Protestant churchgoers are no more loyal to their denomination than they are to brands of toothpaste or bathroom tissue, reports one research firm.
Results from the latest Ellison Research survey, released Monday, show that 16 percent of Protestants are exclusively loyal to their denomination and will only consider attending a church within their current denomination if they were placed in a situation where they had to leave their current church.
The rest are open to considering other denominations. Fifty-one percent said they prefer one denomination but are open to others and 33 percent said they do not have any preference for one specific denomination.
Ellison Research found similar levels of loyalty among churchgoers to other products and services. Twenty-two percent said they are exclusively loyal to one brand of toothpaste and 64 percent expressed a brand preference (while also considering other brands); 19 percent will only consider one brand of bathroom tissue and 59 percent said they prefer one brand but are open to others; and 16 percent said they are loyal to one brand of pain relievers with 57 percent expressing preference for one brand but also considering other kinds.
Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, believes many Protestants are open to other denominations because there are many groups under the Protestant faith, unlike the Roman Catholic tradition.
"On the Protestant side, there are scores of different denominations, with some of them fairly similar in practice and theology," he noted. "The story of this research is that many Protestants may not see a lot of difference among some of these denominations. It may not be lack of loyalty so much as it is the presence of so many options that is causing Protestants to be about as loyal to a brand of toothpaste or bathroom tissue as they are to their church denomination."
He added, "Protestant denominations are simply facing what most companies face as they try to develop brand loyalty – consumers with many different options who may not perceive strong differences among those options.
"Church denominations certainly are not the same as hotels or soft drinks, but some of the same rules apply – the brands that develop stronger loyalty tend to do a better job of differentiating themselves from other brands and demonstrating key elements of the brand very clearly. With one-third of all Protestant churchgoers not even being able to identify a preferred denomination, denominational leaders face many of the same challenges as do the leaders of brands such as Coke, Chevrolet, or Home Depot."
Roman Catholics were more likely to express loyalty to one denomination, with six out of ten Catholics saying they would only consider attending a Roman Catholic church.
The survey findings may be good news for the Catholic church, but Sellers pointed out, "The bad news, of course, is that four out of ten active Catholics would at least be open to another denomination, even though most would prefer to remain in the Catholic church."
The study was conducted on a sample of 1,007 adults, which included 471 adults who regularly attend worship services.