The Role Education Plays in Searching for a Church

Looking for a new religious congregation is common in the United States. In fact, about half of American adults (49 percent) have at some point searched for a new church or congregation.

But how likely Americans are to look for a new church varies by their education and income levels. About 6 in 10 (59 percent) college-educated Americans have searched for a new religious congregation, compared with only 38 percent of those with a high school education or less, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of survey data collected in 2015. Likewise, higher-income Americans are more likely to look for a new church than those with lower incomes. This may be due in part to the fact that highly educated and affluent Americans tend to be more geographically mobile.

Income and education also influence how people look for a new church. In some cases, church “shoppers” with higher incomes are more likely than less-affluent adults to research a potential new religious congregation. For instance, among the roughly half of Americans who have looked for a new congregation, 44 percent of those with family incomes of $75,000 or more read about the congregation online, compared with 37 percent of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999, and about 3 in 10 (28 percent) with incomes below $30,000. People with higher incomes also are more likely to visit houses of worship to attend services and to talk to friends or colleagues before choosing a new congregation.

Education is even more strongly associated with researching a new congregation—perhaps because people generally learn more research skills the longer they stay in school. For example, 71 percent of college graduates talked to church members before choosing a new congregation, compared with 63 percent among those with a high school degree or less.

For more information on this data analysis, go to PewResearch.org.