Thom Rainer: “The real issue is not the intrigue of this research; it is what you and your church will do about it.”
“Why did you choose to come to this church?”
I ask the question hundreds of times each year, especially to people who joined a church within the past year.
Now we have new research that gives us specific reasons why people decide on a particular church. I am grateful to Pew Research for their massive study on the behavioral patterns of members and guests.
In their most recent study, the respondents noted seven key reasons for choosing a church. They were allowed to offer more than one reason. Here are the top seven responses:
1. Quality of Sermons (83%)
The primacy of the pulpit is the No. 1 factor for those looking for a church home. These results are very similar to my research published in the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched 15 years ago. Unfortunately, the demands on many pastors make it difficult for them to put the time they need in sermon preparation.
2. Feeling Welcomed by Leaders (79%)
It is so important for pastors and staff to take the lead in welcoming guests. No, they are not supposed to do all the welcoming, but their role has a huge impact.
3. Style of Services (74%)
I would love to be able to unpack this response a bit more. One thing, however, is clear. People are still choosing churches by the styles of worship of the congregations. The numbers are overwhelming. Three out of 4 church seekers say worship style is a factor for the church they choose.
4. Location (70%)
I want to be careful not to say things these numbers don’t mean to say. But I would surmise that location is more important today than it was 10 years ago. This reality would at least partly explain the dramatic increase of multisite churches. Churches are going to the communities where the people are. It also prompts us to follow the trends of large regional churches. Will people more and more prefer a church in their own community rather than driving to the regional church?
5. Education for Kids (56%)
This number is incredibly high, especially since many families do not have kids at home. Obviously, those who do have children at home consider this issue vitally important. “Education” likely refers to more than the teaching ministry to children; it probably encompasses the total scope of children’s ministry. I have said on more than one occasion the first staff member I would bring to the church after the pastor would be a children’s minister.
6. Having Friends/Family in the Congregation (48%)
Relational connections are very important. We see this issue to be so important that we created a ministry (Invite Your One) to engender an attitude of inviting. Those same connections play a crucial role in the assimilation process in the church, as well.
5. Availability of Volunteering Opportunities (42%)
This factor was very encouraging to me. People no longer want just to sit and soak; they want to get involved. If guests know there are opportunities to get involved quickly in the church, they are more likely to choose that church. I have no doubt the millennials are instrumental in this number being as high as it is.
From my perspective, these seven factors are not huge surprises. The real issue is not the intrigue of this research; it is what you and your church will do about it. I would love to hear your comments and ideas.
Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter (@ThomRainer) and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer. This article was originally published at ChurchAnswers.com on Oct. 5, 2016.