26 January 2008

Reasons for Giving Up Church-going

This week, both The Methodist Recorder[1] and The Church Times[2] contained articles about a study done by Leslie Francis and Philip Richter on the reasons that British people have given for giving up on church-going. It was infuriatingly frustrating that The Methodist Recorder only reported the existence of the study and gave no indication of its contents.

The reasons cited for leaving add up to more than 100% presumably because individuals were allowed to give more than one reason. The top reason given by a 'high proportion' of church-leavers was 'Church irrelevant'

The second most important reason given for leaving - cited by half of church leavers - won't be surprising to anyone who goes to church but it is rarely cited by people ranting about church decline: about half the church-leavers said they gave up going to church because they were excluded by cliques.

Social exclusion was one of the most important reason people gave up church-going! What a challenge to all congregations. Exclusion is so easily done.

Other reasons included:
  • Churchgoing was part of growing up (40%)
  • Moving to a new area and family commitments (33%)
  • Tensions with work (25%)
  • Church was too feminine for some men, and too difficult for those sexually active outside marriage.
  • Inadequate return for time and money (40%)
  • Disillusionment
  • Hurt by pastoral failure (14%)
  • Disliked change - e.g. of hymns (20%)
  • Worship too formal/informal and teaching too high/low (33%)
  • Church leader too authoritarian (RC) or too unclear (Anglicans) (25%)
  • Church was too conservative (20% to 33%)
  • Lack of boundaries between the Church and the world (25%)
The authors suggest that churches need to 'multiplex' - to meet different needs, but people need to work together.

I wonder where this leaves small churches?

The study is called Gone for Good and is published by Epworth Press. Cost is £19.99.

[1] Does not carry the article online.
[2] Article online for subscribers only.

5 comments:

Doorman-Priest said...

There is another category and it applies particularly to small churches. People leave when they die.

PamBG said...

Er, yes. :-)

Not strictly certain that 'leaving church because of having left this life' counts, though. But I see what you mean. Quite vividly most years, actually.

What I meant was that multi-plex church sounds great, but small churches can't 'multi-plex'. In a small church people have to 'put up' with a non-preferred approach at least some of the time.

Anyway, I've ordered the book and will be interested to see what it says.

Cecilia said...

Pam, though this was a study of churches in England, I believe the results hold true here across the pond as well. I find particularly frustrating reason number 1, of course. But some of the others are almost funny... too high/low! too formal/ informal! Well, now everything's much clearer!

Pax, C.

PamBG said...

Pam, though this was a study of churches in England, I believe the results hold true here across the pond as well.

It could well be. Church-leaving is one area where we in the UK are in advance of the US and it's probably well worth heeding from a US perspective as well, although I think cultural interpretations are still necessary.

I find particularly frustrating reason number 1, of course.

Me too. The statement 'Church isn't relevent' is frustrating and I'll bet different people mean different things by it. I'm sometimes suspicious it means 'I've bought into the values of wider society'. In which case church is most certainly not 'relevent'.

But some of the others are almost funny... too high/low! too formal/ informal! Well, now everything's much clearer!

To me, that says, 'I want things my way.'

We've just done church reviews in my churches and the results for one church were quite interesting: the majority like the rather 'informal' worship that has been in place for awhile, but the minority who don't like it were very adamant, writing in capitals and exclamation marks. All belong to the same small fellowship (40 members); we don't have the people-power to 'multi-plex' and I try to do worship in a variety of ways and to do worship in a traditional manner some of the time. Having grown up Lutheran, my personal tendencies are more liturgical anyway - but still this minority seems to feel quite unheard and excluded. It's a difficult one.

Lisa said...

Here in the U.S. I tend to see that the common reason for people leaving churches is because of "fallen" leaders that refuse to acknowledge their adultery and/or divorces but rather continue to pastor in the pulpit and preach to others about how they should be living. We have seen an increase of trouble in the pulpit in the last several years. Not that it wasn't going on all along but now it is far more visible.

Secondly, I find that there is a decrease in church attendance at times because people are searching and seeking for REAL CHURCH! They want a place that lifts up the Name of the Lord and teaches the Word of God in TRUTH and helps people to apply it to their lives in practical ways rather than the bloviating and sensationalism and "money cometh" mentality you hear today.

This has created the increase in "home churches", etc. as people desire a more intimate form of worship, fellowship and teaching.

Church is of course relevant and necessary but I have often said that if people don't understand the messenger they won't understand the message. Make sense? I'm trying to keep my comments short (smile) so I hope I'm including enough to be clear.

Bless you all.