What do we know about first-time worship visitors?

Two out of 100 people sitting in America’s worship services are attending that congregation for the first time.

Every congregation invites and welcomes new people to attend. Yet across worship services in more than 2,000 American congregations, only 2% of those attending were present in that congregation for the first time. Who are these rare worshipers?

Denomination or faith group

Catholic parishes were as likely to have first-time visitors attending their Masses as Protestant churches or congregations of other faith groups (e.g., Jewish Synagogues). Slightly more than half (52%) of all these first-time worshipers were attending Mass at a new parish; the other half (48%) of first-time worshipers were attending services in a Protestant congregation or place of worship for another faith group.

History of worship attendance

The majority of first-time visitors (67%) reported they had been participating in another congregation before coming to worship in one of the study’s congregations. But 13% said they had never regularly attended anywhere before visiting the congregation. Another 15% said that prior to visiting this congregation they had not been attending anywhere for several years.

Age

The largest group of first-time worship visitors (39%) consists of people between the ages of 25 and 44. The average age of these rare worshipers is 41, fully 9 years younger than the average worshiper.

Gender

More first-time worship visitors are women than men (59% compared to 41%), a gender ratio almost identical to that among all worshipers.

Work

Visitors look quite similar to all worshipers in terms of their employment profile. Most (57%) are working full- or part-time. However, more students and fewer retired people are found among the first-time visitors than in the general worshiper population.

Marital status

While only one-third of all worshipers are not married, a larger portion (54%) of all first-time worship visitors are not married. More than one in four (27%) of these visitors have never been married; 10% are divorced or separated; 5% are living in a committed relationship but are not married; and 4% are widowed.