7 Ways to Pivot As People Attend Church Less Often

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

People who attend church are attending less often.

If it was a problem before the pandemic, it’s an even greater problem now.

People who used to attend every week are attending 2 times a month. People who were around twice a month often now show up once a month. And attendees 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 church plants.

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.

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 favorite songs are on your phone wherever you go.

Is the battle lost? Not at all.

7 ways to pivot as people attend church less often

1. Create an Awesome Online Presence

Launching an online campus is something I think most churches have done in the past two years, but between Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, apps, websites, and blogs, people can pretty much stay connected in several ways.

And even giving to church online has never been easier. 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.

Don't judge your people for not being there, help them stay connected instead. Click To Tweet

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).

Churches that value personal relationships will always attract people who value personal connection. Click To Tweet

3. Love People

Can you fully love people without being fully present? Do human relationships go to their deepest level in person? I think so. For example, 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 fulfillment 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.

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 preaching, music, creative elements, human interaction, and hallway conversations. You get much of it online, but not all of it. At least not yet.

5. Offer Offline Surprises

Do something fun in the parking lot, foyer, or service that you don’t broadcast.

Create some fun moments. One year at my church, we handed out an awesome Canadian treat – gourmet butter tarts – to everyone who attended on a particularly long weekend.

People who missed it were completely bummed.

6. Create a Culture of Serving

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 guests and others outside your community part of your culture.

Make serving guests and others outside your community part of your culture. Click To Tweet

7. Prioritize Kids and Teens

Parents can catch a podcast or watch it online, but kids really miss out when parents miss.

To be with their friends who are running in the same direction and have another voice (small group leader) who knows their name, favorite 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 more you prioritize families, the more families will prioritize Sundays. Click To Tweet

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

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to an online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.