NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The final portion of the LifeWay Research study of adults who switched churches takes a more in-depth look at adults who switch churches because of a residential move.
Fifty-seven percent of all church switchers came to their current church as a result of a residential move. Church switchers are defined as Protestant Americans who have attended more than one church regularly as an adult.
Moving is the single greatest reason people change churches. This is less of a church choice decision than a life change decision that impacts their church attendance.
“Movers” show several characteristic differences from “Non-mover” church switchers, those who change churches not based on a residential move.
Movers frequently are less familiar with churches in the area to which they move and have a smaller network of friends and acquaintances to turn to for assistance.
A similar number of Movers (60 percent) rely on recommendations as Non-movers (66 percent) when switching churches. And word-of-mouth alerts more than a quarter of Movers to their new church. However, fewer Movers actually find their new church because a friend or acquaintance invites them (22 percent compared to 37 percent).
Although some Movers are familiar with their new church before they move (21 percent), this is 9 percent less than the portion of Non-movers who have always been familiar with the church to which they switch (30 percent).
Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, noted, “over time, Non-movers become more familiar with church options through word-of-mouth, invitations, and even attending special events. Many Movers do not have this knowledge after relocating. Although they still prefer personal recommendations and invitations, Movers are more likely than Non-movers to visit churches they discover through ads and easy to find information such as a church’s location or denomination.”
Movers turn to listings and advertisements to compensate for fewer personal invitations and less familiarity with churches.
Almost twice as many Movers than Non-movers utilize impersonal sources such as Web sites (28 percent) and phonebooks or advertisements (28 percent) as a resource to accompany in-person visits (84 percent).
Nine percent of Movers found out about their current church from an ad, compared to only 4 percent of Non-movers.
One respondent who used a phone book said, “I moved and once I settled in a new house I found a new church in the phone book, visited it and decided to join.” Another said, “We moved to a new community and found a church of our beliefs … we found the church listing in the Yellow Pages.”
A respondent who used an Internet listing said, “To find a church I looked up local churches using the LCMS [Lutheran Church Missouri Synod] Web site’s search engine.” Another said, “I searched for Web sites of churches in the area of that denomination, then attended a worship service there.”
One of the biggest differences between Movers and Non-movers is the importance of denomination in the church switching process.
Denomination was an important factor to 60 percent of Movers in choosing their current church as compared to only 44 percent of Non-movers. Sixty-six percent of Movers remained in the same denomination when they switched churches compared to only 46 percent of Non-movers.
Respondents said: “Moved to new area and sought same denomination,” “Stayed with the same denomination in our new location,” “I moved 500 miles away from my previous home and chose the Untied Methodist Church as I have been a UMC member since birth.”
Denomination is not as important as the beliefs/doctrine of the church, preaching, or authenticity of the church members or pastor, all of which were cited as important by more than 80 percent of Movers.
However, the reliance of many Movers on impersonal listings required them to lean on things like denomination to narrow the list. Studies of consumer behavior refer to this type of narrowed list as a person’s “consideration set.”
One respondent described their denominational consideration set, “We ‘shopped’ at all the local ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] churches and chose the one which was the friendliest and most welcoming.” Another said, “I visited five or six churches in the same denomination (didn’t want to consider any other) and found this parish the right fit.”
Clearly church-goers who move across the country, across their state, or even across their city must change churches if they are going to attend church regularly. However, location of the church becomes even more important to Movers than Non-movers.
Sixty-one percent of Movers say location was an important factor in choosing their current church as compared to only 43 percent of Non-movers.
Respondents said: “I moved and this one was in the neighborhood;” “Current church is our denomination and is located very close by;” “We moved away from our previous church and our new church is close to where we live;” “We settled on our current church because it was convenient, and the preaching seemed sound and it seems to have a good ministry in the area.”
Finding a new church
Although fewer Movers begin searching before they leave their previous churches, 21 percent begin to search prior to leaving for their new location.
The first event or activity that almost all Movers (94 percent) choose to attend is a worship service. This is even a more pronounced majority than Non-movers (84 percent).
Movers describe the worship styles of their previous and current churches very similarly with only 9 percent fewer attending traditional worship and 6 percent more attending blended worship. In contrast, 24 percent fewer Non-movers attend traditional worship in their current church compared to their previous.
Movers are much more complementary of their previous church than Non-movers who often switched because of disenchantment with their church.