Seven Key Reasons People Choose a Church

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. As I noted in my previous post, 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 number one 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, fifteen 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 four 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 ten years ago. This reality would at least partly explain the dramatic increase of multi-site 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.
  7. 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; they are really affirmations of much of what we have been sharing with you.

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.

Posted on October 5, 2016

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • JC Moore says on

    I enjoyed reading the article, the 7 key reasons people choose a church. Although young Americans claim no church affiliation (thus the church attendance is declining today), the megachurch phenomenon is on the rise. Why is it so? Why more and more people ditch small local churches and attend these megachurches? Mr. CEO Thom’s analysis hit the nail on the head – volunteering opportunity for people to figure out their God-given talents and skills. Indeed, it is heavenly when people are offered these volunteering opportunity to discover their personality, talents, abilities, etc. while developing and experiencing their own skills/talents under the counsel of their church shepherds. This is very important for millennials who are quite pragmatic – gaining spiritual health and leadership while building a social network along with their just discovered talents/skills. I have spent hundreds of hours of listening to megachurch pastors’ sermons including Rick Warren’s Saddleback church in California, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood church in Texas, Calvary Chapel in California, etc. Wow, CEO Thom talks about quality of sermons, he means it. More specifically the sermon topics that these pastors cover are just over the top. The relevance of their sermon topics goes A to Z including people’s emotions, minds, relationships vertically with God and horizontally with fellow humans in the life of marriage, work, friendship, sex (how many of us have learned that sex is holy when it is performed only between husband and wife.), failure/persistence/confidence issues, God’s promises, His grace and mercy, God’s timing, etc. The Saddleback church and its campuses resemble like a miniature Disneyland. It is like a heaven on earth. Most importantly, everyone belongs to a small group – praying, networking, bible studying, helping and encouraging each other. The individuals are connected to the vine as branches. It’s a small fellowship family in a big extended family setting. Lastly, there are several pastors along with a senior pastor who are “inserted” into mini series sermons and studies. God is the greatest creator and orchestrator. The next question is: when the cup overflows, that is, pastors are rich, how do church members respond?

  • I lack faith in our dear Lord, which is why I’ve decided to start looking for a church where I could listen to daily mass. Well, we share the same opinion about the importance of considering a church that consists of welcoming leaders. I also agree with you that the church should be nagging enough.

  • Number 7 is such a good sign – this really shows they want to implement their teachings in the real world and help their church grow. Very interesting statistics, thanks for sharing!

  • Edghill Messiah says on

    When compared with the results from 15 years ago I am intrigued that the issue of Style of Worship service has not been so high. THe closest to that was the one that says sensed God’s presence/Atmosphere of church . It seems clear the issue of worship and all the trappings now associated with it is playing an important part in the formerly unchurched and even the unchurched. While preaching is still top the absolute number has dropped and the differential between that and feeling welcomed has greatly narrowed. Also I note doctrine is not on the top seven at all. This raises some interesting points on what people are looking for in church

  • Thank you for the terrific read. A close friend of mine has been interested in finding a Christian church to take his family, and I was curious as to what people normally take into consideration when choosing a church. You wrote that the number one factor is the quality of the sermon that the pastor gives. I know that my friend would want good, uplifting sermons for his family, so I’ll tell him to look for those qualities in local churches he checks out.

  • I also agree that it is important to feel welcomed by the leaders of the church. I think that many people don’t understand why you would want to feel welcomed. However, it really makes a difference when you are trying to find a home church. Do you have any other tips about finding a good church?

  • I could see how education for kids would have such a high percentage in this study. A lot of people choose to go to church for their children so that they will be raised right, and even if they don’t go for that reason, it’s always a nice thing when a church takes care of teaching your kids. My sister hasn’t been to church in years, but after having her first two kids, she is trying to find a church in her area to join. Children really do influence whether or not a family goes to church!

  • I think that it is important to find a church that is in line with your beliefs, has a style of sermon that you like, and that is welcoming. Interesting research, thanks for sharing!

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