The Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life has just released the next phase of its multi-year analysis of religious trends in America. This new data set explores the question of why people switch churches. The surprising fact is that the single most important factor that a church shopper looks for is the quality of the sermons. I seriously considered an alternate title to this post: “It’s the Pulpit, Stupid!”
Asked to list important criteria, a survey of Americans who have looked for a church revealed a checklist of issues that might not be apparent. The most listed item, noted by a full 83% of responders, was the quality of the sermon. Preaching really matters. Following close behind at 79% is the feeling of being welcomed by clergy and lay leaders. Community also really matters.
Other criteria may be indicative of more complex issues. 74% of responders said the style of services was important. This may suggest certain denominational affiliations or expectations. The next issue, location, was noted by 70%. This issue may also imply some elements of site and building layout and architectural style. The remaining issues that complete the list are: education for children; having friends or family in the congregation; and availability of volunteer opportunities.
There’s plenty of reasons people stay away from churches, and earlier Pew research has added data to this discussion. Now, with data on what attracts people to churches, religious communities of all denominations should take note. And don't forget to appreciate your good preacher!