An attractive church

What attracts people to church? What are the key factors? Three American surveys I have come across give a variety of reasons for what makes people keep coming to church.

The first was an American survey of black immigrants. They gave the following five reasons for attending a church:

  • 75% lively worship
  • 66% solid preaching/teaching
  • 58% spiritual needs were being met
  • 54% pastor’s leadership
  • 52% members care for one another

In another survey dating back to 1999 the Barna group listed the following top nine reasons for church attenders choosing a church

  • 58% Doctrine/Theology
  • 53% People caring for each other
  • 52% Preaching
  • 45% Friendliness
  • 45% Children’s programmes
  • 43% Helping the poor
  • 36% Denomination
  • 35% Like the pastor
  • 26% Sunday School

Interestingly Thom S. Ranier (Surprising Insights from the Unchurched) looked at the reasons why those who never normally went to church chose a church, and came up with the following thirteen factors: .

  • 90% Pastor/Preaching
  • 88% Doctrines
  • 49% Friendliness of members
  • 42% Other Issues
  • 41% Someone in the church witnessed to Me
  • 38% Family Member
  • 37% Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
  • 25% Relationship other than Family Member
  • 25% Sunday School Class
  • 25% Children’s/Youth Ministry
  • 12% Other groups/ministries
  • 11% Worship style/music
  • 7% Location

What I wonder causes people here in the UK to find one church more attractive than another? I find it hard to believe that ‘doctrine’ comes at the top of the list, and certainly not ‘denomination’. In this post-modern age my experience is that feelings are much more important.

In a survey covering six months (June – November 2012) of responses given on welcome cards returned to me here at Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, 82% of the respondents said the first thing they noticed was the ‘welcome’ given to them. When asked to comment on the one thing they liked best the responses were as follows:

  • 33% the welcome
  • 28% the worship
  • 20% the sermon

It is chiefly the welcome of the people that counts – and not the preaching!

A final thought from former Pope Benedict. In an airplane interview on the way to Great Britain, Pope Benedict was asked if there was anything to be done to make the Church ‘more credible and attractive to all.’ He replied:

A Church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that came always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity, the power of love; it is than when the Church is heard and accepted. She should not consider herself, but assist in considering the Other, and should herself see and speak of the Other and for the Other.

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