Approximately 83 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Study said preaching stood out in criteria for choosing a church.
At some point, the study pointed out, around half of U.S. adults will shop for a congregation. When they do the evaluation tends to focus on a sermon’s quality. However, the survey didn’t go into details on what constitutes a “quality” sermon.
Feeling welcome by leaders finished a close second to sermon quality, with 79 percent noting its importance. Around three-quarters of respondents pointed to style of service as influencing their decision to join.
A more mobile society appears to be the biggest factor in why people look for a church. As a result, one-third of participants said a change of location led to finding a congregation. Other factors were getting married or divorced (11 percent) and disagreeing with clergy (11 percent).
What determines quality
A strong personality and conviction energizes a sermon’s delivery. Behind the pulpit, Larry Wynn brings both. For years it came as a pastor. Today his sermons impact others as vice president for Church Revitalization and Evangelism of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
That said, he’ll be the first to tell you a strong sermon goes far beyond personality.
“A sermon should be biblically sound, have an engaging delivery, and apply to one’s daily life,” he testifies. “These qualities are more important than ever because people are looking for hope, truth, and guidance for daily living.”
While the truth of Scripture stands alone, Wynn acknowledges a communicative responsibility on pastors.
“People want something that is trustworthy and works in daily life. When a pastor brings a message that is biblically-based and culturally relevant he is providing hope, truth, and applicable principles for daily living.”
Not surprisingly, how Americans look for a church depends on their age. Respondents aged 18-29 said they searched for information online while only 12 percent of those over 65 said the same.
In fact, the younger age bracket seemed to take more steps in seeking out a congregation. Personal engagement of evaluating a potential church home by those 18-29 years old out-paced those over 65 in attending a worship service (86 to 80 percent). In addition they were more prone to talk to members of the congregation (75 to 55 percent), friends and colleagues (82 to 54 percent), and a minister (56 to 49 percent).
Technology helps in the evaluation process. However, face-to-face interaction revealed itself as a top priority as well.
Though it shouldn’t be surprising that 85 percent of respondents attended a worship service at a church they were considering, those speaking with members of the congregation as well as friends fell at 68-69 percent. Over half, 55 percent, spoke with clergy prior to their decision to join. By comparison, only 37 percent looked for information about the church online.
Although a lower number, Scott Smith warns against looking past it.
“That 37 percent will definitely increase and is no doubt trending upward,” Smith, also of Church Revitalization and Evangelism, points out. “The world is increasingly digital. However, while the majority would like a face-to-face with someone before joining a church, an increasing number of people will look online.”
Your church’s digital front door
Smith also serves the Georgia Baptist Mission Board as digital outreach strategist. In that role, he helps churches leverage digital strategies to increase church visitor rate.
“There’s a reason that 37 percent judge churches by the website. Online ratings or reviews, Yelp listings, etc. make a decision as to where they’ll visit,” he advises.
Smith suggests three factors for your church website:
- Make it modern, mobile-friendly, and geared towards making guests welcome.
- Have online reviews and ratings in the most found places.
- Have a Facebook page that shows and active, vibrant ministry that cares about the community.
“That group (the 37 percent) is a pretty big swath of folks to miss out on.”