church's doctrinal and legal instruments (faith and polity, beliefs, by-laws, etc.) are its family jewels, so to speak, and are usually resistant to change, especially at this early point. If it be argued that "the people" wanted this, it might have been the better part of wisdom for you to have counseled caution and restraint until the the honeymoon, as it were, died down a little more. 

I'm a little curious that you didn't appear to notice the church's "past (doctrinal) priorities" from a careful reading of its statement of faith in the very beginning. Further, it seems that neither you nor the church's deacons, or its people, brought these matters up for some kind of discussion.  I should think that all involved would have wanted to be, and should have been, apprised, especially concerning your own doctrinal sensitivities. Ostensibly, in your mind  these changes required almost immediate redress.

As to the needed doctrinal changes, updating, explanation, clarification, or whatever, I am not convinced that the two areas addressed were so far out of bounds so as to need immediate correction. Christology may have been inadequately represented, but I'm quite sure it wasn't "stolen" from the New Hampshire Confession of 1833. That unnecessary little quip didn't didn't make any sense to me, to say nothing of its denigration of the church's history and your own predecessors in the pulpit.  Your general antipathy toward dispensationalism, at least from what I've read here on SI, was surely put on notice in your dissent from the church's Statement. Your willingness to go to the wall barely after arriving begs the question, not only of the propriety mentioned above, but of the apparent inordinate place of anti-dispensationalism in your doctrinal hierarchy. The emphasized "three articles on different aspects of dispensational, premillennial eschatology" were the most transparent evidence of the needed doctrinal corrections, to say nothing of the QED exclamation mark at the end! This last gesture may have been in jest, but from earlier remarks on SI, who knows; it may have been a Freudian slip, or perhaps a double entendre of sorts.

Like I said above, "for what its worth." I neither expect a long retort nor an essentially new thread, but I do write with sincerity and out of a respectful amount of tenure in the Lord's work, IMHO.

 

 

 

Rolland McCune

TylerR's picture

I've been a member there for over two years. The doctrinal clarifications (for example, the absence of a discussion about Christ) have been requested by the congregation. But, it would no doubt be incredibly stupid for me to propose doctrinal changes after having just arrived at a new church! You don't know the context and you make bad assumptions, here. You assume far too much, brother.

The remark about the 1833 NHCF wasn't meant to be derogatory; it's my favorite confession and I am a keen student of church history.

You and I don't click, Rolland. I can't think of a single time on SI where we actually agreed on anything. We always seem to miscommunicate when we read one another's writings; not sure why. Take care.

In the future, I'd appreciate it if you'd never comment to me again. I'll do the same for you. I have enough stress in my life. I literally just sat through an enforcement meeting, and thought of nothing but your rude comments. I have a meeting with my fellow pastor directly after work (I'm bi-vocational), a Wed. bible study to prepare, and a marital counseling session to plan for on Thursday. I'm a busy guy, and stretched pretty thin. I'm just not interested in getting into another online argument with you on any topic. I don't have the time, the energy or (thus) the grace. If we could have coffee one day, I'm certain we'd get along well enough. But, I doubt that'll happen, so I'm asking you (as a favor) to ignore me from now on.

Take care, Rolland. May the Force be with you.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Paul Henebury's picture

People join churches for all sorts of reasons, many of them quite unbiblical; meaning that expository preaching and truth are often sacrificed for more pragmatic goals like locality, youth groups, friends etc.

People leave churches for many reasons too.  In my experience it is for more upbeat music or youth groups or friends.  Perhaps it's just me, but I have seldom come across people who leave over doctrine.  I have seen numerous folks leave over APPLIED doctrine (admonishment to live for God), or exposited doctrine (commending the Christian mind).  

I think Christians lie to themselves all the time about their motives.  They say they want to learn and grow but they put up with feel-good preaching and canned studies.  In fact, many of them equate these things with growth.  Call me a cynic, but there it is.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Bert Perry's picture

Just for the sake of discussion, let's contemplate the thought that Tyler (or whoever) actually was a newcomer, and noticed that the church constitution was fairly week on its Christology, but very explicit in terms off its eschatology--we'll leave dispensational distinctives out of it for a moment.  OK, assume we're using a basically literal/literary heremeneutic, but let's leave the debate "ecumenical" in a fundamental viewpoint for now.

Now I can go with the notion that,  had he been candidating, Tyler  might have done well to mention the weakness to the search committee.  Fair enough.  But let's assume he made a mistake (I do sometimes too) and missed that, got hired, and one late night while bored he read the church constitution realized that it doesn't say much about the Son.  Or the Father, or for that matter, not that much about the Trinity.  

Knowing that everything from Genesis 1 to ecclesiology to (ahem) eschatology hinges on, to some degree, the Godhead, and that a church constitution can be as much a teaching document as a governing document, how long do we really want to wait before broaching the subject with the deacons?  There are few more fundamental doctrines to get right, after all, than the nature of God, no?  And if you're reasonably confident in the spiritual maturity of the congregation--OK I concede that can be dangerous--why not move relatively quickly to affirm publicly what most of them would affirm privately?

It's worth noting here that what Tyler's doing is simply to get them caught up with the United Methodists in terms of this fundamental doctrine.  Count me as very glad that the relative "outsider" is helping this church overcome what appears to be a fairly weak Constitution.  It can have a lot to do with spiritual growth, used correctly. 

Darrell Post's picture

Here is why I once left a church:

The church I attended became bent on listening only to the young-restless-reformed and so the leaders made all sorts of changes in that direction. I am not young, I am not restless, and I am dispensational. Then the lead pastor laid down some solid principles on a given issue, and then months later one of the other pastors flagrantly violated those principles, and so I confronted him about it. He initially heard me and said he would re-consider it, then later told me he was free to do what he wanted in this area. So I set it up to speak to him again on it, bringing with me another leader in the church. Then the meeting was canceled, and he refused to meet with me. So I had no choice but to leave even though it was gut-wrenching, coming to the realization that in a large corporate-style church you are just a number, and they will cast you aside as easily as they would change to a cheaper brand of paper towels.   

Rolland McCune's picture

TYLER, For What It Is, or Isn't, Worth:

Thanks for your response. It was swift and unmistakably clear.

Your requests that I should "never communicate to [you] again," or to "ignore [you] completely from now on" are understood but leave me in a bit of a quandary. You sent me a pointed post alleging that I had "bad assumptions," "assume far too much," and made "rude comments" that completely occupied your thoughts for for an entire enforcement meeting. To these charges, apparently, I am not permitted to respond to you.  But I respectfully request that you make an exception at least in this one case.

It is true that I was unaware of your 2-year prior relationship with the church and thus didn't know the full context for my response. Whether or not the above charges indite me of wrong doing is quite debatable. It is not my practice to look into the backgrounds or to conduct investigations of my communicants, especially those I think I know from previous experience or reputation. You, on the other hand, are quite free to communicate with me as you may wish. I may or may not agree with your assertions, and give the reasons thereof, but that is the only game in town for such a forum as SI. This applies to all of us who participate. Unfortunately, these things come with the turf of biblical/theological/practical discussions; they come with the heat of the kitchen, as it were.

I am sorry for all the personal grief my SI comments have caused you through the years. Your assessment that we just don't/can't "click" (good double entendre!) is quite a bit short of the mark IMO. I would attribute it to the dynamics of a lively debate rather than a  skunk and lion fight. (You decide who is whom here! I don't think in those categories on theological topics on SI; politics? maybe.) It appears to me that your bi-vocational schedules are in constant competition with one another. I am surprised at your reaction here, since I have read some of your negative, if not withering, comments on SI, from which I myself has not been exempt. In that connection I am somewhat curious (astounded, maybe) that my "rude comments" dominated your mind for the duration of the ensuing enforcement meeting. My post on SI is marked Tuesday, 7/10/18, 4:39 pm. Your response back is marked Tuesday, 7/10/18, 4:43 pm. Four minutes seems not to fit the timeline here.  That time lapse is what I experienced here in Sarasota, FL. After posting I started to get ready for dinner being served at 5:00 pm. I barely got going until my wife declared, "you got something from Sharper Iron." It was your return post, and I was flabbergasted.

If my posts are deemed unfit for SI, I will gladly abstain and cancel my membership. That will have to be Aaron's call. SI is his railroad not ours.

No one has objected to my posts in the manner you have chosen, nor has anyone of my students done so in 42 years of teaching on the seminary level. I have graded thousands of exams, term papers and theses, and have participated in dozens of conferences, seminars, and in writing and defending at least three theses plus writing three volumes on systematic theology, one on the New Evangelicalism and a handbook on the Book of Daniel. "I know a thing or two because I've done a thing or two," quoth the Farmers insurance ad. I will ignore The Force benediction. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolland McCune

Jim's picture

PM Tyler if you wish to engage him. Keep it private between the two of you going forward. The PM system has the function where a recipient can selectively block messages if one wishes.

No need for you to quit S/I.

Thanks

Jim

How: