August 23, 2016

What do Americans look for in a church, and how do they find one? It depends in part on their age

About half of all Americans have looked for a new congregation at some point in their lives. But how they have searched, and what they were seeking, has depended to some degree on their age.

Younger adults were more likely than older Americans to turn to the web or to other people when looking for a new house of worship, a new Pew Research Center study has found. They also were less likely to prioritize religious education for children when choosing a church, possibly reflecting the fact that in recent years people have been waiting longer to have children.

It might not be surprising that young adults are more likely to look online for information about a congregation, given that younger Americans in general are more likely to use the internet than older adults. Perhaps more striking are the age differences associated with seeking advice from others when choosing a church: At least three-quarters of adults under 30 talked to a congregation member (75%) or a friend (82%) as part of their search, compared with just over half (55% and 54% respectively) of people 65 or older.

There were also some similarities among the age groups. For instance, across all ages, eight-in-ten or more adults say they attended a worship service as part of their search, and roughly half or slightly more talked to a clergyperson.

Age-related similarities also were found in what people say were important factors in their choice of a new congregation. More than three-quarters of adults across all ages say the quality of sermons was important, although younger adults are slightly more likely to say this than older people (87% vs. 77%).

Other commonly cited decision factors across age groups include the style of worship, a sense of feeling welcome and the physical location of the church.

At the same time, younger adults are more likely than older age groups to say that having friends and family in a congregation was an important factor. About six-in-ten younger Americans say this (62%) compared with roughly half or less in older age groups.

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous12 months ago

    When I was looking for a church about 4 years ago, I was looking for one that have evening services. That’s because I work at night. Most churches today only have morning services. It was hard to attend my church when they only had morning services. Instead of going to church, I would listen to Christian radio programs. Then one day a preacher inspired me to go to church. I researched local churches on the internet and found a local Baptist church had Sunday evening services that fit my schedule. And it has been an amazing church and something that I have been looking for all along.

  2. Anonymous12 months ago

    In this article 87% of younger adults say that quality of the sermon is important while other surveys note a significant decline in church attendance among younger adults. Therefore, wouldn’t it behoove preachers/ pastors to analyze their sermons and make adjustments. It seems most sermons address feel good topics versus topics that bring conviction thus encouraging a more righteous lifestyle. Messages that simply address feel good topics can be found in other venues rather than church making church attendance unnecessary.

  3. Anonymous12 months ago

    It might be interesting to ask people, “Does the possibility of business opportunities make a difference in choosing a place of worship?” (IE: Pick a large, affluent congregation.)

    I would also be interested to see how responses and reasons for this and your questions are broken down by region and religious types… not just age. I have worked for various firms across the country and have found those of the south, expect employees to change churches if it can help the firm.

  4. Anonymous12 months ago

    In both your charts, the ONLY comparison that showed more interest for seniors than for young adults, was, religious education for kids! Wha ?? It’s the young adults who would have, or would soon have, kids. I don’t get it.

    1. Anonymous12 months ago

      My church is mostly older folk. They are, however, grandparents and tend to be quite concerned about their grandkids getting appropriate religious education. Maybe that’s why they scored so high.

  5. Anonymous12 months ago

    I have seen many youths and elders visiting Hindu shrines like hari kirisna, Sridi bab, sathya baba temple. Leaning Indian Dances and music. There is a general interest among youths to learn about Hindusim and vegetarian diets.