By Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—America’s Protestants like to invite their friends to church.
At least once in a while.
Nearly two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers say they’ve invited at least one person to visit their church in the past six months, according to a new report from Nashville-based Lifeway Research.
“It’s a fairly easy thing for churchgoers to do,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “In any six-month stretch, there are major Christian holidays and often other special events that are perfect occasions for churchgoers to invite friends and acquaintances.”
Church invitations fairly common
For the study, Lifeway Research surveyed 1,010 Americans who attend a Protestant or nondenominational church at least once a month.
Churchgoers were asked how often they’d invited an individual or a family to attend a worship service with them at their church in the last six months. They could include repeated invitations to the same people. Invitations counted even if they were turned down.
Seventeen percent say they extended an invitation. Twenty-one percent extended two invitations, while 25 percent extended three or more. Nine percent say they don’t know how many invitations they extended.
Three out of 10 say they didn’t invite anyone (29 percent).
“That’s a pretty substantial number,” said McConnell. “For a number of churchgoers, inviting people to church isn’t on their radar.”
Church invitations are harder to come by in some parts of the country. Forty-two percent of churchgoers in the Northeast say they hadn’t invited anyone, while 37 percent of Midwesterners skipped the invitations. By contrast, only 24 percent of Southerners and 26 percent of those in the West say they hadn’t invited anyone.
Invitation rates also vary by denomination.
Churchgoers who attend Assemblies of God or other Pentecostal churches (71 percent) and those who attend non-denominational churches (69 percent) are more likely to say they’ve invited at least one person to church. Lutherans (55 percent) and Methodists (53 percent) are less likely.
Forty-three percent of Methodists say they had not invited anyone, as did 41 percent of Lutherans. Fewer nondenominational (20 percent), Baptist (22 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal (23 percent) churchgoers skipped invitations.
Churchgoers who are Baptist (31 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal (30 percent) are more likely to have invited three or more people than Lutherans (17 percent) or Methodists (15 percent).
Not surprisingly, the more often people go to church, the more likely they are to invite someone to go along. Twenty-seven percent of people who attend at least once a week had invited three or more people. That drops to 10 percent for those who attended once or twice a month.
Almost half of those who attend services once or twice a month had not invited anyone to go with them (46 percent). By contrast, 26 percent of people who attend at least once a week had not invited anyone.
Inviting people not top of mind
Researchers also asked churchgoers why they didn’t bring more people to church with them.
It’s a natural question since most congregations want more people to experience Christian community, McConnell said. And they want more people to have a relationship with Jesus.
Thirty-one percent say “I don’t know why” when asked why they don’t invite more people. Twenty percent say people have refused their invitation. Seventeen percent say they don’t know anyone to invite, while 11 percent say they aren’t comfortable asking people to come to church.
Only 4 percent say inviting people isn’t their job.
McConnell said he’s a bit concerned with people who say they don’t know anyone to invite.
“That’s problematic,” he said. “There are a small but significant number of churchgoers who seem to have no contact with people who don’t go to church.”
McConnell said he’s not surprised to find that people turn down invitations to come to church. A 2016 Lifeway Research study found only a third of unchurched people said they were likely to come to a church worship service if invited (35 percent).
“In today’s culture, you might be inviting someone to attend a church service for the first time in their lives,” he said. “Communicating the value of why a churchgoer attends is going to take some time.”
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends.
Lifeway Research conducted the study Aug. 22–30, 2017. The survey was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. People in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate but do not already have internet access, GfK provides at no cost a laptop and ISP connection.
For this survey, a nationally representative sample of U.S. Protestant and nondenominational adults (18 and older) who attend religious services once a month or more often was selected from the KnowledgePanel®.
Sample stratification and base weights were used for gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, metro/non-metro, home ownership, education and income to reflect the most recent U.S. Census data. Study-specific weights included for gender by age, race/ethnicity, region and education to reflect GSS 2016 data. The completed sample is 1,010 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.