Q+A :: Top Reasons for Church Attendance

Kent Shaffer —  July 6, 2012

Q+ADo you have any statistics that show the top 5 reasons why people stay or connect with a church?
- Debbie :: California

Below are highlights from 4 studies which were published within the past 5 years.

Reason Why People Attend Church
(research conducted by Gallup)

  1. 23%- for spiritual growth and guidance
  2. 20%- keeps me grounded/guided
  3. 15%- it’s my faith
  4. 15%- to worship God
  5. 13%- the fellowship of other members (the community)
  6. 12%- believe in God/religion
  7. 12%- brought up that way (tradition)

Top 13 Reasons that Unchurched People Choose a Church
(research conducted by Thom Ranier)

  1. 90% – Pastor/Preaching
  2. 88% – Doctrines
  3. 49% – Friendliness of Members
  4. 42% – Other Issues
  5. 41% – Someone at 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 6 Things that Keep the Formerly Unchurched Active in the Church
(research conducted by Thom 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
Top 4 Reasons Given By Youth that Choose to Continue Attending Church 
(research conducted by Lifeway Reasearch)

  1. 65%- say church was a vital part of their relationship with God
  2. 58%- say they wanted the church to guide their decisions in everyday life
  3. 50%- say they felt that church was helping them become a better person
  4. 42%- were committed to the purpose and work of the church

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.

For Discussion:
- Subjectively speaking, what do you think are the top reasons why people stay or connect with a church?

Further Reading:
Reasons Youth Leave the Church
Why People Don’t Attend Church
Book: Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them
Book: unChristian
Book: You Lost Me

This question was originally asked and answered in 2008. We’ve updated the answer for 2012.

Kent Shaffer

Posts Twitter Facebook

I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

52 responses to Q+A :: Top Reasons for Church Attendance

  1. I reckon it would be preaching and then connection to others within that congregation.

  2. I’d like to see facilities included in those studies in the future – to me one of the best ways (and conversely the worst way) to market to visitors is as simple as the presentation of your facility. It’s not about how cool it looks or if you have the latest tech – just simple cleanliness and order.

  3. Now if God asked the same question, knowing our heart, would the polls still be the same?

  4. wow, jim! that is a great way of approaching this data! i kind of doubt facilities would be on God’s radar. or anything else to do with the “imaging” of a building or a 5-points series.

    i think this data is a calling to dive deep into the book of Acts and see how our brothers and sisters started this thing. i need to keep re-learning that the church grew to what it is now by attraction, not promotion.

  5. I like all the new stuff and technology and everything that some churches are doing these days. But I also know that if we the church including myself were truly doing what Jesus told us to do before He ascended back into Heaven.. which is Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” If we did this we would not have room for the needy in our church facilities. I say all that to say people I think are tired of hearing about him they want to see Him. I think that and Love attracts people to churches.

  6. I would like to see “relevance” itself as an option for choosing/staying with a church. It might be hard for people to quantify or recognize, but it would be interesting. I just wrote a blog post on relevance, so it’s on my mind right now (http://www.gulfchurch.com/blog/).

  7. I tend to think this type of research can be a bit biased. With this in mind, I did a (small) bit of research on the book – which was first published in 2006 by the way. There is (what appears to be anyway) a fairly credible reader review on Amazon that cites some of the research and details behind it. I find especially interesting the “cons” section of his review speaking to the stats and how they were gathered and from where. In any case, Rather than ask church attenders or new attenders why they went to a certain church, etc. – I find it much more compelling and telling to ask non-church goers why they DON’T go to church at all, and what would it take for them to possibly attend a local church?

    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.

  8. Basically, relationships and cause are my subjective indicators. If you have a mission and are with people doing it, you are likely to be fulfilled spiritually and personally in a church.

    What size were these churches surveyed? I think that matters in the data. In other words, in a small church of course the pastor’s personality personally is important while in a larger church his preaching/communication is of more importance.

    I agree about the NCD being a good indicator and have questions as to how this data here is presented.

  9. I know one of the main things I look for in a church is the fruit. How well the church is active within the community, what the members are doing in and for the church, what kind audience are they reaching and what the importance of their denomination is.

    As a young man, I try to find place where I can be related to very easily. I understand that the older generation has a lot of wisdom, but they are not dealing with the same situations me and my generation are going through.

    Nice Article.

  10. my question is- what % should the youth ministry reflect in the church’s overall attendance number?

  11. Location should be number one. We need to shrink our worlds and live smaller more connected, more meaningful lives. If you don’t find a church that you like close to you. Move.


  12. In these surveys I always find the chlldren’s/family ministry aspect interesting. My lead pastor always insists that the two most important factors for us are worship and kids. The reasoning is that parents will do anything or go anywhere for there children nowadays.

    What’s your experience?

  13. In Australia and New Zealand the reasons can differ. The Christian Research Association published this paper entitled “WHY PEOPLE DON’T GO TO CHURCH… AND WHAT CHURCHES CAN DO ABOUT IT”


  14. Thanks for posting this data. I noted it (with props) in my newsletter article this month about inviting people to church. Grace and peace …

  15. i love church!!

  16. There is another aspect to this as well. Here is an excerpt on an article I wrote to expound on these survey results a little better:

    “What sets one independent, fundamental, Bible believing church apart from another independent, fundamental, Bible believing church is the number of opportunities the members thereof have for the adoption of the work of God, or what I call ministry involvement.

    …cultivate a sense of ownership for the work that they do and to hold them as much responsible for the success of their efforts as they would be held responsible for the cause of their failures.”

    You can read the whole article here: http://www.forhishonourandglory.com/2010/08/a-christians-livelihood-is-ministry-involvement-ownership/

    It again builds off the survey results, what one commenter said and Acts 6 to draw the conclusion that what we do to bring them in and what we do to keep them in are two completely different things and are centered around ministry involvement and ownership. A good read.

  17. Does anyone know the precise source for the statistics cited above from Barna in 1999? I’ve been digging for those and not having much luck. I’d like to be able to examine the original information.

  18. When I ask people “why do you go”, I find most people come initially because of relationship to person or people there: like spouse, parents, children, friend. I also see that most stay due to that relationship. Pastors, programs, buildings, teaching count for something, but not as much. Many church do not preach Christ crucified for sin but rarely. I sat in many terrible teaching churches. Maybe peoples stay for teaching because they like “to be better” but not “perfect in Christ”? If you feel you do not belong, the teaching does not matter.

  19. I find all of this data to be tragically sad.

    The church exists to 1) glorify God and 2) to edify the saints. When these two things take precedence and priority everything else that we *think* the church should be doing naturally happens: discipleship, evangelism, serving, missional work, etc.

    The fact that, according to these statistics, people attend church to hear some good preaching or to be “fed” is just about as discouraging as it gets. Church is not an event. It is the Body of Christ–the living, breathing representation of Jesus on earth.

    As a result, there has obviously been a wave sweeping across the American church, calling people to move vibrant, alive, Spirit-led communities where the focus is on worshiping Jesus and edifying one another. I’m praying for more of that!

  20. I like to think that most people attend church to wordship God, for his Grace and Mercy and forgiveness for our sins! Also the chance to share in fellowship with others, and support the community in the Churches mission work, example I volunteer at the Churches weekly outreach dinner, which at times feeds up to 90 people! But daily I endeavour to let God’s light shine through in my actions.
    i share another beautiful testimony to love in action!


Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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