for US Congregations

U.S. Congregations:
Research, Resources, and Results
Congregational Life Survey
Resources for Congregations
Community Profiles

U.S. Congregational Life Survey -- What do We Know About New People?

New people are those who started attending their current congregation in the last five years. One in three worshipers are new people. This means the turnover rate in the average congregation is fairly high. With the inflow of new people comes the potential of new ideas and new energy. How can congregations readily involve new people as partners in the congregation's ministry?

New People

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 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?

What Characteristics Distinguish New People?

Low levels of involvement. New people are less likely to be involved in small groups within the congregation: 49% of new people compared to 55% for all worshipers are involved in at least one small group (for example, a Bible study or prayer group; a social or fellowship group; or a church, Sabbath, or Sunday school group).

In addition, new people are less likely to report serving in a leadership role in the congregation. This finding suggests that the entrance ramps to congregational involvement at a leadership level are long and narrow.

Finally, new people are less likely to take part in activities of the congregation or parish that focus on outreach, evangelism, community service, or advocacy.

Giving. The giving patterns of new people are a mixed picture. New people are just as likely as long-term participants to give 10% or more of their income to the congregation. However, new worshipers report lower levels of regular giving (between 5 to 9%) when compared to long-term worshipers. They are more likely to give just small amounts of money whenever they attend services.

Age. New people are younger than the average worshiper by 8 years. The largest percentage of new worshipers (45%) are in the 25 to 44 years old group. Less than one-third of all worshipers fall in the same age bracket.

Work. Working full- or part-time is more common among the newer worshipers. In fact, two out of three new people are employed. (Among all worshipers, 58% are employed full- or part-time.) This finding is clearly related to the lower average age of these worshipers.

Education. Even more educated than the average worshiper, many new people hold college degrees or more advanced degrees (40%). Among all worshipers, 37% have college or advanced degrees.

Marital status and children. New people are less likely than long-term participants to be in their first marriage. They are more likely than long-time worshipers to have never married or to be remarried after divorce. Again, these patterns are probably associated with the average age of new worshipers.

How Are New People Just Like Other Worshipers?

While new people look different from long-term worshipers in some ways, in other ways they are quite similar. New people are similar to typical worshipers in terms of gender, income, race and ethnicity, and place of birth.

Return to: Key Results of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey

Go to: U.S. Congregations Home Page

Copyright Research Services. All rights reserved.

Last modified March 1, 2002 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager