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Myth 4. Congregations grow by attracting new people who are not attending religious services anywhere.

Remember that new people are those who started attending their current congregation in the last five years.

New people come from four different faith backgrounds:

  • First-timers are worshipers who have never regularly attended anywhere. 7% of all new people are participating in a congregation for the first time.

  • Returnees are worshipers who at some previous time in their lives participated in a community of faith and are now returning to worship attendance. 18% of all new people fit this description.

  • Switchers are worshipers who move or change from one denomination or faith group to another. (An example would be a Lutheran who becomes a Catholic.) 18% of new people have switched their religious affiliation in this way.

  • Transfers are by far the largest group, making up 57% of all new people in the pews. Transfers are worshipers who move their membership or participation from one congregation to another congregation of the same denomination or faith group. (An example would be a Presbyterian who moves his or her church membership from one Presbyterian church to another one perhaps because he or she moved from Chicago to Atlanta.)

Types of New People

Transfers and switchers together make up 75% of new people and 21% of all worshipers. This means that 21% of all worshipers changed congregations in the last five years. Most new people in congregations are transfers and switchers rather than those who didn't previously attend a congregation. What are congregations offering to these types of new people that is important? What are the expectations of new people? Should congregations be making any special efforts to make switchers feel as comfortable as many transfers do?

Denominations and faith groups as well as individual congregations vary in terms of the type of new people they are attracting. Catholic parishes have lows levels of switchers compared to Protestant congregations. But all denominations and faith groups have low levels of first-timers. What can congregations do to increase their efforts to attract first-timers and returnees?

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Last modified April 25, 2002 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager