The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It, by Thom Rainer


The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It
Thom Rainer

Few peo­ple will argue that church atten­dance in many church­es in Amer­i­ca is declin­ing. Our own research indi­cates that the major­i­ty of church­es in our coun­try are not grow­ing.

Most of us have our own ideas why atten­dance is declin­ing. Many have sug­gest­ed that our nation is shift­ing away from its Chris­t­ian roots, and thus the church­es are declin­ing as a small­er pro­por­tion of our coun­try are believ­ers in Christ.

I cer­tain­ly will not argue with that premise. Cer­tain­ly atten­dance declines are relat­ed to mas­sive cul­tur­al shifts in our nation. But I would also sug­gest that one rea­son for declines has a greater impact than oth­ers.

The Fre­quen­cy Issue

Stat­ed sim­ply, the num­ber one rea­son for the decline in church atten­dance is that mem­bers attend with less fre­quen­cy than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain.

If the fre­quen­cy of atten­dance changes, then atten­dance will respond accord­ing­ly. For exam­ple, if 200 mem­bers attend every week the aver­age atten­dance is, obvi­ous­ly, 200. But if one-half of those mem­bers miss only one out of four weeks, the atten­dance drops to 175.

Did you catch that? No mem­bers left the church. Every­one is still rel­a­tive­ly active in the church. But atten­dance declined over 12 per­cent because half the mem­bers changed their atten­dance behav­ior slight­ly.

This phe­nom­e­non can take place rather quick­ly in an indi­vid­ual church. And lead­ers in the church are often left scratch­ing their heads because the behav­ioral change is so slight, almost imper­cep­ti­ble. We real­ly don’t notice when some­one who attends four times a month begins to attend only three times a month. Nor do we typ­i­cal­ly catch it when the twice-a-month attendee becomes a once-a-month attendee.

Five Pos­si­ble Approach­es to the Prob­lem

Of course, the heart of the prob­lem is not declin­ing num­bers but wan­ing com­mit­ment. As I addressed in my book, I Am a Church Mem­ber, church mem­ber­ship is becom­ing less and less mean­ing­ful in many church­es. As mem­ber­ship becomes less mean­ing­ful, com­mit­ment nat­u­ral­ly wanes.

While I don’t want to sug­gest there is a magic bul­let to this prob­lem, I do want to offer some approach­es to address it. These five have proven to be the most help­ful in hun­dreds of church­es:

Raise the expec­ta­tions of mem­ber­ship. You may be sur­prised how many church mem­bers don’t real­ly think it’s that impor­tant to be an active part of the church. No one has ever told them dif­fer­ent­ly.

Require an entry class for mem­ber­ship. By doing so, the church makes a state­ment that mem­ber­ship is mean­ing­ful. The class should also be used to state the expec­ta­tions of what a com­mit­ted mem­ber looks like.

Encour­age min­istry involve­ment. Many mem­bers become less fre­quent atten­dees because they have no min­istry roles in the church. They do not feel like they are an inte­gral part of the church.
Offer more options for wor­ship times. Our cul­ture is now a 24/7 pop­u­la­tion. Some mem­bers have to work dur­ing the times of wor­ship ser­vices. If pos­si­ble, give them options. One busi­ness­man recent­ly told me that he changed con­gre­ga­tions to a church that offered a Sat­ur­day wor­ship time because his job required him to catch a plane on Sun­day morn­ing.

Mon­i­tor atten­dance of each mem­ber. This approach is often dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly for wor­ship atten­dance. That is why the tra­di­tion­al Sun­day school approach of call­ing absen­tees was so effec­tive. Per­haps church­es can incor­po­rate that approach in all groups. Mem­bers are less like­ly to be absent if they know some­one miss­es them.

When Church Mem­ber­ship Becomes Mean­ing­ful

Peo­ple want to be a part of some­thing that makes a dif­fer­ence. They desire to be involved in some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, in many church­es mem­ber­ship has become less and less mean­ing­ful. Until we get our church­es back to the com­mit­ted mem­ber­ship the Apos­tle Paul man­dates in 1 Corinthi­ans 12, we will con­tin­ue to see declin­ing atten­dance. But when mem­ber­ship becomes truly mean­ing­ful, our church­es will become an unstop­pable force for the King­dom and glory of God.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s