ARE EVANGELICALS DESERTING THEIR CHURCHES
TO JOIN OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS OR
STOP PARTICIPATING IN ANY RELIGIOUS GROUP
Compiled by Dr. Clifton
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
- Change of residency.
- Transportation problems.
- Failure to subject oneself
to discipline imposed by church elders.
- Arguments among or with
- 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
- Lack of transparency in the
management of church finances.
- Lack of good spiritual
- Nepotism (domination by
members of the same family or families)
- Abuse of the gifts of the
- Exaggerated legalism or
- Disorder and loud noise in
the worship services—sound system too high!
- Excessive “spiritualization
- Lack of concern for social
- 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
- Legalism and prohibitions: TV, use of slacks and makeup by women,
- 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
- Desire for dramatic
experiences: speaking in tongues,
prophesy, dreams and visions, etc.
misgivings: science and faith,
supernatural signs and gifts, politics and ideology, other religions,
- 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:
found other interests and activities that led me to spend less and less time
on church-related activities.
moved to a different community and never got involved in a new church.
had specific problems with or objections to the church, its teachings, or its
I grew up and I started making decision on my own, I stopped going to church.
church was no longer a help to me in finding the meaning and purpose of my
felt my life-style was no longer compatible with participation in a church.
of poor health.
don’t know or no answer.
became divorced or separated.
TOTAL (multiple responses)
ranked by Protestant Responses
- A recent
public opinion poll in Costa Rica (November 2001), conducted by
Demoscopía, 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):
Try something new (11.7%)
To follow the Truth (11.2%)
Because they experienced the Holy Spirit in their
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%).
According to Demoscopía (November 2001), the frequency of
church attendance by Evangelicals in Costa Rica was as follows:
times a week (52.8%)
Once a week
times a month (11.0%)
A few times
a year or hardly ever (14.2%)
this means that about 20% of those who call themselves Evangelicals are “inactive”
or “nominal” in terms of their level of religiosity.
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
- 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
- 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
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
a friend or relative, 60-90%
because of program, 4-10%
Walk in on
their own initiative, 3-8%
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
6. Dean R. Hoge, Converts, Dropouts and Returnees: A Study of Religious Change Among Catholics
(Washington, DC: The Pilgrim Press, 1981).