Recently the Pew Forum released a study, Choosing a New House of Worship, on people looking for new congregations. The research showed that half of all adults (49%) have looked for a new congregation in their lives. Here are some vital takeaways from the study.
Important in switching congregations:
- Quality of sermon (83%)
- Felling welcomed by leaders (79%)
- Style of services (74%)
- Location (70%)
All churches have the ability to shape those things, particularly how welcoming you are to guests. That is good news.
Most people prefer to attend close to home and in the style they prefer. Quality of sermon was even more important for protestants (92%) and evangelicals (94%). For churches that like to focus on the preached word, the message is central for the vast majority.
Fully 85% said they visited a congregation they were considering joining and 7 in 10 said they talked to people in the congregation. Someone from your church will have a chance to interact with church shoppers, you just don’t know who, so train everyone well. As well, your reputation in the community will play a role in most decisions with 68% talking to friends and colleagues about the congregation.
Children are a Priority
The fifth highest item on the list was children’s education. Naturally, among those with minor children the percentage was higher with two-thirds (65%) citing this as an important factor. Maybe the other third don’t bring their kids to church, or don’t have custody. But if you want to reach families, having an engaging experience for children and teens is critical.
Most Likely to Look
The most common reason for people to find new congregation was that they moved (34%). Helping those new to your community find you can be a simple way to increase attendance.
Marriage and/or divorce was the second highest cause (11%) for people to look for a new congregation. Caring for people in marital transition (newlyweds, separation, divorce) can help close the back door of the church while strengthening families.
It’s not theology
There was little theological consideration for those changing congregations. Only 49% of those who looked considered only the denominations from which they came. Of those who changed, only 3% did so due to the theological beliefs of their old congregation and only 5% changed because their beliefs changed. People change congregations primarily for practical reasons, not theological.
If you don’t go much, you don’t change much. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of those who attend worship services only a few times a year, or never, say they have never looked for a new congregation. That is higher than those who have no beliefs, “the nones.”
There is some openness among those no religious affiliation. Three in ten (29%) of the “nones” have looked for a congregation in their lifetime.
Seventy percent of searchers said finding a new congregation was easy. Over a third, 36% of those who searched, said searching was easy because of the community they found, with 20% saying specifically it was due being invited by friends or family. So 1 in 5 Americans who search for a church said finding a new one was easy due to invitations.
Faith changes do shift actions. Of the 27% of adults reporting attending services at least once or twice a month now, but previously attended less, half of those indicated the change was due to shift in their beliefs.
Fewer than half of respondents who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (37%) cite lack of belief as the reason they no longer affiliate with a religion. So for the majority of this group, their views don’t rule out a faith community.
Concerns for church leaders:
Half of all Americans have never searched for a new congregation in their life. They either have never moved and have stayed connected to one congregation, or have never been engaged in a search for faith.
Another area of concern is that 22% of americans attend services rarely or never, but used to attend more often. In this group is 15% of evangelicals. Half of the group cited practical reasons (busyness, priorities, age, etc) as the primary reason for less attendance. When people attend less, it’s often because it’s not a priority.
Seeing these numbers can create tension for some churches, particularly if you are not growing or have seen attendance decline. Training can make a church more friendly. You can improve your impact on families and relocate to reach new people. There are ways to deepen connection to your congregation and equip leaders to ensure you handle those looking for a church well.
If you need help with any of the tensions, we want to serve you. Schedule a free 30 minute consultation today and see if we can help your church better reach your community.