Monday, July 29, 2013

What keeps people in church, what sends them away

I came upon the following information after following a link at Mark Shea's site. While the author was using this data to make a larger point about trends in the Church of England, I wanted to look more closely at this information. (I'm assuming it's valid; feel free to critique the data itself--which appears to come from this book--as well as my arguments.)

First: People choose and attend church for a variety of reasons: 1. 90% – Pastor/Preaching
2. 88% – Doctrines
3. 49% – Friendliness of Members
4. 42% – Other Issues
5. 41% – Someone Church Witnessed to Me
6. 38% – Family Member
7. 37% – Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
8. 25% – Relationship Other than Family Member
9. 25% – Sunday School Class
10. 25% – Children’s/Youth Ministry
11. 12% – Other Groups/Ministries
12. 11% – Worship Style/Music
13. 7% – Location

According to the summary information on the book at, this data comes from surveys of people who were unchurched, but have recently returned to church. I can't tell from the information at Amazon whether Catholic parishes were included; even if they were, the data must still skew heavily toward Protestant, and specifically Evangelical, congregations--if not, as I suspect, almost entirely based on the latter groups. As I go along, I'll highlight where I think that makes a difference.

Then there's this:

Why people leave church:

1. The church was not helping me to develop spiritually. (28%)
2. I did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work (20%)
3. Church members were judgmental of others (18%)
4. pastor was not a good preacher (16%)
5. Too many changes (16%)
6. Members seemed hypocritical (15%)
7. Church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work (14%)
8. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement (14%)
9. Pastor was judgmental of others (14%)
10. Pastor seemed hypocritical (13%)
(LifeWay Research)

So let's look at this.

How much of this do you think applies to Catholic parishes?


Ellen said...

I think that this totally applies to Catholic parishes. I can attest to that.

Right now, my husband and I are attending different parishes to decide if we want to stay where we are or to change.

Our parish has two priests, neither of which can preach. The parish is the result of a merger about six years ago. We were promised by the new pastor that there would be equality after the merger. It's been far from that. Probably 75% of the people from the parish I belonged to before the merger have left the parish.

Of all the reasons that people would leave that are listed, I think about 80% apply to our decision to start looking around.

truthfinder2 said...

As a convert, to me the Eucharist is the primary reason I stay. If the Mass is done in a reverent manner, and the Eucharist is central, as is proper, then preaching is (at best) secondary for me. I spent too long as a Protestant, where the preaching was the focal point of the service, followed by music, followed by "fellowship". Having said all that, we have had some recent changes at our parish, and most of the music now is Haugen, Haas, etc. I have to "offer it up" on a weekly basis. The new priest's homilies have been excellent, however. (I'm buying some earplugs to use during most of the "hymns".)

Catholic Coffee said...

I agree with truthfinder. I don't actually "belong" to any parish - I go to whichever church has Mass at a convenient time. If the Blessed Sacrament is there, the Lord is there and I can meet Him in Holy Communion - this is what matters. I can sometimes carry the words of a homily with me all week and music can be helpful - but the main thing is receiving Him. I think, Fr., that the survey you quoted applies more to protestant churches, none of which has the Real Presence and so things like music and preaching and the friendliness of people become important (for lack of anything else more important). Although I must admit that location does matter to some extent - I am less likely to go to a church where you can't park and have to use public transport (expensive and scarce in my part of the world).

gramps said...

I think it depends on where you are in your spiritual journey in life. At one point it was important for me to have a good sermon that hit me where I was in life. As I grew closer to Christ, it was more important for me to have mass that was reverent and Eucharistic centered and the sermon mattered less. I have come to believe that the Church teaching for the sermon to talk about what is actually in the gospel readings makes a lot of sense as it pulls the mass together.

RAnn said...

I think it depends on what question you are asking. If you are asking why I go to St. A's rather than St. B's, or why I stopped going to St. C's and switched to St. D's, I think they are reasonably accurate. As far as why people don't go, or quit going, it is because for whatever reason, it isn't worth their time--they don't believe, they don't feel anything when they go, they feel no connection with the people or staff, they are miserable (because of the homily and/or music) while they are there.