When To Stay, When To Go: A Cost-Benefits Analysis of Church Membership and Regular Attendance
The membership numbers of most of the Protestant denominations in the United States have been decreasing for a number of years. Much of the research studying this phenomenon has used demographic data and surveys of former members to understand reasons for leaving. This qualitative study uses a phenomenological perspective to understand the lived experience of eight former members of the Sunrise Mennonite Church. One former leader and three current church leaders from the Sunrise Mennonite Church were also interviewed for their perspective of the costs and benefits of church membership. The findings of this study were consistent with the literature across two main themes. First, a significant attraction and benefit of church membership is the support and fellowship experienced from close friendships within the church. Relationships as a whole are important, and negative interactions within the church can serve to damage one's satisfaction with a church as a whole. A second factor affecting church membership is the change experienced by church members and the change that occurs in the culture of the surrounding community. These changes lead to new and different preferences of the church members, and if these can not be incorporated into their churches, these members may leave their church.