While many studies have examined the relationship between social ties and joining social movements and religious groups, few studies have investigated the relationship between social ties and the likelihood of exiting such groups. Additionally, research has not considered how geography affects the membership dynamics of geographically-based congregations, specifically whether factors associated with residential mobility may also affect congregational exit in geographically-based congregations.
The purpose of this study is to examine how familial ties and place of employment affect congregational exit in geographically-based congregations. Drawing on social network and residential mobility research, this study hypothesizes that having parents and/or adult children in the same congregation and having minor children decreases the likelihood of congregational exit and working farther away from the congregation increases it.
This study draws on longitudinal archival data from one Amish congregation in the Holmes County Ohio Settlement. It tests the hypotheses using logistic regression models.
The results show that having one’s parents/adult children in the congregation and working close to the congregation are associated with a reduced likelihood of congregational exit. Having minor children in one’s household is not associated with congregational exit.
Conclusions and Implications
This is one of the first studies to consider how geographical requirements for congregational membership has implications for congregational exit. Given the results, congregations may be able to increase member retention by creating multigenerational ministries that support extended families and by advertising in local places of employment. As occupations increasingly shift to being primarily outside the home, Amish congregations in particular may experience more member turnover and membership instability.
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Gallagher (2020: 2) notes this as a “methodological challenge”, since “denominations, to the extent that they keep records at all, generally aggregate membership at the level of net change, rather than track the movement of individuals”.
By historically, we mean prior to 1983 when the Code of Canon Law extended the definition of parish beyond that of territory (Maines and McCallion 2004: 93).
The exception to this would be if there were two Orthodox synagogues in close proximity to each other.
Tests of statistical significance are used for random samples in order to determine if the results for a sample can be generalized to the population from which the sample was derived at a certain level of confidence. Because a census includes every member of a population, it is not a sample and does not require tests of statistical significance. Instead, this congregation represents a case-study that we use to test our hypotheses.
We also estimated an interaction term between age and number of minor children to determine if being an older parent was associated with exit. The interaction term was not associated with the likelihood of exit (results not shown but available upon request).
Factors that seem like they would be due to purely secular reasons may be closely connected to religious ones. For example, the positive association between work location and exit is likely at least in part due to longer commute times. For the Amish, a longer commute is not just a secular consideration; commute times are longer because of their religious restrictions on travel. Traveling by horse and buggy increases commute times on its own. Additionally, it may not be possible to take a horse and buggy to one’s work location. This leaves them to either pay a driver or ride a bike down potentially dangerous roads regardless of the weather. Moreover, for the Amish, moving to live closer to family likely also means joining the same congregation as them and thus, what may seem like a purely secular reason (i.e., family ties) may also be intertwined with a religious reason.
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Corcoran, K.E., Stein, R.E., Colyer, C.J. et al. Familial Ties, Location of Occupation, and Congregational Exit in Geographically-Based Congregations: A Case Study of the Amish. Rev Relig Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-020-00438-7
- Social networks
- Residential mobility