By Kent Fillinger
Last month we looked at “push” factors that cause a person to leave a church or religion. This month we look at conditions that “pull” someone into one church or faith over another.
Common “Pull” Factors
A LifeWay Research survey asked about 2,000 “unchurched” Americans (those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion) what, if any, life experiences would make them more open to consider turning to the church for help. The top three life experiences (as reported in Facts & Trends, Fall 2016) were:
- facing death (26 percent)
- losing someone I love (25 percent)
- facing a health crisis (19 percent)
In the past, marriage and having children would have been two common “pull” factors to get someone to go to church. But this research showed only 7 percent said marriage would be a pull factor, and having kids was the lowest-ranked pull factor at 4 percent. More than one-third said there wasn’t any life experience that would create a pull for them to seek help from the church.
A personal invitation from a family member, friend, or neighbor still seems to have some level of pull for the unchurched. Among the LifeWay survey respondents, 55 percent said a personal invitation from a family member would be an effective way to get them to visit a church, and 51 percent said the same was true if the invitation came from a friend or neighbor.
Sixty-two percent of the unchurched said they would likely attend a neighborhood safety event at a church if someone they knew invited them. And just over half of the unchurched said they would help with a community service project if asked. By comparison, only 35 percent said they would be likely to attend a worship service.
An April 2017 report by Gallup measured seven different reasons why those who attend a place of worship at least monthly say they go. Respondents were asked to identify if the pull was a major factor, a minor factor, or no factor at all. The top five pull factors were:
- sermons or talks that teach you more about Scripture (76 percent)
- sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life (75 percent)
- spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers (64 percent)
- lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities (59 percent)
- dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring (54 percent)
Corresponding to this Gallup research, Thom Rainer’s survey of unchurched people discovered these 12 pull factors that attracted them to a church: the pastor/preaching, doctrine, friendliness of the members, a friend’s invitation, a family member’s invitation, the presence of God, a relationship with a church member, a Sunday school class, children’s or youth ministry, other small groups, the worship, and the church’s location.
Other Pull-Factor Considerations
In a separate survey, Rainer asked the formerly unchurched what kept them active in their new church. They identified the following six things, in order: ministry involvement, Sunday school, obedience to God, fellowship with other members, the pastor/preaching, and the worship services, according to an article by Mark Denison (from “What Attracts [and Keeps] New Church Members,” Church Made Better website, June 8, 2015).
It’s important to note that preaching is a major factor why someone choses to begin attending a church, but it’s less of a factor for why they stay at a church.
Many churches have placed great importance on music or style of worship in the last 30-plus years. But the Gallup research showed that a good choir or praise band was a major factor to attending church for only 38 percent of the people (from “Sermon Content Is What Appeals to Most Churchgoers,” by Lydia Saad, April 14, 2017, accessed at new.gallup.com). And the Rainer study reinforced this finding by showing that only 11 percent of people said the worship or music was a factor in choosing a church. Also, only 14 percent said worship or music was a reason for staying there.
In response to the Gallup research, Warren Cole Smith wrote in BreakPoint: “People want sound preaching and opportunities for service. It’s not an ‘either/or.’ It’s ‘both/and.’ Great churches provide opportunities for growth and service, knowing that one feeds the other” (from “Why People Attend Church,” May 5, 2017, breakpoint.com).
David Haskell studied 22 Canadian churches over five years and surveyed more than 2,000 churchgoers in those congregations. In the Spring 2017 issue of Facts & Trends, he reported that people who attend growing churches pray more, read their Bible more often, are more likely to believe that God provided a way for the forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and are more likely to believe that only those who believe in and follow Jesus Christ will receive eternal life than those who attend declining churches.
On a positive note, a Pew Research report in the Winter 2017 issue of Facts & Trends found that 27 percent of people go to religious services at least once or twice a month, and this is more often than they did in the past. The top five reasons people identified for attending services more frequently were:
- became more religious (20 percent)
- need God more (15 percent)
- are more mature (14 percent)
- family changes (13 percent)
- have more time (10 percent)
I hope you’ll take some time to reread and reflect on the push and pull factors identified by these research studies. And I hope you’ll ask and answer the following three questions with your staff, leadership team, or elders:
- How does the nonbeliever learn the gospel at your church?
- How does the new believer at your church learn the basics of the faith?
- What resources or opportunities are you providing to mature and deepen believers?
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.