There has been significant attention paid to the rate at which young people are leaving the church, but what about all the Americans looking for a new church?

In 1992, only 6% of Americans listed themselves as having “no religious affiliation,” or “Nones” for short. That number had risen to 22% in 2014, and among Millennials, the figure was 35% (source).

As of 2016, 49% of American adults have looked for a new congregation in their lives, and half of American adults (51%) say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month (this includes all religions). Within this group of regular attendees, 27% say they now participate in religious services more frequently than they did previously in their adult lives.

Why This Matters to You

  • There are roughly 74 million adults in America
  • As of 2012, there were 384,000 U.S. churches (yes, the data is a bit old, and yes, 30,000 congregations shut their doors in the United States from 2006 to 2012 – but the data is still useful for our purposes as you’ll see below)
  • 37 million American adults attend religious services at 1-2x a month
  • 36 million American adults have looked for a new congregation in their lives

When I review this data, here is what I see: There are 0.005 churches per adult American and 0.01 churches per adult American who regularly attends a religious service (again, that includes all religions). In other words, there are still millions of people looking for a new church, and there are still broad swaths of the country where access to church is limited.

So how might you capture the attention of those looking for a new church in your neighborhood?

First, let’s answer the following questions:

  1. Why are people are looking for a new congregation?
  2. How do they find a new congregation?
  3. Upon what criteria do they judge a new congregation?
  4. What is unique to your neighborhood?
  5. How can you leverage these insights and create an effective marketing plan?

Why are people are looking for a new congregation?

A third of Americans have looked for a new congregation because they moved

Why are people looking for a new congregation?

Key takeaway: Big life changes.

Specific to Christians, 34% have looked because they moved, 11% due to a change in relationship status, 11% due to a disagreement, and 19% for other reasons.

This is similar to what we see in people’s brand affinity as well. Marriages and births are two moments where people make significant “brand” changes in their lives.

How do people find a new congregation?

Key takeaway: Word of mouth + online.

Considering 77% of people are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family, it’s no surprise a friend’s recommendation matters so much when considering a church. Roughly 69% talk to members of your church before attending, about half (55%) speak with a staff member, and 37% search online. But here’s an essential detail: that last number jumps to 59% for adults under 30 years old.

Upon what criteria do they judge a new congregation?

Key takeaway: The first visit matters.

This statistic is critical: 85% of US Adults who have looked for a new congregation attended a service to test the waters. I’ll speak more to this in the next post, but as a quick aside: if someone has an unpleasant first impression you’re shooting yourself in the foot. I see this regularly at churches and in my for-profit clients. You work hard in your marketing to generate interest, but when a new visitor actually experiences the service or product, it is so unpleasant they never return. So, all that time and money is a sunk cost – in one end, out the other.

The main criteria that new visitors are looking for are the quality of sermons (83%), feeling welcomed (79%), style of service (74%), and location (70% – and even higher amongst Catholics). Kids also play a factor. Fifty-six percent say the “quality of religious education for children played an important role in their decision” and that number jumps to 65% for those with kids younger than 18.

What is unique to your neighborhood?

Key takeaway: What specific needs do new visitors have in your neighborhood?

Now then, the above statistics are from a national dataset so they must be put into the context of your neighborhood. Overlay your insights, experience, and local data to ensure these statistics are contextualized. If you’re not quite sure who is in your neighborhood, I teach you how to identify your audience in the Church Marketing Workshop. Also, you can download a free chapter from the class workbook, “Identifying Your Audience” at the bottom of this post.

Next up, how can you leverage these insights and create an effective marketing plan?

Part II: 5 Advanced Church Marketing Tactics for Capturing New Visitors

Josh Chambers

Author Josh Chambers

I created the Church Marketing Workshop to help you tell great stories that transform your neighborhood. I am an award-winning advertising executive who’s worked with the likes of Google, Reebok, Advil, International Justice Mission, and churches ranging in size from Redeemer Presbyterian Church of NYC to church plants in rural America.

More posts by Josh Chambers