How Do Americans Decide Where to Worship?


The Pew Research Center has just released a new study entitled “Choosing a New Church or House of Worship.” Here are some of the findings I found interesting:

  • 49% of U.S. adults have looked for a new religious congregation at some point in their lives.
  • When searching for a new congregation, Americans value (in order of importance): quality of sermons, feeling welcomed by leaders, the style of the service, the location of the service, the education option for kids, congregations where friends or family attend, and volunteer opportunities.
  • 85% of people who choose a new house of worship make their decision after attending a service.
  • Most people look for a new congregation because they have moved.
  • 75% of Catholics choose a new parish based on location.
  • Most Americans, (70%) say that finding a new congregation was “easy.”
  • 59% of adults under 30 use online resources to help them find a church
  • Evangelicals, more than other religious group, do the most church shopping.
  • 39% of evangelicals, more than any other religious group,  have looked for a new church within the past five years.
  • 59% of Catholics, more than any other religious group, have “never looked for a new congregation.” Catholics are followed closely by members of historically black churches.
  • When it comes to choosing a church, the quality of the sermon is most important to evangelicals and members of historically black churches.
  • For mainline Protestants the quality of the sermon and the feeling of welcome that they receive at the church are equally as important in choosing a congregation.
  • When choosing a church, mainline Protestants are more concerned with location than other Protestants.
  • Members of historically black churches value religious education for their kids, volunteer opportunities, and friends in the congregation more than any other religious group.
  • Historically black churches place the most value on staying within their denomination when choosing a new congregation.  They score higher than Catholics in this category.
  • Compared to Protestants, Catholics have the least problems finding new congregations.

Read the entire report here.

Of course religious consumerism or “church shopping” has been around for a long time in the United States.  If you want to think historically about this theme (as you should!) I recommend the following works:

Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)

Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992)

R. Laurence Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Chris Beneke, “The Free Market and the Founders’ Approach to Church-State Relations,” Journal of Church and State 52 (Spring 2010), 323-52.

E. Brooks Holifield, “Why Are Americans So Religious?” The Limitations of Market Explanations,” in Religion and the Marketplace in the United States ed. Jan Stievermann, Philip Goff, and Delef Junker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 33-59.