About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week.
Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.
Something is wrong with this picture. For 2,000 years, the local church, as messy as it is, has been God’s place for believers to gather, worship, minister, and be accountable to one another.
And every time I write something about church membership and attendance, I inevitably hear cries of “legalism” or “the church is not a building” or “the church is a messed up institution.”
But the local church, the messy local church, is what God has used as His primary instrument to make disciples. But commitment is waning among many church members.
- We are minimizing the importance of the local church. When we do, we are less likely to attend. A few drops of rain may keep many folks from attending church, but it won’t stop them from sitting three hours in the downpour watching their favorite football team.
- We worship the idols of activities. Many members will replace a day in their church with a day at kid’s soccer or softball games or sleeping off the hangover of the previous day’s activities.
- We take a lot of vacations from church. I am not anti-vacation. But 20 years or so ago, we would make certain we attended a church where we were taking a vacation. Today, many members take a vacation from church.
- We do not have high expectations of our members. Any purposeful organization expects and gets much of it members, whether it’s a sports team or a civic organization. It is ironic that most churches do not come close to being a high expectation church.
- We make infrequent attendees leaders in our churches. When we do, we are making a clear statement that even the leaders of the church do not have to be committed to the place they supposedly lead.
I heard a leader of an organization tell the members he did not want them if they were not fully committed. They could not be AWOL if they wanted to be a part of the group. He expected full commitment.
He is a high school football coach. And all the team members follow that high expectation of commitment.
If we truly expect to make a difference in our communities and our families, members of local churches need to have at least the same level of commitment as members of sports teams.
After all, the mission of each local church is far more important.
At least it should be.
Posted on May 22, 2017
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Thank you ! A very important material the church generation of today is missing
I thought I saw some statistics that said the average person attended 1.7 times per month in 2018 and that it was closer to 2.2 times per month ten years earlier. But I cannot find the reference! Can you please direct me?
I personally wish Church’s were more family-like, like they used to be. Providing times to mingle, share personal prayer needs & testimonies, and meals even. As a single mom overcoming a few health challenges, Im often burnt out, exhausted, feeling not well and always missing bible study trying to rush my child through dinner before. I think if Church made the people’s problems their own, helped us fight overwork, underpay, abuse and abandonment of women and children, offer rides, etc, Church would be easy for those who hunger for it, but have so much they have stacked against them in just trying to get there. I’ve had jobs that wouldn’t give me more than 2 days personal time in 14 months as a policy. And bully you into production requiring long and late hours, or even recruit you out of state just to demand you work weekends as a single parent which was never part of the original job description or requirement. When you stand your ground to ‘put God first’ they give you hell. We are being taken advantage of as a people and are worn out. And when I attended Church regularly for a while and served ministry til I got sick and had to go home to family no one even called to check on me. Commitments have to work both ways. This is easier when every Church’s goal also isn’t in expansion or mega church status. There’s plenty of God’s work in your own community no matter how small it may seem. I’m not at all blaming Churches. I love God’s House. But I just feel Church administration have no clue how to truly reach and help their people. They want to fulfill mission work, but even the word says while the work is plenty workers are few. You have to figure out how to retain your workers for God’s harvest. Even if it means knowing their obstacles and praying for them. No one has ever asked me “What would help you get to Church more often?” And on days I’m not my best and struggling to get me and my young child together, but still want to go, that would be golden.
A cautionary tale of two churches: I used to attend (and work at) a church that emphasized church attendance, tithing and giving, and working in the church – to the degree that many members felt they were in sin if they didn’t score a perfect 10 in each area. At the time, it was a large, thriving church of several thousand members. However, within the past 10 years, the church has experienced a steep decline in membership.
I’m sure there are several reasons for the decline, but one that jumps out at me was the resistance of the younger generations to carry on the practices of their parents and grandparents. Many of them resented being forced to attend church several days a week, they resented missing out on what they perceived as “life events” because these activities conflicted with a church event, and when they became adults, they rebelled against this perceived rigidness.
They also resented the constant messages on tithing/giving, and the importance of being a member of the local church. This would entail long message series extending for months at a time. They felt that they were “needed” to provide money and free labor, and also resented the lavish life styles of the senior leadership team while being admonished to give more – even though some of them were struggling financially.
For the past few years, I have been a member of one of the largest church in the country (and hundreds of my former church members have also joined). It’s like a breath of fresh air! Even though the pastor does not preach on tithing and giving, members freely give. The pastor taught a message on the importance of resting and actually SAID, “Sometimes you and your family just need to stop and rest. If you occasionally miss a Sunday, it’s not the end of the world.” (I know this sounds blasphemous to most pastors.) However, the younger adults from my former church now can’t wait to attend church, and they freely volunteer to serve and engage in (and even lead) small groups. And, (most important to church growth) they invite others to attend church activities with them.
I’m sure that many will disagree with my interpretation, but I believe that most adults have the ability to discern when they are receiving value from an organization/activity or not. Yes, they get their kids up for school Monday-Friday because they think education is important. They make sure the kids attend practices and games because they perceive this as being important.
Ironically, after some of the younger adults left the first church, their parents starting leaving. They noticed how their kids – who used to complain about going to church – are now excited to do so, and this influenced them to take a look at the type of church that could produce such results.
Some people feel that they are forced to pay taxes, they’re forced to work with terrible bosses and co-workers, and they’re forced to do various other activities. But I believe that they are no longer willing to be coerced by their church – whether through guilt, tradition, or a perceived sense of obligation. You can continue to call members selfish, but that’s no longer going to be enough to motive them.
Ironically, most of the people I know who are still at the first church are not happy, but for various reasons: their client base is there, they hold a position in the church, their spouse doesn’t want to leave their church friends – they continue to stay, but they are not committed. And if you know the story of Gideon’s army, a church relying on uncommitted members is not in a good place.
In the 21st Century, there are too many forces competing for a limited amount of time and money. Churches that don’t add value will continue to experience dwindling numbers and the members who remain will do so for reasons that have nothing to do with the church itself. Older members may stay out of a sense of obligation, but those members are dying out or reaching the age where they can’t drive themselves to church.
Hello, this article hit a nerve. I pastor a mostly Spanish speaking church. Would you mind me translating this into Spanish to share with them?
Of course I would be sure to credit you and this web site.
One of the greatest short articles I’ve read in some time on the importance of commitment to the local church. We must never lessen the importance Jesus placed on His church and her leaders…great post!
Thank you, Tim.
I agree with Ward, as it seems all the fault in your article is directed to the attendee. The Leadership of the Church has some responsibility. A lot depends upon the church organization and each role that is involved. Is the Sr. Pastor given too much authority without some oversight or accountability? Does the Pastor really listen to his leadership team regardless of your organization make up? Does the Church have a set Spiritual goal or vision each year and all leadership and congregation know what it is and try to meet those goals. Some Churches are great at welcoming people but not so well at accepting them into their peer groups. Some programs at Church cater to the ego of the congregation in trying to create super Christians, by making them feel superior because they completed a particular study course or retreat.
All your reasons blame the attendee, but what about the church itself? Here are a few reasons that come to mind which may have more to do with driving away potential worshipers.
1) Leadership does not teach the word of God, and instead tells jokes, anecdotes, personal stories.
2) Leadership focuses on entertaining the people rather than growing disciples. Disciples will invest in the church without coercion, people looking for entertainment will eventually get bored and move on to the next “show”.
3) Lack of friendliness.
4) Beating people up for money. I’m not talking about passing the plate, or a mention of tithes and offerings. No, I’m talking dedicating serious periods of time every week towards coercing people into giving money.
There is a problem with church attendance but it can’t all be placed on the people sitting, or not sitting in the pews.
I work full time for a church where I am not a member. I enjoy serving them but would not join them. Leadership has made it very clear that my relationship to them is that of a dispensable employee who should remain invisible. Because of this I have isolated myself socially from those within the church and retained a strictly business relationship. Though I still enjoy my job, the process of restructuring relationships has been isolating and personally painful. I know that at some point I will be dismissed unceremoniously.
My husband is a gifted pastor who suffers from chronic, severe pain. He teaches now and serves the denomination administratively and through interim pastoring / pulpit supply as needed. We are not in church every Sunday, because there are some mornings when it would take too great of a toll physically. When you are going through this with someone, there is nothing more painful than to attend a church to do nothing but answer questions about your spouse’s chronic condition. Eventually people get tired of the fact that it does not “get better” and they avoid you. Although you would enjoy doing some things socially, you have to decline because you would not be up to it physically.
Through all this we have been blessed greatly by these interim ministry and teaching opportunities. We have had the pleasure of serving and loving some great congregations. These situations are not ideal, but there are times when the reality of life and the expectations of others don’t always come together graciously. I am grateful to those in Christ that realize that we do have something to offer and we are not expendable.