When it comes to members of the flock choosing to stay or leave their congregations, it's usually not due to the style of music or a new preacher. According to a recent survey, most people who attend church regularly base that decision on doctrine and theology.
Singing contemporary worship songs at church may cause some members to long for the "good old days" when traditional hymns were the norm. Conversely, sticking to the traditional music may cause some to wonder when their church is going to move into the 21st century. But according to research from LifeWay Research, people probably aren't going to leave their church over the issue of "worship style."
In a survey that allowed respondents to select all that apply, only five percent of churchgoers would leave their house of worship over the music; nine percent if they felt out of step with the church's political views; and 12 percent if the senior pastor left. But a full 54 percent of those who attend church regularly would consider changing churches if it changed its doctrine. (See chart)
Christian apologist and lecturer Dr. Alex McFarland says people pick churches because of the content they get, what they learn – and its personal impact.
"What people are hungry for is less about music, aesthetics, what's hip, what's cool," he offers. "People want timeless truth that will shape their life. Is it biblical? Am I learning? Is it content that will impact and shape and change my life?" he suggests as questions parishioners ask when deciding where to attend. But change the theology and people are more likely to leave, he adds.
As for what makes them stay? McFarland contends it's not the theology, but the people.
"Often times what keeps people in a church ... are relationships," he states. "The challenge is that even when some denominations turn liberal and become less than biblical ... even when the denominations become horribly unbiblical, people will often stay."
Still, according to LifeWay Research, at any given church about 15 percent of the congregation is thinking about leaving.