'Church Switchers': More US Christians Are Hungry for 'Authenticity in the Community'
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Most Christians will change churches at some point in their life and research shows it's happening more often than it used to. In a recent Lifeway Research survey, 60 percent indicated a physical move as the main reason for their change. The other 40 percent gave a variety of different answers.
The Lifeway study shows most churchgoers in the United States don't often switch churches but sometimes it's necessary, whether it's moving to a new neighborhood or city or some other reason.
"After churches opened back up, we of course went back to church and I just began to feel like really, I needed something more," Heather Edwards said in an interview with CBN News.
She and her husband, Norm, live in northern Virginia and say they began to feel a disconnect attending a big church in Washington, D.C.
"I saw this at the church where we were on staff and I see it at other larger churches where you literally can walk in, walk past everybody, and there's the good, 'Hey welcome home, good morning.' There's a lot of that," explained Norm. "And it's kind and it's nice and the intentions are good but you literally can go to your seat, not get to talk to anybody, go through the very professional, very well-buttoned-up service, both worship and message, and then there's a prayer and you walk out and file out and they say, 'Thanks for coming' and you really haven't talked to anybody and you just go straight home and that's it."
After the pandemic, they wanted more community and something smaller. They also wanted sermons with deeper spiritual meaning, and not quite as topical.
Lifeway's study shows 40 percent of "church switchers" are like Heather and Norm and change for reasons other than moving locations.
Of this group, researchers found three major takeaways. Either something changed about the church they didn't like, the church wasn't fulfilling their needs, or respondents became disenchanted with the pastor or church.
"When we dug into the reasons behind that disenchantment, what we find is some of the accusations that we've heard in other settings, that the church was judgmental, the church was hypocritical, sometimes pointing at the pastor not being a good preacher," explained Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
McConnell says the data reveals an opportunity for churches to think about their approach and be more outward-focused.
Alex Young pastors Crossroads Presbyterian in northern Virginia. He says it usually comes down to the following three categories:
* The first is "drift," or people leaving a church that no longer follows the Bible.
* Others leave out of "disinterest," or because they no longer believe.
* "Disagreement," or people leaving one church for another, is the final and he says most common category.
"All Christians I think hold those same core beliefs in common, but on these secondary issues, there's disagreement," he told CBN News.
Those issues include things like baptism, church government, interpretation of certain scriptures, and others.
Heather and Norm now attend a smaller church in northern Virginia that they say is a great fit.
"I think church is about community. It's about doing this life together. So, we're encouraging each other, holding each other accountable. We're there for each other and we didn't really have that in that bigger setting," said Norm. "And it certainly is not as polished or professional but that's not really what matters to us. It's the authenticity in the community."
McConnell says that's the bottom line. As Christians, we should all find the church that's right for us and where we feel we can best walk with Him and grow in our faith.
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