5 Smarter Ways To Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders

infrequent church attendance

It’s a challenge you face as a church leader: what do you do with people who only occasionally attend church?

Like at Easter or Christmas or special occasions?

But infrequent attendance isn’t just for holidays anymore. It’s for every day. How do you respond as people generally attend less often?

You know…the couple who comes once every two months but who absolutely calls your church home?

So, the question…How do you interact with infrequent church attendees who don’t seem to be embracing the mission of your church the way you hoped they would?

It’s simple.

You embrace them anyway.

That’s what God would do (have you read the Gospels?). I also think that’s what emotionally intelligent people do.

How do you interact with infrequent church attendees who don't seem to be embracing the mission of your church the way you hoped they would? It's simple. You embrace them anyway. Click To Tweet

That also means, if you’re like me, that you have to fight your inner urge to dismiss infrequent attendees, write them off or just roll your eyes at people who only show up once in a while.

I know…that’s the real issue, isn’t it?

I chose the word ’embrace’ on purpose. Because I know there’s something deep-seated in many of us that wants to reject people if we sense they’re rejecting us. And people who don’t come out to church much on Sunday can feel like rejection if you’re an insecure church leader. (Which, by the way, is many of us on this side of heaven. Here are 5 signs that will tell you whether you’re an insecure leader.)

When I started in ministry a couple of decades ago, if someone didn’t attend church for a while it was almost always was because they left.

Today, I don’t actually sense that the people who haven’t been at our church for a few weeks or a few months are rejecting us. In fact, when I run into them, they tell me they love our church. And that they can’t wait to get back at some point.

Most people who haven’t been at your church for a few weeks or a few months aren’t rejecting you. Here’s the challenge. Infrequent attendees haven’t left your church. They just haven’t been lately.

So what do you do?

There are at least 5 ways you can respond.

Church leaders, fight your inner urge to dismiss infrequent attendees, write them off or just roll your eyes at people who only show up once in a while. Click To Tweet

1. Develop some empathy

Many of today’s church leaders grew up in church. We remember a time when church attendance was simply the thing you did every Sunday. And as church leaders or volunteers, it’s what we still do every Sunday.

So at times it can be a little hard to empathize with people who don’t see things the way we see them.

Personally, I think participating in the mission of a great church weekly (including Sundays) is one of the best things a Christian can do. Unless I’m fooling myself, I think this is a personal conviction, not just a vocational conviction. If I stopped doing vocational ministry tomorrow, I would still want to participate weekly in the mission of a local church, including the Sunday ministry.

But just because I see it that way doesn’t mean everyone sees it that way.

And…here’s the danger…if you start judging people for not seeing it your way, you almost certainly turn them off. People—especially teens and young adults—can smell judgment a mile away. Judgment creates barriers.

So what do you do instead?


It’s not that hard to do if you realize you probably have an attitude about other organizations similar to their attitude toward your church.

People can smell judgment a mile away. So, church leaders, stop judging. Start empathizing. Click To Tweet

Take going to the gym for example.

I have a gym membership. Truthfully, I haven’t been there in two months. But I spin on my bike trainer at home, do push-ups and hike. I watch what I eat and I do other exercises. To me, my goal is fitness and health. It’s not going to the gym. The gym is a means to an end, and it’s not the only means for me.

Am I going to make the cover of next month’s Muscle Magazine? Nope. But that’s not my goal.

Many people think the same way about church. Especially if you’re reaching unchurched people. If a formerly unchurched person shows up 12 times a year, that’s far more than they’ve ever been in church! They might think they’re doing great, and maybe they are compared to how they used to feel spiritually.

So rather than judging them for it, tell them they’re doing great. And invite them into a deeper conversation about faith and life.

I realize the gym analogy breaks down because I don’t think the Christian faith is an individual pursuit like fitness can be (more on that in part 4 of this blog series). And clearly, I would be in better shape if I went to the gym three times a week and had a personal trainer.

But if you stand there with a scowl on your face every Sunday angry about empty seats, why would anyone want to sit in one?

Church leaders, if you stand there with a scowl on your face every Sunday angry about empty seats, why would anyone want to sit in one? Click To Tweet

2. Separate the mission from the method

Somewhere along the way a lot of us end up confusing the mission and the method.

Your mission is to lead people into a relationship with Jesus, not to get people to show up for an hour in a box every Sunday.

Please hear me…I value our time together on Sundays as a church. And I think it’s presently one of our very best vehicles through which to advance the mission of the church (more on that in Part 4 of the series).

But our mission is not to fill seats on a Sunday. It’s to lead people to Jesus.

You should be obsessed with your mission, not with filling seats.

Truthfully, some of us are more in love with the method than the mission. If that’s you, repent. I have. I am.

That shift will create a whole new mindset in your team.

It will help you run offence, not just defense.

You’ll start to think of fresh ways to help people on their journey toward Jesus.

And—don’t miss this—if you really help people move into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, they might show up more regularly in your church on Sunday. Ironic, isn’t it?

Truthfully, some church leaders are more in love with the methods of the church than its mission. Click To Tweet

3. Use technology to help people every day

Church leaders today have an advantage that we simply didn’t have a decade ago.

Social media and even email are great ways to help people deepen their journey with Christ, not just sell your latest program.

What if you started viewing your social media channels and email list as an opportunity to come alongside people and help them grow in their faith?

You have to be careful how you approach this because if you’re just trying to drive attendance, people will notice.

But if you encourage them, inspire them, challenge them and help them, they’ll welcome your presence.

Social media and even email are great ways to help people deepen their journey with Christ, not just sell your latest program. Click To Tweet

So how do you do that?

Simple. Be helpful.

If you run your social media and email content through a helpful filter, people will be thrilled to hear from you. And it will deepen the bond you have with infrequent attendees. They’ll come to see you as a friend, not just one more person trying to sell them something.

Be the favourite person in their inbox, and their favourite thing to see on their newsfeed.

Never underestimate what being helpful does for everyone involved.

4. Start measuring outputs

Church leaders are programmed to measure inputs, not outputs.

We measure how many people showed up, what they gave, who they brought and even online traffic. But rarely do we measure outputs.

What if the church became as much a sending organization as a receiving organization?

What if you developed ways to measure spiritual growth? Like how much time people spend with God personally each day reading scripture and praying? The stats are surprisingly low. According to a recent study, 57% of Americans read their bible four times a year or less. Only 26% read it more than 4 times a week.

What if you helped the people around your church change that?

And what if you got innovate and started thinking through whether people were better off five years after joining your church than were before? Or whether they feel closer to Christ? Or whether they’re making a difference in their workplaces and neighbourhoods? What if you helped them be the church, not just go to church?

Leaders get passionate about what they measure. So measure thoughtfully.

What if you helped your infrequent attendees be the church, not just go to church? Click To Tweet

5. Celebrate wins

It’s strange that when a child takes their first steps, we applaud wildly, but when a Christian takes their first steps, we call them immature.

Sure, so a new Christian doesn’t read their Bible every day or attend every week or give the way you want. I get that. Many long-time Christians don’t either.

Rather than judging them, why not love them?

Why not celebrate when they take a step?

Send a handwritten thank you note to each first-time attendee.  Welcome them when they come back. Throw a party when they show up again 3 months later. Celebrate like crazy when someone gives their first $5 gift. Jump for joy when someone decides to serve or high five them when they decide to get in a group.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a big. The point isn’t to get weird.

The point is to celebrate. As Andy Stanley says, what you celebrate gets repeated.

Want to know how to celebrate? Follow my friend Bob Goff.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with a bigger heart than Bob, or who take more delight in things others might ignore or despise. Let some of his Kingdom of God joy rub off on you. If the church approached ministry the way people like Bob approach life, the church would be a far more attractive and contagious place.

Instead of judging Christians who aren't where you'd hope they'd be, love them. Click To Tweet

Wait…Can You Be More Practical?

Sure can.

So what happens when your church starts to reach the unchurched? How do you structure to keep more people, not just see them show up whenever?

Sometimes, that’s a structural issue. And if you’re not careful, you’ll push up against artificial growth barriers that most churches have no idea how to scale. Largely because they’re invisible.

That’s why I put together the Church Growth Masterclass. It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that. But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

So…what are you learning?

How Do You Handle This?

What’s the hardest part of this discussion for you?

How do you handle or embrace infrequent attendees?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Smarter Ways To Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders


  1. Eric on July 7, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Sure. But, griping about how the crowds aren’t the 12 won’t make them the 12….
    Carey’s talking about laying down our expectations of the starting point (which is that church goers are at least “the 72”! 😛 ), and see where – for the average church goer **of today, NOT yesterday** – the *real* starting point is….

  2. Eric on July 7, 2019 at 10:42 am

    It’s easy to say the theoretical: “Look at the glass as half full”.

    You – on the other hand – give wonderful, relevant, rubber-meets-the-road, heart- and leg-work ways to actually **do** and **live** the theory.

  3. Bobby on July 7, 2019 at 8:23 am

    For those of us who also are wired to receive love (5 love languages) through quality time I think this is even more challenging. In addition to this we have to accept (not like) that people who attend 12-14 times a year are now considered regular attenders (my grandma wouldve referred to them as backslidden). Thank you for your counsel and wisdom. Knowing I’m not the only one who deals with this oddly helps and this is a great reminder; especially this time of year.

  4. Bekele on July 7, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Thank you for sending me the resources

  5. Tom D. on July 7, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Good coping strategy. But the point remains that church is not a priority for these folks. Whatever consumes their Sunday’s is. If church is not a priority the one can (maybe shouldn’t, but can..) assume being a a disciple of Jesus is not perhaps a priority for them. Jesus spoke to 2 types of people in his Sermon on the Mount. The crowd and his disciples (followers). The crowd was amazed – mostly. And put off at times too. And went home afterwards and back to their lives. His disciples were ENGAGED. And committed. And all in. All the way. The crowd loved Jesus on Palm Sunday. And shouted for his crucifixion 5 days later. Let’s not make excuses for the crowd because crowds will always be crowds. Engage those infrequent attendees in a way that makes them want more. And show them how it make it become a priority. The gate and path is narrow. Everyone needs to understand it. Our Lord explained it as matter of factually as possible.

  6. Cyndi Anderson on April 30, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    While much of this was excellent it still left me feeling something wasn’t quite right. You are spot on about the judgment and I am one of those who needs to hear that big time. Here is the problem. I see families with multiple children who honestly believe they are following Jesus and show up once a month or less. I don’t know what to say or do except pray. But I also know healthy confrontation is important. I love these people. They are gifted. They are wasting their lives and they are taking a pile of kids down with them. I know it is their choice but I also know I have a responsibility to love them well. And going to church matters. It is a measure of who is in charge of your life and God doesn’t take second place. It is a measure of who you love. This article does not help me navigate this part. I do pray and I will take seriously how I am radiating judgment because I do love them

  7. Vernon Layne on April 28, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    Hi Carey,

    I still remember when I was an infrequent churchgoer.
    I could feel the judgemental stares when I showed up.
    I love the idea of measuring output and celebrating small victories.
    Great tips.

  8. Gailyn Van Rheenen on April 19, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Well said! Looking forward to being with you in the upcoming Rethink Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

    Gailyn Van Rheenen
    http://www.missiology.com; http://www.missionalive.org

  9. Angela on April 19, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Great article! Like Jesus modeled, we should meet people where they are in order to lead them to where God wants them to be, encouraging them to be the church in addition to attending one. Refreshing and confirming read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Marc Rettus on April 19, 2019 at 8:56 pm

      The article was intended to sell his $297 product.

      • Jonathan R. Baker on July 8, 2019 at 9:32 am

        @Marc Rettus — That’s rather cynical. I, for one, am grateful for this article and the countless others that Carey produces along with his excellent podcast, free of charge. He’s never met me, but he’s invested in my ministry and helped push me to become a better leader.

  10. Jessica Poirier on April 18, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Fantastic Message, I am not in church leadership but we see these faults happen time and time again. Glad you are reaching such a large audience!

  11. Kevin on April 18, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Again Bro, another dandy !
    Iam learning so much from your heart of leadership, and am thankful for God that he’s lead you to me, iam not much of a writer or reader but carey your articles have impacted my spiritual life big-time, iam really learing from your new book
    “Never seen it coming” about what it really means to be a leader both at home and in the work place and my home church,your approach on whats in it for me (WIFM) was a giant nail in the coffin for me with dealing with my self pride and selfishness ! Thank you so much and God bless

  12. Glyn - church planting in Colordao on April 18, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Such a great post again Carey – you model what you have posted here – such good stuff, thanks for this – it’s so easy to focus on #’s and miss hearts – when we focus on the method, which we of course need, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on ourselves – but when we focus on the mission – to lead people to Jesus, that makes our focus about Him!

  13. Mitchell Drew on April 18, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Great stuff, some leaders push conviction rather than Jesus, the Holy Spirit has the job on conviction and God does the cleaning!!

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