“The Type of Church I Attend:” Preferences in Church Size and Setting by Age

Blog April 6, 2022

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The 2017–2018 Global Church Member Survey (GCMS 2017–18) was conducted globally to understand different aspects of church life. One area studied was the impact of church size on different aspects of church life. A total of 63,756 surveys were collected. While the opinions of survey participants were subject to the participant him- or herself, these numbers provided a general idea of worldwide beliefs and involvement in specific activities.

In a previous blog some time ago, we asked the hard question, “Is bigger better?” when it comes to church size. The 2017–18 GCMS showed that attendees of larger churches were more satisfied overall with their local church, while the attendees of small churches were the least satisfied. In addition, when asked how probable it was that they would continue their SDA membership, those who attended a large church were most confident about remaining in the Church (95.2% somewhat likely/very likely).

Churches come in all shapes and sizes. Some people have a specific preference about the size or setting of the church they attend, while others attend the church that is closest to where they live/most convenient. However, have you ever wondered if specific age groups have a preference about the size and/or setting of the church they attend?

Church Size and Age

Based on further analysis of the 2017–18 GCMS data and the significant differences, small churches were defined as those with 50 persons or fewer in attendance weekly, medium churches as 51 to 400, and large churches as 401 or more persons in attendance each week.

When church size was cross-tabulated by respondent age, the survey revealed the following:

  • Children and youth (45%) were more likely to attend small churches; in many cases, it is likely that they attend the same church as their parents.
  • Both emerging (36%) and young adults (38%) were more likely to attend a medium church.
  • Adults (37%) were more likely to attend a medium church.
  • Older adult participants were more likely to attend a small church (38%) than a large church (27%).

Church Setting and Age

Similarly, attendees of certain ages seem to prefer churches in different settings.

When results from the GCMS 2017–2018 regarding church settings were cross-tabulated by age, the survey determined the following:

  • Children and youth were more likely to attend church in a town, village, or rural area.
  • Slightly under half (45%) of emerging adult participants reported attending church in a town/village or rural area.
  • Two in five (40%) of young adult survey participants reported attending a church located in a town, village, or rural area. Another 35% reported attending church at a large city church.
  • Adults reported attending church predominantly in a large city (21%) or town/village (24%).
  • Slightly less than half (45%) of older adult respondents reported attending church in a smaller city or town/village.

“Why Does it Matter?”

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why does it matter what kind of church young adults or older adults attend?” In fact, this matters quite a bit. Research has shown that churches with young adults present are more healthy and vital.[1] “There is a great chance young adults are wanting to make the church a better place, healthier and dynamic agent of change but are not always properly understood”[2]. On the other hand, older adults bring a certain level of maturity and life experiences to a church; their contributions to church life cannot be overlooked or taken for granted.

We also should not overlook the findings that young people under 20 are mostly attending small churches, possibly with their parents. Are there other people of their age? Is there a vital ministry to children or youth? This will play a role in their spiritual growth and retention.

What is the size of your local church? What kind of age groups are there? Let us remember that despite the church’s size, we all have a role to play there. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ… But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:5, 9 KJV).


Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry

Published by ASTR on 04-06-2022


[1] Činčala, P. & Drumm R. D. (2019, October 26). The younger the better? How the presence of young adults in congregations predicts vitality. Presentation at the annual conference of Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO.

[2] Činčala, P. & Drumm R. D. (2019, October 26). The younger the better? How the presence of young adults in congregations predicts vitality. Presentation at the annual conference of Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO.(slide 15)