Church Membership Is Falling as Church Hopping Gains Popularity, Barna's State of the Church Report Finds

Mikaela Mathews | ChristianHeadlines.com Contributor | Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Church Membership Is Falling as Church Hopping Gains Popularity, Barna's State of the Church Report Finds

Church Membership Is Falling as Church Hopping Gains Popularity, Barna's State of the Church Report Finds


New research by the Barna Group shows that practicing Christians and churched adults believe in the value of church and its positive impact on society, but a growing group of them aren’t likely to settle down with one congregation.

In the most comprehensive look at the State of the Church, this 2020 study found five trends amongst practicing Christians and churched adults in the US.

“Church Hopping” Is on the Rise

Although a majority of churchgoers attend the same church every Sunday, a growing number of them have started “church hopping.”

“… [A] sizable minority is at least occasionally attending other churches, including nearly two in five churched adults (38 percent) and one-quarter of practicing Christians (27 percent),” the report said.

Only a slim number of participants in the study responded that they divide their attendance between two or more different churches.

A majority of churchgoers value attending church

Over 60 percent of churched adults responded that they enjoyed attending church. Among practicing Christians, only nine percent attend because they “have to” and another nine percent out of habit. Over 80 percent of practicing Christians enjoy church.

“Those who frequent worship services do so largely because of personal enjoyment, but many churchgoers also readily admit that they believe people are tired of church as usual,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna.

About half of the participants said that though they are not fatigued by the rhythm of services, people they know are tired of church. This number didn’t fluctuate across denominations, generations, or faith segments.

Churchgoers Experience Positive Emotions at Church

Churched adults say their time at church makes them feel “inspired (37 percent), encouraged (37 percent), forgiven (34 percent), as though they have connected with God or experienced His presence (33 percent) and challenged to change something in their life (26 percent) every time.”

Nonetheless, 32 percent of them also said that they felt disappointed by the experience about half of the time and 40 percent said they leave church feeling guilty.

“We must emphasize the reality that, week in and week out, today’s church leaders are tasked with meeting a diverse set of emotional expectations,” Kinnaman said.

Membership Still Matters to Many Churchgoers, Though it’s Declining in the Younger Generation

Barely over half of churchgoers who attend church at least every six months are members of their church. One in three said they regularly attend but are not members. Practicing Christians, however, showed a stronger commitment with 71 percent claiming membership.

These numbers didn’t differentiate across denominations. However, boomers are far more likely than both Gen X and Millennials to become members of their churches. For some in the younger generation, the question of membership was irrelevant as their church does not offer it.

“Americans aren’t joining much of anything these days and church membership is not as compelling as it once was,” said Kinnaman. “In a world of untethered commitments and free-for-all content, the positive correlations of church membership should not be overlooked. The form of membership may be undergoing change, but the function of generating a mutually committed group of people is still highly relevant to today’s Americans.”

Practicing Christians Believe Churches have a Valuable Impact on Their Community

Over 60 percent of practicing Christians responded that their church impacts their community positively. However, Christian Millennials aren’t as sure. About 25 percent of them agree with the rest of non-Christians that the Church is irrelevant.

Barna also found that one in 10 Americans believe the Church is inconsequential to society.

Approximately 10 percent of them also believe that the Church is hurting our country.

For more information or to see more results, visit the State of the 2020 Church Study here.

Photo courtesy: ©Sparrow Stock


Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.