How New Members Pick a Church

Pastor, preaching count for much in why new Christians stay

Louisville, Ky.--These are folks who, a year or two ago, would have spent Sunday mornings mowing the lawn, reading the paper, sleeping in. Now they're going to church--and a researcher from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wants to know why, and why they picked the church they did.

Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the seminary in Louisville, has interviewed new members at growing churches to find out why they chose that church over others and what that church is doing that works. Among the answers:

  • It's not because of the church's name. In this crowd, denominationalism doesn't cut it; the denomination often played no role at all in the person's decision to choose a particular church.
  • These new Christians want to know what a church believes in; they want it to stand for something clear. The way Rainer sees it, churches need to "be clear in conviction about biblical matters."
  • Many of those who joined a church had had some previous contact with organized religion; had, in the past, come to church now and then; and were not ignorant about religion.

    And two main factors in deciding to return were the pastor and the preaching. One woman, unhappy with what she described as "pop psychology" preaching, told the researcher that "what really frustrated me was that I had a deep desire to understand the Bible, to hear in-depth preaching and teaching. But most of the preaching was so watered-down that it was insulting to my intelligence."


    Many of those who started coming to church did so because someone they knew invited them or started talking to them about God. Sometimes that invitation came at a particularly fertile time--perhaps when the person was struggling to cope with a job change or divorce or death of someone close to them, had young children, or had encountered some kind of shift in life that had them thinking about spiritual matters.

    But others came with no invitation and often for reasons they couldn't fully explain, Rainer said. They just felt drawn to faith.

    The research, which is being released in a new book, "Surprising Insights From the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them" (Zondervan), is the latest in a series of books Rainer has worked on involving church growth and evangelism.

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    Leslie Scanlon
    Religion News Service
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