The results of a recent survey may surprise many pastors and worship leaders across the country.
Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or even a different preacher, but they’ll choose to leave a church if the foundational beliefs are tampered with, according to a new study from Lifeway Research.
This is important for pastors who may be trying to reach people through music, programs or style — rather than through the substance of the Gospel.
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“It is crucial that American churches return to the core of the Gospel — the true focus of who and what the church should be,” said Sam Rohrer, president of the Pennsylvania-based American Pastors Network, in a statement shared with LifeZette. “Today’s pastors can get caught up in the style of music, programs offered, the environment, and even how leaders dress. While these things may deserve some attention, they should not be the focus.”
He added, “The foundation of the church must be its theological position and how strongly it is rooted in the Word of God. Rightfully so, the people in the pews realize this.”
The new survey found that most of the practicing faithful are committed to staying at their current church for the long haul. Yet more than half the respondents (54 percent) said they would strongly consider leaving if their churches’ core beliefs or doctrine changed.
For the most part, churchgoers say they agree with their churches’ teaching. About half (52 percent) say their beliefs are completely aligned with those of the church, while 42 percent say their beliefs are mostly aligned.
“We see many churches today wrestling with what should be foundational beliefs for any church, such as God’s definition of marriage, his design for sexuality and gender, and many other cultural and societal issues,” Rohrer added in a statement. “While churches must maintain biblical positions on these matters and address them from the pulpit, it is a grave mistake for them to change their foundational beliefs in order to welcome more people, appease more members or otherwise engage the culture.”
Overall, 15 percent of churchgoers say they’ve considered going to another church in the past six months.
Of the 1,000-plus people surveyed, 35 percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years, and 27 percent have been there for 25 years or more — so most church members have been at their church longer than the pastor.
Just under 40 percent have been at their current church for nine years or fewer.
Overall, 15 percent of churchgoers say they’ve considered going to another church in the past six months. Eighty-five percent say they have not.
Besides a change in doctrine, churchgoers say several other reasons might cause them to switch:
- 48 percent say they would change if they moved to a new home
- 19 percent if the preaching style changed
- 12 percent if the pastor left
- 10 percent if a family member wanted a new church
- 9 percent would leave over politics
- 6 percent would leave if they didn’t feel needed
- 5 percent if the music style changed
- 4 percent if they had a conflict
- 3 percent if a friend stopped attending
Sam Rohrer told LifeZette on Thursday, “When the church walks away from defined standards of morality, right and wrong, and unchanging truth, the culture will follow and the next generation will become aimless, without purpose and hope, while governmental authority becomes harsh and heavy-handed. This is what we’re seeing today in our culture.”
He added, “Yet the opposite is also true. When the church proclaims the truth, exalts God’s standard for morality and right and wrong, and recognizes Jesus Christ as both creator and judge as well as savior and redeemer, hope and purpose is restored; aimlessness becomes direction, and the next generation will return. As Jesus Himself said, ‘And ye shall know the Truth (Jesus) and the Truth shall set you free.’ The pulpit has always led the way in this nation — toward either freedom by the loving yet uncompromising proclamation of the truth of Scripture.”
The American Pastors Network is the largest national network dedicated to equipping pastors to be “a voice for truth in the public square,” as the group states.