What Are People Looking for in a Church?

Posted by Aaron Buer on January 17, 2023

Recently I connected with a family who described themselves as “church shopping.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. I’ll admit that I don’t really like it, but I also understand that when a Christian family moves into the area, that’s what they do.

A bunch of people also changed churches during and after COVID. Many Jesus-followers have been “church shopping” recently.

Here’s a question: What’s on the “church shopping list"?

I’ve been listening to how people talk about church. I’ve been in a number of conversations with people who are considering or have left my church because they were unhappy about something. I’ve also talked with a lot of people who are new to our church because something here really resonated with them.

I thought I would share the top five items on the shopping list. Of course, this is particular to my area and context–but hopefully, something in here will be helpful for you and your church.

5 Things That People Look For in a Church

1. Preaching

According to the conversations I am in, the top item on the shopping list is preaching—even for Gen Z and millennials. People want to understand the Bible. People want to listen to a compelling communicator who is authentic and real, who teaches the Scriptures in a way that is relevant to life.

If there is one area to focus on in your church, this would be it. Are your sermons compelling? Do they help people connect the Scriptures to their lives?


2. Kids and Students

We continue to bump into a common story from people returning to our church. That’s right, I said “returning.” Unfortunately, we lost a number of people during COVID who didn’t agree with some of the decisions we made during the pandemic. Maybe you can relate.

Many who have returned have done so because their kids basically demanded it. Their kids missed our Children’s Ministry.

In addition to this, many families find their way to our church when their oldest kid reaches 6th grade. That’s when our student ministry begins. They get invited by a friend or sometimes the family was dissatisfied with the student ministry at the church they were attending.

According to my experience, the quality of life-stage ministries, including kids and students, is very near the top of people’s church shopping list.


3. Connection

If people don’t feel relationally connected, they will not stick around. Many people who exit our church talk about our church feeling too big. On the flip side, many who have called our church home for years will tell you how relationally connected they are through their small group or the people they serve alongside.

People want their church to feel like family. We all long for connection and belonging. Whether stated or unstated, this is always at the top of the shopping list. If you want to improve in these areas, focus on hospitality, small groups, and the volunteer experience. Find ways to grow relational connection in every area of church life.


4. Tone and Engagement with Social Issues

Three years ago, I would not have put this at the top of the shopping list, but our culture has changed. In the conversations I find myself in, this is a common theme for why people leave my church. They want us to be more vocal on social issues—abortion, LGBT+, politics, race, etc.

I’ve thought a lot about this and I’m not sure this one is winnable. You will never satisfy everyone, especially if your congregation or community is politically diverse.I think the goal here is to be clear and kind. Understand that your church will attract like minded people.

Sadly, I think many people are not looking for their church to help them engage culture in a Christ-like way. I think many people are looking for their church to validate their previously determined political positions.

It’s tough to know when to speak up on social issues and when to focus on other areas—what to say and what not to say. I’m not sure I have great advice here other than to say that this is now near the top of people’s shopping list. It would be wise for us to think strategically as church leaders on how to engage social issues.


5. Service

Increasingly, people visit churches and ask, “Does this church care about the community?”

Younger people in particular will not stay long in a church that doesn’t appear to care deeply about the needs of the surrounding community.

Of course, most churches are deeply involved in caring for the needs of the local community and I bet your church is one of them. Often, we just don’t talk enough about the good work we are doing. In other words, people don’t know about the good work you are doing. This has certainly been the case with our church. For years, we felt weird about “tooting our own horn.”

We’ve come to realize that it’s important to share stories of how our church is serving and engaging the community. Our people need to hear how we, together, are stepping in to serve. These stories generate trust and energy around serving the community.

My advice here is to appropriately share more about the good work your church is doing in the community. People want to belong to a church that is serving in the community.

Wrap Up

These are the top five. Again, this is specific to conversations I am having in the area where I live and lead. I fully recognize that your area and your church might be quite a bit different. I get it. I hope some of what I have shared has been helpful as you think through what might be wise to focus on in the coming season. God bless!

Topics: Advice

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