The numbers don’t lie – church attendance is declining from year to year.
The Gallup Research Center has long found that 40 percent of Americans attend church, but recent in-depth surveys show this number may be overstated. While about 118 million people claim to attend church regularly, only half of that number show up from week to week.
Between 2007 and 2014, the American population grew by 16 million, but church attendance still dropped by 3.7 percent. Only 27 percent of millennials say they attend church weekly. In a study of attendance at megachurches, weekly attendance rates fell from 96 percent to 82 percent between 2005 and 2015.
This new, casual outlook on attendance is worrisome for leaders. How can you reverse the trend and encourage engaged, dedicated attendance from your members?
Before you can build an effective strategy to boost church attendance, you must understand the core reasons it may be an issue for your church. Here are eight potential causes of the decline:
1. Waning Cultural Pressure
Traditionally, church attendance contributed to an individual’s social and professional reputation. People who used to go to church every week may no longer, simply because they don’t feel the same cultural pressure to conform to “old-fashioned” norms.
2. Travel Is on the Rise
Americans are traveling more than ever. Whether for business or pleasure, today it’s a common reality for families to leave town on the weekend and during school and work breaks. When people are traveling, they don’t usually come to church.
3. Sundays Are Busy
The modern family is extremely busy nearly every day of the week. From the rise in dual-income households to child participation in a wide range of activities, Sunday may be just another day reserved for work travel or a morning soccer game.
If parents and kids are available on a Sunday, it might be their only day to sleep in. Everyone needs down time. Busy families might be tempted to reserve a Sunday or two a month for a morning at home. Are you offering flexible programs that encourage connection for stressed, hectic schedules?
4. Online Resources Allow for a Home Experience
Countless churches offer virtual experiences, making it unnecessary to leave the house if you have a strong Wi-Fi connection. Also, some may not see a reason to visit a local church if they can listen to a podcast from any pastor, anywhere.
While there are clear pros and cons to offering live streaming of your service, churches must accept that online options are here to stay. Regardless of whether or not your church offers a virtual experience, the rise of online service options is likely to affect attendance to some degree.
What digitally-relevant churches must also do is offer something that can’t be broadcast – a real, caring, human connection at each and every service.
5. No Emphasis on Small Group Community
When members aren’t engaged, church attendance will suffer. Participation in small groups, Bible studies and community-building ministries is the first step towards assimilation into the church body. If your church isn’t focusing on making sure each attendee is connected to a small group, eventually those attendees will become occasional visitors only.
6. They Don’t See the Vision
Now more than ever, church leadership must forge a forward path towards clear, defined goals. A vision must exist.
As millennials age and represent a larger portion of congregations, this will only continue to grow in importance. The next generation is full of visionary young workers who will commit their time and talents to further the church’s vision and make a difference in the world, but they have to clearly understand the plan. No church vision? No interest in church.
7. There Is Unresolved Conflict
People don’t always behave the way others expect them to. There are arguments and disagreements. This is a normal part of church life – not everyone will agree all the time.
What’s not normal? When conflict goes unresolved, building resentment, it can completely alter the atmosphere of your church. If your leadership team doesn’t have an effective conflict resolution plan, discord may turn otherwise dedicated attendees away.
8. Church Doesn’t Offer Applicable Value to Daily Life
If your members aren’t making church attendance a priority, it’s a major indication that they don’t consider church necessary. They can make it through their week perfectly fine without visiting on Sunday. Why is that the case?
When church doesn’t offer direct, immediate benefits that enhance daily life, attendance is likely to decline. What’s happening every Sunday at your church? Why don’t your members feel like they’re receiving applicable value?
Stay Open to Change
You’re committed to your church and the people you serve. Boosting church attendance is more than just increasing a Sunday head count. By examining the reasons attendance may be declining, it leads you to a deeper understanding of your church community. What are they looking for? Can you make reasonable changes that enhance dedication and encourage connection?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. We’re in the middle of huge cultural shifts that can feel intimidating. But the church has been through this before and it will prevail (Matthew 16:18). Focus on what you can change at your local level. Your community has its own unique needs. Respond to them.
And pray. Pray that God will give you His vision for your church.