While fewer people are moving today in the United States, moving to a new home is the single greatest reason people change churches. A life-changing decision to move could be motivated by a job, family, finances, or aspirations. And a move can necessitate a change in where a churchgoer attends church.
Six in 10 people who have changed churches as adults came to their current church as a result of a residential move (60%).
While we desire our churches’ growth to come from new people following Christ, our precautions about welcoming those switching churches should be directed at those who already have a church in our area. The local church exists for the unity and fellowship of believers in a local community. And this should include welcoming believers who have moved to our area.
Seven in 10 movers do not search for a new church before moving. To make matters worse, many do not immediately begin the search upon moving. Forty-four percent of movers stopped attending church for three or more months before finding their current church. One mover summarized their journey, “I moved to a different state for work. I kinda lost my way spiritually after the move. But when God had worked on me enough, I felt the conviction to come back to His way. I asked around and was directed to my present church.”
Because the number of movers has declined in many communities, it can be easy to neglect forms of outreach to movers. But lists of new movers are available, and many movers genuinely need a nudge to begin visiting churches.
The majority of movers utilized in-person visits to churches (69%) and recommendations from family, friends, neighbors, and/or colleagues (54%) when looking for a new church. One mover said, “I moved about 30 miles away to a little town, and I have friends here who told me about my current church.” Another shared that when they moved out of state “friends encouraged us to go to their church in their neighborhood.”
While less common, movers also use church websites (40%), social media sites (32%), online search tools (30%), and phone book or local advertisements (12%) in their search. Movers utilize these electronic and advertising resources much more often than those searching for a church in their existing area. One mover said, “We moved here from a different state. I searched online and found this church after we got settled in, and we started attending.”
This reveals a dual responsibility. The congregation is responsible for inviting people to church and informing people about the good things happening at church. There is also a responsibility for each church to communicate well online. This responsibility could lie with volunteers or staff members. The important thing is that movers find your church and helpful information on your beliefs, location, worship times, and ministries.
Similarly, when asked how they were first introduced to their current church, movers highlight the preeminence of personal interactions. Invitations from a friend or acquaintance (30%), word of mouth (29%), or an invitation from a family member (26%) are the most common introductions.
Movers are twice as likely as non-movers to be introduced to their church by the church website (20%) or to find out about it on the internet through sites like Google Maps, Yelp, a denomination page, or an online church list (19%). One mover explained, “We found our current church by exploring our denominational district website and from referrals by minister friends. We switched to our current church when we moved to a different town.”
While a worship service is the most common event or activity to attend first (64%), more than a third of movers first go to another event such as a class or group, social event, or an online service.
There are advantages to being part of a church near your home. Not only does it save you time and make it easier for you to attend, but it is easier for those you invite to visit your church.
Someone who makes a residential move often puts a priority on the location of the churches they visit. One mover said, “We looked for churches of like beliefs in the area we moved to and tried the one closest first. We really liked it so did not check any more. We felt God wanted us to join here.”
Seven in 10 movers recognize location as important or extremely important in their choice to attend their current church. This is also important for many of those searching for a church where they already live (62%), but it is not quite as high of a priority.
Search for the familiar
When looking for a church in a new community, movers consider two other factors as more important than others who are church shopping. Both of these factors relate to finding some sense of familiarity in their new setting.
Two-thirds of movers (67%) consider the denomination of a church to be important or extremely important in their decision to attend their current church. The doctrines, traditions, terminology, and activities they knew about a denomination matter when movers are looking for a church.
Similarly, more than 6 in 10 movers say it is important or extremely important that their current church had members similar to them when they decided to attend there. One mover described how they came to their church: “My family moved far away from our previous church. We visited a new church one time before deciding to attend. It is close to our new home. We have a long history with some attendees despite never regularly attending before.”
Another mover said, “I moved away and had to find a new church. I found one very similar to my last one, so I felt comfortable there and decided to join.”
When a new mover easily fits in to your church, celebrate this provision for them and your church. But as you see this need is met for them, don’t be afraid to introduce them to others in your church who may not be like them. Our unity as a church is found not in our comfort but in our shared story of redemption.
Less of a wow factor
On numerous dimensions, half of movers describe their new church as possessing or delivering more than their previous church. However, this is much less common among movers than among those changing churches within their existing community.
Movers do not have lower standards, but they are much less likely to be leaving a bad situation and are not necessarily looking for a church upgrade. When Jesus describes those who inherit the kingdom of heaven, He begins by including the poor or humble in spirit. Those who come to your church in humility rather than looking for a church to brag about represent kingdom values.
Let’s proactively find, invite, and welcome believers to church when they move into our area.