Whenever I walk into a church facing attendance decline, a common theme emerges: The leaders are concerned that people are attending services less frequently. They’ll explain that regulars used to show up every week, but now they’re attending only once or twice a month.
While this may be true, we can’t use this trend of decreasing frequency as an excuse to mask other factors that are really contributing to the overall attendance decline.
So, How Should Church Leaders React to Declining Frequency of Church Attendance?
It’s not going to do any good to hope we will return to the days when Christians went to church every week out of obligation. Those days are long gone. (Frankly, I think that’s a good thing. I’d much rather people experience a devoted relationship with Jesus rather than checking things off a religious list of obligations!)
So, rather than panic about attendance patterns, let me offer these proactive next steps you could take to encourage people to show up more often:
- Encourage people to develop relationships inside and outside the church.
The more friends we have inside the church, the more often we’ll want to be together. The more friends we have outside the church, the more intentional we’ll want to be about inviting them to join us at a service.
- Prioritize a discipleship path over church programs.
People are already proving with their worship attendance that attending more programs and events is a challenge. Many competing church programs will only compound attendance challenges on Sunday morning.
Instead, encourage people to take steps on a discipleship path. Help people grow in their devotion to Christ. Focus more on who you want people to become in Christ rather than what you want them to do. When people fall in love with Jesus, they’re going to be more likely to engage in corporate teaching and worship.
- Mobilize people in volunteer serving opportunities.
It’s just common sense: When people commit to serving, they’ll also be committed to showing up on a more regular basis. Help people feel part of the team. Connect people to the big mission of the church. When people experience that sense that they’re part of something bigger than themselves, they’ll want to be engaged on a more consistent basis.
- Offer more options.
Sunday mornings are not sacred in our culture anymore. Jobs compete with Sundays. Sports are competing with that time. People’s leisure and recreational pursuits are competing for attention. In every other area of our culture, we’ve shifted to an on-demand mindset.
The church can’t just offer one option on Sunday morning and expect people, especially those outside the faith, to readjust their lives. We may need to add more service options on Sunday mornings. Many churches are trying weeknight service options to avoid competing for weekend time.
- Become less predictable.
You’ve heard me talk about this before. I think the modern church has become the new traditional church. We are creatively-challenged. Every service is just like the last. When services become predictable and people assume this week will be just like last week, it makes it easier for them to decide to skip. (I’ll admit it. I’ve done that.)
This is going to take hard work, but the church needs to embrace creativity again. We need to reintroduce some element of surprise in our weekend services. You may not be able to do this every week, but at least begin by doing a fresh, creative element in each series every four to six weeks. Give people a reason to get out of bed and get to a service because they don’t want to miss something fresh.
That’s a handful of proactive next steps we could take to encourage people to show up to weekend services more frequently. I’m sure you and your team can come up with others as well. Whatever the case, let’s be intentional about engaging people on a more regular basis rather than giving up and letting the trend continue to play out or trying to guilt people into attending out of obligation.
There’s no need to panic—but we can’t continue doing the same things we’ve always done and expect different results.
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