Church shopping isn’t a process that fits one type of person or family. People church shop for many different reasons! They come from different places and backgrounds, all hoping for the same result: to find a church home.
So who are these people that bounce from church to church? How have they come to this point? Why are they looking? And what are they looking for? The Pew Research Center has conducted a project hoping to answer these very questions.
Who Church Shops?
According to the Pew Research Center, “of the country’s largest religious traditions, evangelical Protestants are among the most likely to say they have looked for a new congregation1.” Catholics are less likely to search for new congregations simply because, in many instances, choosing a new congregation (especially after moving) simply means choosing the parish closest to them.
Church shopping is a not a custom practiced by people who are not affiliated with religion. If they do become christian, it will typically happen in a specific setting. Therefore, many church visitors who come on their own are already believers.
Why do people search for new congregations?
“The single most common reason people give for having looked for a new congregation is that they moved: Roughly one-third of adults say they have searched for a new place of worship because they relocated2.”
While there are other reasons for looking for a new church, most people find themselves searching for a new congregation when life has taken them away from their old church for reasons outside of the that church’s control. It is a common misconception that most church shoppers are people who have left their old church because they didn’t like something about it.
In contrast, only 11% of people looked for a new church because they disagreed with pastor or clergy of their old church, 11% because they married/divorced, 7% because they had undefined problems with their church, 5% because they had a change in personal beliefs, 3% because of social reasons, and 3% because of practical reasons2.
What are people looking for when they search for a new congregation?
Many people assume that the number one thing people look for in a church is their worship style. Indeed, the Traditional vs Contemporary worship debate among christians is ever present within modern culture. However, the Pew Research Center’s findings are contradictory to this assumption.
Among all of the adults they surveyed who have searched for a new congregation, a staggering 83% stated that they highly valued the quality of the pastor’s sermons, while only 74% said they highly valued the style of the worship. As you can see from the chart, the top three things people value all have to do with what they observe during any given worship service. Meanwhile, the rest of the answers are all based on the opportunities for visitors and their families to plug in to the community within any given church.
Worship and opportunities for community involvement are what people value most in churches, and this is clearly emphasized in the ways churches market themselves to their visitors.
How are they choosing their new congregations?
The experience of visiting a church on a Sunday morning is seen as the most valuable piece to the puzzle. For the most part, people are investing in observations and conversations with others, trying to gain a firmer understanding of the churches they’re visiting.
It seems that while the internet is great for providing simple and basic information such as service times and directions, when it comes to church shopping, nothing beats personal conversations and experiences.
People church shop in different ways for different reasons. They value different aspects of the churches they visit, and will make their finale decisions based off of the ways they collect their experiences from each church. What is important here is not that you use this data to determine how to church shop, but rather, that you understand the church shopping culture as it truly is, rather than how people perceive it to be.