Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reasons People Choose a Church

I just pulled this from and was a little surprised by these statistics. For many years there has been a belief among leaders in the church (nationally speaking) that one of the primary keys to growing your church is great music. I still believe music is very important, but find it interesting that it isn't one of the primary things that brings people to and keeps people in the church.

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Top 13 Reasons that Unchurched People Choose a Church
(research conducted by Ranier)
  1. 90% - Pastor/Preaching
  2. 88% - Doctrines
  3. 49% - Friendliness of Members
  4. 42% - Other Issues
  5. 41% - Someone Church Witnessed to Me
  6. 38% - Family Member
  7. 37% - Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
  8. 25% - Relationship Other than Family Member
  9. 25% - Sunday School Class
  10. 25% - Children’s/Youth Ministry
  11. 12% - Other Groups/Ministries
  12. 11% - Worship Style/Music
  13. 7% - Location

Top 9 Reasons that Church-Attenders Choose a Church
(research conducted by the Barna Group in 1999)

  1. 58% - Doctrine/Theology
  2. 53% - People Caring for Each Other
  3. 52% - Preaching
  4. 45% - Friendliness
  5. 45% - Children’s Programs
  6. 43% - Helping the Poor
  7. 36% - Denomination
  8. 35% - Like the Pastor
  9. 26% - Sunday School

Top 6 Things that Keep the Formerly Unchurched Active in the Church
(research conducted by Ranier)

  1. 62% - Ministry Involvement
  2. 55% - Sunday School
  3. 54% - Obedience to God
  4. 49% - Fellowship of Members
  5. 38% - Pastor/Preaching
  6. 14% - Worship Services

The statistics speak for themselves. Overall, doctrine, the pastor and his preaching, and the friendliness and fellowship of the congregation are the most influential qualities.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting and a bit surprising - as you said, usually you hear of people listing worship/music as a bit higher than this. I sensed an uncomfortable feeling with the statistics a bit however, in that they just smell a tiny bit biased and that lead me to do some investigation into where they were from. They're actually from the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them by Thom S. Ranier first published in 2006. I did find this interesting review of the book by someone that (appears anyway) as credible on Amazon. I think what he lists as cons of the book, with regards to the stats listed and background info on how they were gathered, is interesting to note, as well as his referral to NCD stats.

With more research and "How To" books than any other time in history the American Church still seems to be on the decline. In this volume Thom Rainer, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, takes his best shot at the problem. Is his "best shot" good enough? It's certainly helpful, but probably not a home run.


This book reiterates solid leadership principles.

This book insists (thankfully) that traditional conservative churches can grow without becoming "odd".

This book paints a vivid contrast between effective and ineffective pastors.

This book actually goes to those recently converted to Christianity and asks them why they converted.

This book was written by someone who knows what he is talking about.


The research sample is too small and biased. Rainer studied 350 new Christians, 350 Christians who transferred to a new church, and 100 pastors - ALL from conservative evangelical churches! This is circular logic. That is, if you asked all of the new people who came to my church why they came to church, they would mostly respond that they liked particular aspects of my church. This only shows that my church has the ability to attract new persons, not that my church has the only way or even the best way. NCD (Natural Church Development) has interviewed more churches of more types on more continents than any other study. Do not overlook NCD material when researching this subject.

This book accepts national statistics that are no longer universally accepted. This book "assumes" that Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalists Church in American outgrow liberal and mainstream churches. 10 years ago this statement could have been made as a fact. This is no longer the case. Recent studies have shown that conservative churches are also in decline at about the same rate. The reasons are heavily debated, but the results are that church growth is isolated in all Christian movements.


This book is a must read, if for no other reason, it reinforces that churches CAN be effective without being out of balance. But this book should not be viewed as the final word on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Along these same lines, I happened to come upon the fact the other day that on, you can enter in a search for a church (or other business, etc), and it now also lists "reviews" that people may have made on various sites about the church or business. (there's even a review someone made about Parkview if you look it up.) While looking for a church address, I stumbled upon this review of the church that I found very insightful as to how these people were viewing the church and teaching. I won't list the name of the church, but here's their review. Their visit was in 2005 btw.

"My husband and I really enjoyed our experience at ___ Church. They seemed to be progressive, open-minded, and they always had a fun interesting service. We took the membership classes and all was going great until they had an elder in to speak. One woman in our class asked if women could be elders and he emphatically stated that they were working hard to keep gender roles in the church so that women could not be elders. Now, coming from a Catholic background, I am used to women having different roles in the church. However, in the Catholic church, this is just the way it has always been. Something felt wrong about a church JUST NOW trying to make that "law".

Well, we finished our membership class, but weren't quite as thrilled about ______as when we began the class. We decided to go to one more time and that was the last time we ever went. We walked by all the new flat screen televisions and listened to how they would be building a new building, then listened to an entire sermon basically stating that you must give 10% of your money or you are cursed. I am all for tithing, but my husband and I were 2 students with very little money and we were hoping that devoting our time through volunteer work would be more than enough. The pastor specifically stated that volunteer work was great, but you need to give your 10% to be blessed. I couldn't help but feel a bit confused when looking at all the money the church seemed to have when there are so many needy people out there, it just felt very wrong to me. We felt that, while I'm sure this brought more people in to hear the "good message", it seemed to go against the very core of Christianity.

We left ________ and found a new church, believe it or not, a Catholic church, that was truly amazing. People sitting on the floor in the lobby just to hear the message, food donations accepted in place of money, the priest was extremely open-minded and caring. I always thought you would only find progressive thought in a "progressive" church (ie a new evangelical church), but I was proven very wrong.

Our experience was in 2005, so I'm not sure if changes have been made since."

Scott Sterner said...

John, you should bring up this issue with the people at I'd be interested to hear what their thoughts are in response to the review you are citing.

Jim Coates said...

What would be interesting to see would be statistics on why people LEAVE those churches.

I think this may actually point to two things:

1) People have a sound understanding of the importance of biblical teaching.

2) People DON'T have a sound understanding of the importance of worship.

I'm not sure this actually says that a churches music ministry is less important, but probably says that the dynamic pastor that leads a church needs to make sure that their congregation understands the necessity of worshiping God.

If you notice, several of the top reasons seem to point to the "what's in it for me" mentality or the "obligation" factor (family, someone witnessed to me, pre-existing relationship, etc).

What you don't see mentioned in any of the surveys was "the church was well balanced and understood that service to God encompasses not only education of who He is and service to others, but praise directed toward Him as well."