There’s no doubt the church is undergoing a massive cultural shift as people attend church less often, and even regular attenders show up less frequently than before. (I outlined that trend in detail in this five part blog series.)
As much as everything is changing and we need to respond to that, almost every church still holds weekend services and likely will for years to come.
So, in the meantime, what can you do to help reach more people? What can you do to boost weekend church attendance?
Before you think this is just a numbers game, realize it’s also a spiritual issue.
To me, declining attendance is a spiritual issue because I believe that disconnected people rarely grow spiritually.
Connect people and they grow. Disconnect people, and they don’t.
So, naturally, I’m motivated to connect people.
Can we connect people outside Sunday? Absolutely. By all means connect people through groups, other gatherings, in local mission and so much more.
And yet this truth remains: the weekend service is, functionally, a primary way most people connect with the church and connect with God.
So to ignore Sundays is to ignore a reality that impacts hundreds of millions of people every week.
10 Changes You Can Make to Boost Weekend Attendance
So if you’re holding weekend services, what can you do to bump weekend attendance positively, knowing that it will help people connect better to God?
Here are 10 ideas that are relatively simple to implement:
1. Invite, don’t assume
I think many leaders still hold the assumption that if you attend church, you’ll be there weekly. As we’ve seen before, that’s just not true anymore.
So instead of just closing the serve and assuming everyone will be back, invite people to come back. Close the service by saying something like “Next week we’ll be (fill in the blank) and we’d love for you to join us.”
When you change your language this way, you raise the anticipation level.
2. Facilitate an experience more than a show
As worship has changed over the last generation, in many ways it has become as much of a ‘show’ as it has anything else.
As both David Kinnaman and John Stickl have pointed out on recent leadership podcast episodes (episode 24 and 29 respectively), millennials are far less attracted to ‘the show’ (highly produced, highly generic services) than their boomer parents and grandparents.
If you’re in a large church, the show will be the experience killer. People don’t want to attend something that they can access just as easily via podcast.
If you’re a small church, mediocrity (poorly produced, poorly executed services) will be the experience killer. It’s hard to draw people back to something that’s consistently underwhelming or poorly done.
I think the future will belong to leaders who can facilitate compelling gatherings (large or small) that usher people into the presence of God.
John Stickl provides great insight on how to usher millennials into the presence of God in a megachurch setting. It’s worth the listen.
3. Employ more than one or two senses
I’m a verbal, logical learner, so my default it always just to talk or write.
But I realized a long time ago I need to engage visual learners and other learning styles.
Increasingly, our team is using media like this in our services to help people connect with the full message and impact of the Gospel. In my teaching, I’m using more infographics and images in addition to words to communicate points.
This goes far beyond music, images and words.
Even communion is sensory, something that can’t just be reduced to a few words or yet another bottom line.
Lighting levels, haze and even incense can add to an experience. You can’t podcast any of those things.
4. Make the next step beyond Sunday clear
Many leaders don’t point to anything beyond the next Sunday’s message (if they do that).
I’m increasingly passionate about helping people find their next step.
Recently at Connexus Church, where I lead, we introduced a Next Steps kiosk at our locations. We staff it with some of our best volunteers who understand our mission and love connecting with people.
We train them to read where people are at and make recommendations on which next step is best for them. For some it may be baptism, for others it might be Starting Point or group, for still others it could be serving or inviting a friend.
The goal is to get people to engage by taking a step. Why? Engaged people grow faster. It’s as simple as that.
They also tend to show up more (but that’s a by-product of their growth).
5. Teach in series
Many preachers now teach in series, but there’s a surprising number who don’t. Next Sunday still consists of whatever the preacher thought up on Monday afternoon (or Saturday night). Bad idea on about a hundred levels.
Teaching in 3 to 10 week message series gives people something to look forward to. Plus, it gives you something new to feature every month or two.
Additionally, series are memorable. I am amazed at how many times people tell me about a series we did years ago that impacted them. They remember the name, the bottom line and even the artwork.
Plus, a new series gives everyone a fresh chance to invite a friend.
6. Angle your messages as connected parts (think ‘episodes’)
If you teach in series, it means you won’t be as tempted to ‘cover all the bases’ in one sermon. You have a series for that.
I try to cover ONE idea per message. No more, no less.
That means you can pick up where you left off the week before after a brief recap of where the series has gone so far.
Rather than pushing people away, that draws people in. It’s why series like Suits, Downton Abbey or House of Cards are so successful. You can’t easily jump into the middle of a season—you need to watch from the beginning.
I’m not suggesting you make your message hard to access for first time attenders. Not at all. Just let them know there’s more that addresses the questions they’re asking.
It will drive people to your podcasts or website to catch up on what they missed, and make them want to come back.
You can still make the message ‘work’ as a standalone, but building continuity with other parts of the series makes it an experience people want to come back to.
And because you’re changing series every 3-8 weeks, you have lots of opportunity to start fresh throughout the year.
7. Give people homework
One aspect of teaching so many preachers miss is application. We give too much information and not nearly enough application.
Preachers, ask yourself, what are people going to do with this message on a Tuesday? If you can’t answer that, don’t preach it.
Sometimes I work harder on the application than I do on other areas of the message. Why? Because people remember what they apply. And because application is everything.
Don’t just ask what people need to know. Ask what people need to do. Then answer that, clearly.
8. Encourage everybody to bring somebody
People who invite people to church with them tend to not miss church.
I would strongly encourage you to elevate the value of inviting and bringing friends. Forget the weekend attendance that might bring.
It’s also one of the best ways for people to grow spiritually. Sharing your faith grows your faith.
Finally, it moves your church far closer to accomplishing its mission; sharing the hope of Christ with the world. Why wouldn’t everybody bring somebody?
9. Specifically invite people to follow you on social media
If your church has a social media presence on Sundays (most do), talk about it!
As I outlined in this post, most of us don’t. What a mistake. Stop greeting people like it’s 1999.
By encouraging people to connect with you via social media, you can connect with them all week long.
10. Make volunteering a great experience
If your volunteers hate serving, they’ll be looking to escape from your church any time they don’t have to be there.
Here’s a post that explains why many churches lose high capacity volunteers. Here’s another one that outlines 7 questions every volunteer asks but never says out loud.
You want your volunteers to love serving so much that it creates a contagious environment. In Episode 20 of my leadership podcast, Frank Bealer from Elevation Church explains how what Elevation Church does to get thousands of volunteers as passionate about their mission as staff.
Turn around your volunteer culture, and you will have a far more irresistible weekend gathering.
What About You?
Those are some things we’re thinking about and doing around our leadership table to respond to the trend of declining attendance we’re all seeing.
What are you doing? What has enticed you?
Scroll down and leave a comment!