Strict churches are stronger because they reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. The theory predicts that strict churches will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment while lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit very low levels of commitment. This theory builds off of rational choice assumptions and is compatible with the religious economies perspective.


a.) Iannaccone, Laurence. 1994. "Why Strict Churches are Strong." The American Journal of Sociology. 99(5): 1180-1211.
b.) Kelley, Dean. (1972) 1986. Why Conservative Churches are Growing. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

    Related Concepts  
The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.

The tendency to follow a strong leader or rigid social conventions.


The frequency at which an individual performs religious rituals and comparable behaviors, notably prayer and Bible reading, often measured independently of group activities such as church attendance.


Adhering to the traditional religious faith of the particular society or coherent subgroup.

A Christian orthodoxy index can be found in Stark and Glock 1968.


Belief that only one's own faith is true or that salvation can be achieved only by adherence to one's own religion.

Sectarian Tension

The relationship between a sectarian movement and the wider culture, marked by difference, antagonism, and separation.

Items measuring the three dimensions can be found in Bainbridge and Stark (1980).

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