State Missionary Kathleen Harris in Church Research Services contributed to this report.
Many church members feel they know why people leave the church, with many never to return.
Relationship changes are a big one … a marriage, divorce, or severance of a friendship that requires distance between the two people. Other reasons are career moves to another city, a change in pastoral leadership, or a change in worship style. And then there is the more disturbing reason: a growing sense of irrelevance.
What is lesser known is why people return after years of absence from the faith of their youth. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is embarking on a pursuit of that question and needs your help … or those of your friends who have returned.
The Board has launched a website where individuals can participate in an easy 25-item survey with primarily multiple choice questions. Only four of the questions ask for personal feedback in sentence form.
The new questionnaire is a follow up to a book published three years ago by Vice President Steve Parr and Board researcher Tom Crites titled Why They Stay. That book explored why some young people remain in church vs. the majority who leave, many never to return. In fact, only 20 percent of young adults who were active in church as teens are still active in church at age 29. And the trend spreads across all denominations, with only 16 percent of churches reporting a significant young adult population.
That first book dealt with those ages 18-24 which is the recognized range where a majority of people stop attending church … those years when they establish their independence and many go to college. What that study under their belt and having established what churches are doing right to keep youth engaged, the next step is to uncover ways churches can attract those who have strayed.
“Several respected studies are reporting a shift in church attendance with a slight increase of people who are actually returning,” Crites noted. “We want to explore that and provide information for churches to understand what they can learn from those individuals.
- For instance, a 45-year Longitudinal Study of Generations that began in 1970 by the University of Southern California, reported a significant rise in Baby Boomers’ return to church life in the last few years.
- In the latest wave of research published last month, 20 percent – or one in five of Boomers – have increased religious and church activity. That study was published by Thom Ranier, president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
So now that there is definitive proof that some individuals are returning to church. The question is why?
Initial response to the Board’s questionnaire has been promising and the survey should be completed by the end of the year. Crites said the exercise could be completed in 10 minutes and all answers are confidential and will not be shared.
The age demographic being targeted is individuals between the ages of 25 and 55 who left and have now returned.
“We think this will be valuable information for churches as well as those parents and grandparents who are concerned about family members who are no longer active.”
The book, which will be drawn from the responses, will focus on what the church can do to attract those who left … and, when they return, how is the best way to welcome them? Some persons prefer to return at their own pace without fanfare while others enjoy the attention of returning home. Each case is different and a congregation needs to recognize the situation, he added.
Much has been written about what motivated the Boomer generation: money, status, power, and materialism. God was far down the list, if He showed up at all. Some speculate that an interest in religious matters is a natural part of the life cycle as individuals begin to age and ask questions of what lies beyond the grave.
Crites wants to hear from those of all faiths and not limit the response to Baptists. To participate in the survey and enter a chance to receive a $100 Amazon gift card, click here. Only four months remain to complete the survey or forward it to a friend to complete.