When switching churches, Americans believe bigger isn’t always better


A story posted to the Christian Post web site today based on a study released Monday indicates Americans are likely to switch churches in their lifetime, a finding that reinforces other recent studies.

What’s interesting is it appears Americans are seeking different things in congregations when they switch. Although churches seem to continue trending toward more contemporary worship services, that’s not what is drawing everyone.

“The findings show a lot of individual change, but not a lot of broad trends,” said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research. “Most people go to a place of worship that’s a different size, but there’s no strong trend toward finding smaller congregations or larger ones. There’s also a lot of change in worship styles, but not a big overall trend toward going someplace more contemporary or more traditional.”

I can understand this. I’ve been part of some pretty large congregations. I’ve also been part of an extremely small congregation. Ssome of the congregations had traditional worship services. Some have been pretty contemporary. All were important to my spiritual development to this point.

I’ve said in other posts on this blog, I believe church size and worship style aren’t the most important things that attract people to congregations. The environment is. Show me a place where there is a community of open, honest and caring people, and I’ll show you a growing church. I don’t care how big it is or what kind of music it plays.

What do you think? I know I’m young and dumb. Have I oversimplified this as usual?

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4 Responses to “When switching churches, Americans believe bigger isn’t always better”

  1. David Says:


    You are neither young (no offense intended) nor dumb!

    Christian Schwarz’s “Natural Church Development” research (tens of thousands of congregations world-wide surveyed since the mid-90’s; http://www.ncd-international.org/public/) indicates that numerically growing churches everywhere always possess 8 characteristics to a certain degree of quality or higher (the initial research found no exceptions–to my knowledge, no exceptions have yet been found).

    The qualities are attention-getting and, for me, what is growth-producing. The congregations might presently be either fairly small or very large, but otherwise who’d want to stay away from a church which has . . . ?

    1. spirituality which is passionate individually;
    2. relationships which are loving practically;
    3. worship which is inspirational corporately;
    4. leadership which is empowering primarily;
    5. structures which are functional continually;
    6. small groups which are holistic relevantly;
    7. ministry which is gift-based consciously; and,
    8. evangelism which is need-oriented intentionally

    Schwarz’s focus is on the spiritual (not “spiritualistic” [plastic spirituality], nor “technocratic” [leaving out the Spirit to rely on methods]). It appears that his ministry’s research has been done right (valid, reliable), and the findings are worthy of churches’ careful consideration–unless we can afford financially to do research proving the contrary (not likely).

    Keep up the good work, Old Man!

  2. wackypreacher Says:

    As the pastor of a small traditional church. I am finding more and more are moving away from big contemporary churches and coming back to the traditional small churches and hymns. That is not to say that the contemporary churches are no longer relevant. It is just a trend I am seeing more and more. It seems especially true among those in the 40-50’s age range. That is where we are seeing people trend more toward the small traditional church. I like contemporary and traditional modes of worship and singing. They are both valid. Just wondering if people are falling back to the songs of their youth.

  3. Tim Dahl Says:


    If you are talking about the 40-50 somethings in particular, then yes I agree. I think they are falling back onto something familiar and comfortable. That doesn’t surprise me considering the hard times that people have been facing for the past 10+ years or so.


  4. Tim Dahl Says:

    …just wanted to clarify something.

    The reason that I mentioned that I agree with the idea of the 40-50 somethings coming back to a style of worship that is comfortable, and maybe even nostalgic… and not the 20-30 somethings is this:

    There is a good chance that any particular 20-30 year old person you meet won’t have any kind (or very little) of early church experience. I’ve come across many that just didn’t grow up in church. That being said, there wouldn’t be a common experience from which to draw one back to a service of any particular type.


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