Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tossing Church Loyalty Aside Like Toilet Paper?

"Protestant churchgoers are no more loyal to their church denomination than they are to brands of toothpaste or bathroom tissue."

—From an Ellison Research press release announcing its most recent survey, which found that 7 out of 10 regular churchgoers would be at least somewhat open to switching denominations if they could no longer attend their current church.

Holly sez:
It bugs me that Ellison sent out a press release implying that churchgoers lack loyalty. And I find it insulting that church loyalty is compared to single-use items like toothpaste and toilet paper: things we spit out and that have, ahem, the lowest value.

I can hear the Ellison PR rep now, "Holly, that's not what we're saying! We simply publicized our survey by using colorful language—surely you understand that we needed a punchy comparison to get our study noticed."

Well, you got me, Ellison Research, I read your press release. And I was baffled as to why your organization included this unrelated quote from organizational psychologist Rensis Likert on the webpage with the press release: "The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals." Huh? I thought this question was on the hypothetical: If I couldn't attend my current church, would I go somewhere else? How does that question measure my loyalty to "the group" (AKA my current church)?

And is it truly disloyal to attend a Baptist church if one was raised Lutheran? Here's the reality: Protestant denominations have the same core values (Jesus, the Trinity, the resurrection, universal sinfulness), with trifling differences (e.g. Should our church have a band, an organist, or just vocalists? Should we meet on Saturday or Sunday? Are church members allowed to play card games?).

The "group," in my opinion, shouldn't be a denomination, but rather the church at large. AKA the body of Christ. If I couldn't attend my current church, I'd be willing to attend just about anywhere where parishioners recognize Jesus as the Son of God.

My loyalty is first to God. I believe I can obey God wherever I happen to attend.

I think the more important question to ask about church loyalty is: Are you willing to stick with your current church through thick and thin? Are you committed to building community there, even when it hurts?

It can be difficult and painful to attend the same church week after week because churches are filled with flawed, broken people. And, let's face it: Flawed, broken people can be incredibly irritating to be around.

Further, as we get closer to our church families, others see our flaws and brokenness. There are many weeks when I long to be unknown—to sit in the back row of a church where I'm an anonymous visitor who can slip out unnoticed. Why? Because if I was an unknown, there wouldn't be anyone calling me to be accountable. There wouldn't be anyone pushing me to grow spiritually. There wouldn't be anyone pointing out my flaws, telling me that God wants me to surrender my anger, impatience, and selfishness.

The closer we get to other Christians, the more we see the ugliness in ourselves. And that's a good thing.

The study I'd like to see is: How long have folks attended their current churches? Why did they leave their last church? How much church hopping is really going on? Similarly, I'd like to see one on: How much emphasis do churches put on membership? Are church leaders discussing the importance of being in community? Are we supporting the frustrated folks who want to leave?

To ponder:
1) How loyal are you to your church?

2) Do you sometimes want to leave your church, or go somewhere else for a while? What are your reasons for this? What are your reasons for staying?

3) Do you think it's important to stick with a church? Why or why not?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your most recent post on the survey about church loyalty. I agreed with your points. I am increasingly convinced that the North American church is in trouble because people who “attend” church have little or no clue about a proper theology of the church. I am beginning to wonder how many pastors and church leaders have a good grasp of biblical ecclesiology (theology of the church). If they do, many have abandoned it in favor of a more pragmatic approach to church growth. Church leaders experience pressure on all sides to create a church product that attracts and satisfies the church consumer. Worship is abandoned in favor of inspirational entertainment. Altars are traded for theatre lights, big screens, and even latte bars. The type of koinonia (Christian fellowship) we read of in the New Testament is exchanged for interest groups and programs. Marketing replaces mission. Spoiled church consumers feel free to move from church to church in the search of just the right one to “attend.” Church goers feel that as long as they are attending a church service on a semi-regular basis and perhaps even getting involved in some other aspect of the church, that they are indeed a part of God’s Church. I would beg to differ. As long as church leaders are content with marketing people into their churches and programs things will not change much. It is time for the Church in America to rediscover what it means to be the Church.