News and Observer: Why do People Choose the Parish Where they Worship?

As brand loyalty to everything from detergents to cell phone carriers is dwindling, so too is loyalty to a denomination that may have nurtured and formed successive generations in a particular faith tradition.

“People tend to go churches that meet their needs before they ever look at the name on the sign,” said Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

One reason for this switching is that people choose congregations for many reasons, not all of them spiritual. In many cases, they are practical.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

10 comments on “News and Observer: Why do People Choose the Parish Where they Worship?

  1. Catholic Mom says:

    On of my favorite cartoons — one church-shopping spouse to the other: “I liked the Lutherans. They have raquetball.”

  2. stjohnsrector says:

    The Son of Man came not to be ministered to but to minister – and we are to be like Him. Those who come to church for the perks and bells and whistles will never deeply commit to it and will walk away as soon as they are bored or someone else does something fancier. Ends up not being about Jesus.

  3. Fr. Dale says:

    1. It’s odd the author did not mention proximity. Even if you stay with a particular denomination, you will probably go to the nearest church in that denomination.
    2. [blockquote]in several instances only one of the spouses is joining; the other will continue to practice his or her faith as part of another congregation or no congregation.[/blockquote] This is not good for a marriage. My wife wanted more of a female role in church decision so WELS was out and I insisted on holding on to the liturgy so Church of the Bretheran was out. We are Anglican and our shared life in the denomination has strengthened our marriage.

  4. David Hein says:

    No. 2: I hear ya, but on this one the people in the pew may be ahead of the professional representatives of particular denominations. The clergy may have an institutional investment in trying to maintain a sense among the faithful of significant brand difference. But many ordinary pewsitters may be starting to realize that the distinguishing “bells and whistles” are in fact not what really matter; they may be focusing more on the essentials and thereby coming to understand that denominations make more of differentiae than may be warranted.

    For example, what might someone looking at the recent (and current) Anglican/Episcopal mess make of our much-vaunted “apostolic succession”? They might wonder: What really is “apostolic succession”? And has this church lived up to it in the ways that really matter?

    Or: what might the well-intentioned church shopper make of the endless internecine warfare in the Episcopal denomination in the USA? What would they make of TEC’s supposed identity as an “Anglican” church? These have always been distinguishing characteristics, but what, they might say, would really be lost by joining with another outfit? And what gained?

    American religion is characterized by voluntarism. These people in the pews are all volunteers. It might be a good idea for the clergy to look at things from their point of view, to refuse to talk down to them–in short, to realize that people in glass houses etc.

  5. CofS says:

    No. 2, I hope they won’t walk away before they meet the One they are really looking for. We must pray they hear and receive the gospel.
    Also, the woman joining was raised with no faith and is being baptized. That’s huge! She’s letting in the Trinity and anything is possible now! Alleluia!

  6. Lutheran-MS says:

    My wife and I were ELCA Lutherans until we moved from the east coast to the west coast where we became members of a traditional confessional parish (no praise bands here) in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. My wife loves this church even though the women don’t have a vote in the voter’s assembly or serve as elders. This church takes the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions seriously.

  7. Tom Pumphrey (2) says:

    One challenge faced by many small churches, is how does a church develop from a base of newcomers concerned about “practical services” more than God? This can work if there is an existing culture solidly committed to God that can disciple the newcomers, but in many churches, the focus becomes the clubby ammenities, and the shift to God-first never takes place. Especially in small churches where leadership is sparse, today’s uncommitted are tomorrow’s leaders (or sometimes this afternoon’s leaders, so to speak).

    There is a chicken and egg issue here: do we develop the core group first and then evangelize? Or does that approach create an inward-looking group where evangelism is not integral to its identity? Or do we evangelize first, risking creating leadership that thinks more like a club than a Christian Community?

    Ideally, you start with a large enough core group of folks that are highly committed. That ideal seems hard to come by–the possible exception being church planting teams. Starting more or less from scratch is different from redeveloping an existing culture.

  8. libraryjim says:

    We chose the church we now attend on two ideals:

    Sacramental theology
    Biblical foundations

    So far, I have no doubt we made the right choice.

    actually, there was a third:

    choir choice of appropriate music. I’m still not all that happy with the choices at the Contemporary service, but I’m not UNhappy, either. Nothing the occasional use of a set of Bagpipes couldn’t fix, however.

  9. rob k says:

    No. 8 – I’d say” Sacramental reality” even above “Sacramental theology”.

  10. Fr. Dale says:

    #8. libraryjim,
    [blockquote]Nothing the occasional use of a set of Bagpipes couldn’t fix, however.[/blockquote]
    You will probably not get any arguments from Martial Artist, robroy or me on this but that may have something to do with our heritage.