7 Ways to Respond As People Attend Church Less Often

7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often

Everywhere I go, I talk to pastors who are experiencing the same thing.

People who attend church are attending less often.

People who used to attend every week are attending 3 times a month. People who were around twice a month often now show up once a month. And attenders who used to come once a month are showing up half a dozen times a year.

This is true of rapidly growing churches, mega churches, mid-sized churches, Bible churches and churches like Connexus (where 60% of our growth is from previously unchurched people.)

You can get mad at people…but that’s not really that helpful. If all people get is judgment or ‘should have done better’ when they show up at your church, why would they keep coming? You don’t line up to be judged either.

There are fewer and fewer of us every year who

Feel guilty when we miss a Sunday (I do…but I’m a dinosaur…I know it)

Have a natural instinct to head to a gathering of Christians on the first day of the week

Miss church when we can’t get there

Some church leaders I know wonder whether people will even attend physical buildings a decade from now. I believe they will, but maybe not in the droves people are even today.

So what’s going on? And how can you ‘compete’?

Well, culture is changing (in my next post I’ll talk about the changing characteristics of unchurched people).

But two of the biggest factors that used to drive attendance in the last 20-50 years are now reproducible online.

Two decades ago:

If you wanted to hear great preaching, you had to go to church. Podcasting and online campuses have changed this.

If you wanted great music, you had to go to church. Okay, maybe church music wasn’t that great 20 years ago. But somebody liked it. Now, for $20, all your favourite songs are on your phone wherever you go.

So what do you do?

Is the battle lost? Not at all.

Here are 7 ways to respond as people attend church less often:

1. Create an Awesome Online Presence. Launching an online campus is a goal for us, but between Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, app, website and blog, people can pretty much stay connected. And even giving to church online has never been easier. (70% of our offering comes in online.) Many people tell me when they’re not physically present they stay in touch via all of these media. Don’t judge your people for not being there, help them stay connected instead.

2. Elevate Personal Relationships. Somehow facilitating a personal relationship is easier and more effective in person. Churches that value personal relationships (even for thousands of people through groups) will always attract people who value personal connection (which is, I think, almost all of us).

3. Love People. Can you love fully love people without being fully present? Do human relationships go to their deepest level in person? I think so. 2 in 5 married couples meet online today. But even those 2 in 5 couples who meet online don’t stay online…they get married. Love can be expressed online, but its fulfilment happens deepest through personal contact.

4. Create an Irresistible Experience. There is something that happens when you are in the room and in the moment that doesn’t happen watching on line. A live concert is never quite the same as watching a song on YouTube or even a concert in full HD on a kicking home theater system. Church is more than the sum of its parts…between the preaching, music, creative elements, human interaction and hall way conversations. You get much of it online, but not all of it. At least not yet. (By the way, if your church is boring, you’ve already lost the battle. Start there.)

5. Offer Offline Surprises. Do something fun in the parking lot, foyer or service that you don’t podcast. Create some fun moments. Last year we handed out an awesome Canadian treat - gourmet butter tarts – to everyone who attended on a particular long weekend. People who missed it were completely bummed.

6. Create a Culture of Serving. Online church doesn’t allow many serving opportunities. When you get up early to set up and tear down, lead a 2nd grade small group, greet people with a smile, serve on the production team, or serve meals to the homeless, somehow you find a place in service of a goal greater than yourself. Make serving guest and others outside your community part of your culture.

7. Prioritize Kids and Teens. Parents can catch a podcast or watch online, but kids really miss out when parents miss. To be with their friends who are running in the same direction, and to have another voice (small group leader) who knows their name, favourite food and hopes and dreams saying the same thing a loving parent would say, is so far unreproducible in the online world. I believe that when the parents miss church, the kids are the biggest losers. The more you prioritize families, the more families will prioritize Sundays.

The shift in our culture is probably irreversible to some extent. But you have something unique to offer – online and offline.

What are you learning about shifts in attendance and the things that you can help people with offline and online?

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt123415 Matthew Rissmiller

    no, but Christians are called to follow Christ… didn’t see anything in the bible requiring us to follow those who call themselves Christians. We are called to love one another as he has loved us.

  • CurtisMSP

    And Christians today can do the same thing. But it doesn’t necessarily involve attending church in a big building with professional clergy. And if a Christian today did attend church in the manner if the disciples, would they show up on anyone’s count as having attended church?

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt123415 Matthew Rissmiller

    just about every day. They went into holy communion with Jesus on his final night of life in the last supper. The sermons he spoke to his people were relentless.

  • CurtisMSP

    How often did the disciples attend church?

  • Pingback: Gathering for worship at church… | philcoleman

  • Wayne

    Carey,
    I found your comments refreshingly current and extremely accurate in many areas. As one who was extremely involved in a mainline denomination for over 50 years, I found “worship” there to be increasingly banal, vanilla, and all too often just warmed up feel-good-Christianity. I found that I was not getting to the heart of worship. There was no sense of Praise of God, no teaching of the Word, where worship had often devolved to pageants, where mission was about the people going, and with little fellowship beyond smiles and handshakes. The last thing many mainline churches will do is to stress community, small group, accountability, or participate in learning by working in the Word. There is enough politics on the evening news. Church conferences seem to be about how to build the walls stronger to keep the few souls in. At the age of 60 and after serving on every committee known to human and wanting to cry, I left and found a Community Church near us where each week we assemble to Praise God, to reach out to each other, to serve in Mission (not to take selfies), to grow in small groups, and to be fed in challenging teaching that makes us uncomfortable at times. It is not about numbers in Pews. I don’t think our Lord cared about how many followers were with Him. That accounting of numbers will come–See Revelation. Pastors that truly share the Word are needed, but the whole mainstream Church hierarchy needs serious re-examination. Many of the lay leaders in Churches are just burned out. Laity are as much to blame as the paid staff. The lay members must be accountable and demand excellence,and take back the leadership. The numbers not physically attending church regularly is but one small sign of a bigger problem. The Great Awakening, and the Revivalist Movements of the past faced the same relevance issues. If the Church is truly the Body of Christ and His gift to us, then it will survive but maybe not in the form we think. Can we be open to that? Oh, Great God, I pray it is so.