WHY ARE EVANGELICALS DESERTING THEIR CHURCHES
TO JOIN OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS OR
TO STOP PARTICIPATING IN ANY RELIGIOUS GROUP
IN LATIN AMERICA?
Compiled by Dr. Clifton L. Holland
Director of PROLADES
5 September 2002
Principal reasons given by ex-Evangelicals in a control group of 17 people on 18 August 1989 in the offices of CID-Gallup in Costa Rica:
- Lack of transparency in the financial administration of the church.
- Unethical conduct of some pastors (lying, cheating, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc.).
- Excessive noise, both musical and vocal, produced by some churches.
- Mandatory contribution of tithes and offerings.
Potential causes of desertion uncovered in a fieldwork investigation done by 15 seminary students in Costa Rica as part of a course on Christian Ministry, taught by the Rev. Rafael Baltodano, at ESEPA during May-August, 1991 (the responses are not any special order):
- Internal divisions in the congregation.
- Change of residency.
- Transportation problems.
- Failure to subject oneself to discipline imposed by church elders.
- Arguments among or with other members.
- Disagreements or conflicts with the pastor.
- Bad testimony of the pastor and/or other members of the congregation.
- Favoritism by the pastor towards certain leaders.
- Lack of participation in the congregation.
- Exaggerated denominationalism.
- Lack of transparency in the management of church finances.
- Lack of good spiritual nourishment.
- Nepotism (domination by members of the same family or families)
- Abuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- Exaggerated legalism or liberalism.
- Disorder and loud noise in the worship services�sound system too high!
- Excessive �spiritualization of life�
- Lack of concern for social needs.
Reasons articulated in a paper on �Evangelical Desertion in Costa Rica,� dated July 1992, in IINDEF as part of a series of conferences on �In search of the wayward sheep�:
- Lack of pastoral care for those in need.
- Lack of teaching on the essentials of the Faith�discipleship.
- Lack of healthy relationships in the church (misuse of funds, bad testimony of some pastors, competition among leaders, conflicts between members, pride, and gossip).
- Legalism and prohibitions: �TV, use of slacks and makeup by women, etc.
- Lack of meaningful things to do other than attend worship services.
- Repetitive sins among some church members and pastors.
- Families divided by religious affiliation (mixed marriages of Catholics and Evangelicals) and resulting social pressures.
- Failure to forgive offenses.
- Desire for dramatic experiences:� speaking in tongues, prophesy, dreams and visions, etc.
- Intellectual misgivings:� science and faith, supernatural signs and gifts, politics and ideology, other religions, etc.
- Informality in the worship services or a great deal of formality in others.
Based on a 1978 Gallup Poll in the USA, the reasons given for dropping out of Catholic and Protestant churches were as follows:
*Table ranked by Protestant Responses
A recent public opinion poll in Costa Rica (November 2001), conducted by Demoscop�a, revealed that 17.6% of Costa Ricans (all religions) had abandoned their churches for a variety of reasons during the past generation (14.7% were Catholics and 2.9% were Evangelicals):� � Deception (43%)� Try something new (11.7%)� To follow the Truth (11.2%)� Because they experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives (8.9%)� Learned to study the Bible (3.3%)� Their previous religion was corrupt (3.3%)� Attracted to a new form of worship (2.8%)� For convenience (1.9%)� The old religion was too strict (1.9%)� The old religion was too materialistic (0.9%).
6. According to Demoscop�a (November 2001), the frequency of church attendance by Evangelicals in Costa Rica was as follows:
� Several times a week (52.8%)� Once a week (16.5%)� Several times a month (11.0%)� A few times a year or hardly ever (14.2%)� Never (5.5%)
NOTE:� this means that about 20% of those who call themselves Evangelicals are �inactive� or �nominal� in terms of their level of religiosity.
7. What can be done about these problems so that people do not abandon their church?
- Do a better job of training pastors and Christian workers in formal programs of theological education (Bible institutes, seminaries, Christian universities) to serve the people in their congregations and to reach out to people in their communities.
- Provide continuing education for pastors and Christian leaders (nonformal education) to help improve the quality of their effectiveness in ministry.
- Encourage active participation in pastoral associations where these kinds of problems are discussed and solutions are proposed.
- Provide special training for pastors and Christian workers to care for people who are at risk for desertion (university students, those divorced or separated, those who marry outside the faith, families in crisis, those who have stopped attending because of conflicts with others, those who attend infrequently, those with psychological maladjustments, those who have had moral failures or trouble with the law, etc.).
- Give special attention to those who have deserted the church:� seek to find and care for the lost sheep who have gone astray.
- Provide better discipleship training for new converts and young people (pre- and post-baptismal care).
- Provide better preparation of leaders in the area of pastoral and family counseling.
- Give more attention to the needs of those who are suffering physical and emotional pain, separation from loved ones, death in the family, financial loss, anxiety, conflicts with family members, and other emotional problems.
- Develop greater sensitivity to the concerns and needs of members of the congregation.
- Train and mobilize church members for greater involvement in ministry programs through the local congregation and service agencies.
- Develop an active program of visitation to care for the sick, the elderly, widows, orphans, foreign immigrants, internal migrants, and others with special needs.
- Reach out to people who move into the community and make them feel welcome and cared for in your congregation.
8. Reasons given by Protestant respondents in a USA survey conducted by Edward Rauff in 1979, regarding why they came back to church after an absence of at least five years:
- A desire to strengthen the family or create family unity.
- The inspiration or influence of other persons who were religious and witnessed to them, either silently or verbally.
- The loving fellowship of church groups that the interviewees visited and liked.
- The effect of personal crisis that unsettled their lives (�The church filled a sense of emptiness in my life.�)
- The experience of visiting churches on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, visits to friends, or musical programs.
9. Where do new members come from (based on Lyle Schaller, 1978, in Hoge, 1981):
� Brought by a friend or relative, 60-90%� Response to visitation-evangelism, 10-25%� Pastoral ministry, 10-20%� Come because of program, 4-10%� Walk in on their own initiative, 3-8%� Sunday School, 3-6%
SOURCES: 1.� Report on a control group of 17 people who were interviewed on 18 August 1989 in the offices of CID-Gallup in Costa Rica.2.� Report on a fieldwork investigation done by 15 seminary students in Costa Rica as part of a course on Christian Ministry, taught by the Rev. Rafael Baltodano at ESEPA during May-August, 1991.3.� Document on �Evangelical Desertion in Costa Rica,� dated July 1992; part of a series of conferences on �In search of the wayward sheep� held at IINDEF.4.� Results of a 1978 Gallup Poll in the USA on desertion by Catholics and Protestants.5.� Results of a survey conducted by Edward Rauff in 1979, Why People Join the Church (Washington, DC: The Pilgrim Press, 1979).6.� Dean R. Hoge, Converts, Dropouts and Returnees:� A Study of Religious Change Among Catholics (Washington, DC: The Pilgrim Press, 1981).