Mar 20, 2024

2 Things to Consider About Church Visitors This Easter

The majority of pastors tell Barna that their congregation is open to welcoming the unchurched. As Easter approaches, it’s important for pastors to gauge what might feel meaningful to those who are visiting church, perhaps for the first time or at least for the first time in a while.

This article explores data from Making Space for Church Visitors, a briefing we created in partnership with Aspen Group. The full briefing is available to read on Barna Access Plus.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Church Visitors May Represent the Growing Spiritual Curiosity in the U.S.
While religious affiliation and church attendance continue to decline, spiritual openness and curiosity are on the rise in the U.S. Across all age groups, we see a desire to grow spiritually, as well as a belief in a spiritual / supernatural dimension and belief in God or a higher power. Nearly half of U.S. adults (44%) even say they are more open to God today than they were before the pandemic.

Many pastors feel their church might be a fit for this spiritually open moment. About one in three pastors strongly agrees their church is a safe place for non-Christians who want to explore Christianity (32%) or for people to explore spiritual beliefs (30%). They tell Barna their congregation is “very interested” (70%) in becoming more open to people outside the Church.

In fact, many pastors—and Christians—feel their church is already succeeding at being welcoming to visitors. Nearly half of U.S. pastors (44%) strongly agree their church is a welcoming environment for newcomers, and research for Making Space reveals nearly half of U.S. Christians (47% strongly agree) affirm that “my church is inviting to visitors.”

For Those Without a Church Home, Excitement Takes a Back Seat to Simplicity & Authenticity
It seems church leaders are often thinking about how their church is experienced. Our research asked people, churched and unchurched alike, to describe those experiences for themselves.

Overall, two in five U.S. adults (42%) say they would most likely feel “connected to God” while sitting in a church, something nearly one in three unchurched adults (32%) would feel as well. Additionally, two in five unchurched adults (41%) say they would feel “peaceful” sitting in a church.

When asked to describe their ideal church based on various “this or that” pairings, the unchurched stand out in their preference for serene atmospheres. For instance, 80 percent of unchurched adults would strongly prefer “calm” church experiences over “exhilarating.” Likewise, 69 percent of unchurched adults prefer a “reflective” experience over “energetic.” (Churched adults, on the other hand, are less likely to prefer these kinds of spaces.)

Furthermore, unchurched adults seem to value church practices that are quiet, reflective and acknowledge the presence of God; “connecting to God” (52%), “emotional comfort” (47%), “time for contemplation and reflection” (42%) and “the presence of the Holy Spirit” (42%) are what they say makes a church experience meaningful.

Spiritually Open Series

Cultivating Curiosity & Conversation About Jesus

Churches have a special opportunity to draw in visitors with spaces that provide a feeling of peace, purpose, safety and more. How might your church do this? Consider emphasizing church design and use that evokes characteristics of the places, feelings and experiences we’ve described. What would happen if a visitor’s first experience as they walk in to a church embodies peace and calm?

In light of this data, pastors might be wondering, “What does this mean for my church?” Each of our Making Space briefings includes some helpful resources and prompts to help pastors think through next steps for their context.

About the Research

Research for Making Space consists of data and analysis based on an online quantitative survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted from February 28–March 9, 2022. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. For this survey, researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors, and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the United States population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).

The Spiritually Open project is based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers (ages 13-17) conducted online from December 13–22, 2022 via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.

Additionally, a survey among 511 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted online from December 13, 2021–January 3, 2023. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Proprietary Pastor Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Photo by Alicia Quan on Unsplash.

© Barna Group, 2024.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Barna Access Plus

Lead with Insight

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.