February 17, 2010
Bars, not church, best place to meet friends, says survey
by Kimberlee Hauss
Religion News Service
Americans say Starbucks, Chili’s and bars are better places than church to meet new friends, according to a new survey.
Restaurants, bars or pubs attract 18 percent of Americans as a place to meet people, while churches draw 16 percent and online venues like Facebook pull 11 percent, said the survey, released in late January by Group Publishing, a nondenominational Protestant publishing house in Colorado.
The online survey polled nearly 800 respondents, more than three-quarters of whom identified themselves as Christians, and has a plus or minus error rate of 4 percentage points.
Group Publishing commissioned the survey in order to “determine where the church ranks as compared to other ‘around-town’ venues when measuring the places, people and attributes that define friendly to Americans today.”
Why would people choose a restaurant or bar over church? Chris Howley, director of research of Group Publishing, said many people feel “compelled” to be in church. They go as a sense of obligation and therefore have no spiritual motivation for attending. The social atmosphere of a pub or restaurant draws people in without the feeling of obligation, he said.
The church may not be America’s favorite spot to meet new people, but it is one of the friendliest. Americans said church is the second-friendliest place in town, behind, unsurprisingly, home. Restaurants and bars came in third, followed by grocery stores and coffee shops.
While the results did not conclude churches are unfriendly, Howley said the results could have been better. In particular, pastors could be friendlier. A list of the friendliest people in town revealed a close friend at the top, followed by a family member, neighbor, co-worker, minister or religious leader.
The ‘friendly index’ of pastors was not much higher than hairstylists and store clerks, said Jon Vaughan, Group Publishing’s corporate marketing director.
Social media, the third favorite place to meet new people, may a new way to boost the friendly quotient.
“We don't think the church should see (social media) as a threat at all, but they should embrace the Internet. It’s a way to engage people and bring people in,” Howley said.
Vaughan concurs. “Since the Internet has become an integral element of our daily lives, pastors and church leaders must be more creative in facilitating social networking — both face-to-face and through the Web,” he said.
Once the data came in, Group Publishing examined the factors making a place “friendly” and offered insight to churches on how to create a more welcoming atmosphere. Among top factors constituting a friendly place were “making me feel like I belong” and “making me feel comfortable,” said the survey.