"Personal invitation from someone you know" is by far the most cited reason people first heard about and then started attending a United Methodist Church, according to findings about the United Methodist Sample in the latest US Congregational Life Survey. **
Here are two charts, courtesy of GCFA, that tell the story about what does, and does not so much, influence the decisions people make to start attending one of our congregations.
How did you learn about this congregation?
Why do I say this? Some years ago, C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler did some research on the "unchurched" that revealed that, for the most part, churched people know churched people and unchurched people know unchurched people. And the longer people are churched, the fewer unchurched people they know. Since we know from the US Congregational Life Survey just how important personal relationships are in moving people to attend the first time, it is essential that we be intentional about constantly increasing our social networks, especially to include unchurched people, else chances are good our social networks will contract and so will our church attendance!
The top two takeaways here are not rocket science. They're not even sophisticated sociology. And they don't require your congregation to hire a consultant to develop a "growth strategy." Go talk to people and make new friends. And make sure your building is visible and somewhere folks can easily find it. If you're doing these things, you're doing the most important things by far to increase the likelihood that you may see more first time visitors over time.
**The GCFA Office of Analysis & Research asked churches to distribute a survey questionnaire to each worshipper in the pews on April 26 or May 3, 2009. Participating churches were randomly selected from a list of congregational leaders who indicated an interested in the project on their 2008 Congregational Leadership Survey. Additional racial/ethnic churches were recruited with the help of several UM caucus leaders. Nearly 200 churches registered to participate in the survey, with over 70% returning their completed materials. The final data represents 141 churches with individual 8,622 worshippers.