The answer may surprise you.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, half of all American adults have looked for a church. That’s a lot of people! The most common reasons people look for a church include:
- 34% moved
- 11% marriage/divorce
- 11% church leadership disagreement
- 19% cited other reasons
How do people choose a church?
So, when people are looking for a new church, what factors are involved in that process? According to the survey:
- 85% attend the church they are considering
- 69% talk with people at the church
- 68% talk with friends and/or coworkers about the church
- 37% look for information online
- 19% call the church
I don’t know about you, but I am surprised that only 37% look online for information. Granted, this number is exploding, as the survey summary goes on to explain:
Young adults are far more likely than older people to have searched online for information about a new congregation. Indeed, 59% of adults under 30 say they have incorporated online searches when looking for a new congregation, compared with just 12% of those ages 65 and older. Still, like their elders, young people are more apt to have attended worship services at congregations they were considering and to have talked with congregation members than they are to have looked for information about congregations online.
So, a church’s website is an important factor, but not the most important when someone is choosing a church.
Think of a church website like a peek inside the windows of that church. It can’t reproduce the complete in-person experience. Even tools like live-streamed services and interactive elements fall short in that regard. So what can a church website do? A church’s website should reflect the culture and values of the church family. It should also give a general feel for the weekend worship experience.
My personal experience
My family and I changed churches this past year, so I actually went through this myself. Because we didn’t move, we were already familiar with a few other churches in our area. Even with that familiarity, I did a lot of research online to scout out potential churches.
Each church’s website was a key factor in whether we would consider that church. I assumed if a church had a neglected website, they weren’t invested in reaching young people. That may not be fair, but that was my gut instinct.
I also was able to get a general sense of dress code, culture, and values through their websites. This was also helpful to decide which churches were worth a first-time visit.
Although websites played a role in our search, they weren’t the most important factor for us. Our top two deciding factors? In-person visits and conversations with members/staff at the church. That lines up exactly with the Pew study.
A church is a family. People don’t choose a church family through a website. Instead, people choose churches through face-to-face interaction and experience.
Church websites are not the primary reason people will choose a church. Yet they are a growing part of that decision. First-time visitors are one of many audiences of a church website. A successful church website is able to serve all users in a comprehensive solution. As our relationship with technology evolves, the role of church websites will change. Based on the data, it looks like that role will continue to increase in the future.
I build websites and creative solutions to help churches increase engagement and grow. If you’d like to start a conversation, tell me about your project.
Do you have any stories to share? Do you disagree or have a different experience in tackling this question? Let me know in the comments!