Petty squabbles cause empty pews

Research suggests that people leave the Church because of trivial issues rather than religious doubts

It isn’t the big questions that stop people going to church — it is the little irritations, research has suggested.

Most churchgoers who abandon their weekly worship do so because they have had a dispute with a fellow member of the congregation.

A disagreement on a range of issues, from the way the organ is played to the content of the sermon, was the reason that nearly three quarters of respondents to a survey gave for why they felt people had left the Church.

The study, which surveyed more than 500 people about why they felt worshippers left, was conducted by Spring Harvest and Care for the Family, two Christian organisations, as research for a conference next February to help leaders to retain their congregations.

Attendance in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church has stabilised at about one million in each, but there has been a trend of decline in attendance since the 1960s, something that many churches are trying to reverse. This weekend the Manchester diocese is holding its second “Back to Church Sunday” in an attempt to win back churchgoers.

All have been encouraged to bring their friends to church. Last year more than 880 people returned as a result.

Rob Parsons, the author of Bringing Home the Prodigals, said that people who stopped going to church did so for the most trivial of reasons.

He said: “It is not big doctrinal issues. Typical arguments take place over types of buildings, styles of worship, youth work. If not that, then they argue over the flower rota.

“People often tell me they don’t feel the need to attend church any more, and I can understand why they may feel that way.”

Of those surveyed, more than half said that the style of church meetings had caused them to leave.

The survey found that people felt the Church was no longer a place where worshippers needed to dress smartly. Only 5 per cent said that it was important to dress smartly for church.

About 74 per cent of respondents thought that people had left the church because of disagreements with other church members while 40 per cent said that the church did not need to be more welcoming to non-Christians.

Nearly all the respondents to the research were regular churchgoers, and more than half of them had attended the same church for ten years or longer.


• Figures show that for the first time in four years, in 2003 attendance in the Church of England increased in England, by 12,000

• Attendance at Roman Catholic services in the Irish Republic has fallen so low that some priests end up preaching to a handful of elderly and children from Africa and Asia

• Churches are turning to crowd-pleasers such as football to attract worshippers. Euro 2004’s France-England match was shown by churches

• Church attendance in rural England has fallen by more than a third since 1989. Country churches are losing members at twice the rate of urban churches, a survey found

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Times Online, UK
Aug. 25, 2005
Ruth Gledhill

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 25, 2005.
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