Five Reasons Church Members Attend Church Less Frequently

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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  • Ronald E. Keener says on

    Yesterday my pastor’s message was taken from Ephesians 4, 5, and 6, and when I got home I emailed him to say his sermon was DYNAMITE and I would hear it again when they put it up on the website, and now I am giving close study to Ephesians this week at home.
    I have to admit that I “enjoy” your “the church is dying” books and blogs–“enjoy” only because you hit the nail on the head. Still, yours and others who write on this theme (Chuck Lawless did so this morning too), as true as it is what you folks say, it still misses the point about who we are today and how we live and what we believe. It is the changing culture, the lack of intellectual rigor on our part, how we are losing our kids, it is EVERYTHING. What can we believe life will be in 20 years? Scares me!
    I can’t put it all into words and I struggle to explain it, but it is MANY things. I’m looking for an author who can and has put it to words on paper. That might get our attention. If American business ran like American churches we would be in a 70 year Depression. Yesterday I sat next to a young couple, married for a couple years, who consulted their bibles during the service. They are in their mid-20s and I am 77. They give me hope for the church and for America. (They, like me, will be joining this church in two weeks.)
    Pastors are taught to preach, but not to develop leadership; churches have a board organization that works AGAINST the congregation not for it, boards don’t read the good books (of you and others) about visioning, missioning, and growing. Churches don’t see their fault lines, no matter how often you and others sort out what they are doing poorly or wrong. Trouble is, congregations just don’t care and don’t want to be told how to do church better. As Hybels has said, “The church is the hope of the world” but forget what he said after that: “if churches will do it right.” The POWER of the church is huge if only we knew or cared enough to harness those “horses.”
    Sorry, your blog just got me going.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I love it when my blogs get people going, Ronald!

      • Ronald E. Keener says on

        Thom, some seven hours have passed since I wrote to you. I ran out to do errands, one of which was to stop by the LifeWay store in Chambersburg. I had a coupon which drew me into the store (#9441)–as they always do. (I’m on a fixed income and don’t have a church account to which to charge my purchases, so I seldom buy without a discount.)

        So in my looking in church resources I came across to THE ANSWER to my questions above from this morning. I found a little book by the title of “The Forgotten Fear: Where Have All the God-fearers Gone?” by Albert N. Martin. Suddenly the answers to my questions were quite clear: We no long fear God. It is just that simple. Everything else hinges on how we look at God.

        Our lives are not spent reverencing and fearing God. We don’t teach our kids to be God-fearing. In the pulpit God is only loving and meek and willing to forgive everything, so why fear Him? LifeWay gave me the answer; it seems very clear to me now, even as I have not yet read the book and will do so this evening; the title tells me everything.

        No need to blame the culture for the declining church, or the state of the nation, or of Christianity. We have become so Jesus-centered that God becomes an after-thought. I will locate the author and thank him for his informative and clearly-considered little book.

        By the way, associate Kim at the Chambersburg store is leaving after some eight years there, to spend more time with her kids. She has been a real help to me over the past three years and will be hard to replace. I think this Wednesday is her last day.

      • Thom S Rainer says on

        Thank you, Ronald.

    • David Johnson says on

      My wife and I both work in health care and are often working, or On-Call (or sleeping after long graveyard shifts) on Sundays. We love our work and treat it as a ministry, but also would like to locate a church where we can worship regularly enough that we become active members (make a connection with people, develop relationships, participate ) We find little connection with churches that only meet on Sunday morning at 11:00 for those with “normal ” schedules and lives and that treat us like we have chosen an “alternative lifestyle”. If we give up our jobs so we can “be normal”, then who takes care of the sick?

  • Gossip can be obtained 24/7 by text message. You don’t have be physically present.

  • 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.

    Or we host weeklong events and the Church Staff does not support. Any Outreach mission should have the support of the staff.

  • Renée says on

    So true, Dr. Rainer. I find myself sometimes suffering from the same apathy towards church. My reasons aren’t the same as these but perhaps it’s because I’m a pastor’s wife so my experience of church is different. I’m curious, knowing these signs, how do we affect change in the minds of those who choose to attend less regularly?

    We do LOVE going to other churches while on vacation and have had some really awesome experiences, some really weird experiences, some quite average. My favorite one was a church on the island of St. Maarten – the people there were so in love with Jesus that you could feel it through the floorboards. Another vacation visit led us to listen regularly to a podcast from a church in Myrtle Beach. Vacation-visiting is a neat experience (generally preview websites first).

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Renee –

      I need a lot more time to answer your question well. I did attempt to answer it in my book, I Am a Church Member. But saying that sounds like shameless promotion.

      • Thanks, Dr. Rainer. I have read that book as well as several others. You are a talented writer, speaking compelling truth based on scripture and real lives. I don’t consider it mentioned by you to be shameless promotion 🙂 I will take some time to reread with these points in mind. Blessings to you in your continued ministry!

    • Pastor Gary says on

      What was the name of the church in Myrtle Beach would like to look at podcast

  • Bob Hopkins says on

    To quote Pastor Joe McKeever of New Irleans
    ” The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–

    –little of the Lord

    –too much of the church

    –and nothing of ourselves’ –this translates into the excellent points in your article!

  • Good insight, but “attendance of church services” is only one metric to gauge the involvement of members. Members of a highly missional church may not attend “services” as much any more, but they may be leading and serving in the community more. Such is the case where I pastor.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jim –

      The New Testament pattern of active church life was both, not either/or.

      • Michael says on

        Then support your article with those NT examples not a high school football team. Not the same thing. There are more complexities on the local level that can be better validated as a whole from the lens of Scripture

      • The high school football team reference was an excellent illustration of people’s double standard. Jesus used a lot of illustrations.

      • John Estes says on

        Michael –

        In response to your snotty reply to Thom, every letter Paul wrote to a church was to a group of people meeting in a certain locality: Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Corinth, etc.

        Thom –

        I love your writings, but can you delete comments from trolls like Michael? He is an uninformed agitator.

      • Very good and true response.

      • Very good and true response.

  • Dennis says on

    One of the contributing factors that I have noticed is that churches, at least the ones I have been around, seem to offer less worship services than they used to. When I was a pastor in the 90s we had two services on Sunday (morning/evening) and one on Wednesday. That church (which is still a fine, gospel preaching church) now has no Sunday evening service and no Wednesday evening service. Likewise, the church I am currently serving as a transitional pastor has only a Sunday morning service. In both churches there are other opportunities (small Bible studies or occasional youth activities), but you have to seek them out. I guess my point is that many churches may also expect less from themselves.

    • Jim Korth says on

      Dennis, I, too, am from the Sunday Morning/Sunday Night/Wednesday Night era, + we had bible studies, visitation, etc. Some of that went by the wayside due to lack of interest. Sunday Night services ended in my church because nobody came, in spite of everything we did to try to demonstrate the value.

  • Christopher says on

    The single biggest excuse for lack of involvement in the local church is youth sports.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is true in many communities, Christopher.

    • There are seasons in life. The sports commitment thing – it’s for a season, you get that, right? Did the youth sports thing – we’re past that now. Was committed to church then even though we sometimes weren’t there on Sundays. Amazingly, we survived youth sports and my youngest looks to become a biblically-based pastor some day. Learned some great Christian/truth lessons through the youth sports experience, framed through a biblical lens. It’s easy to get all “judgy” about the level of commitment others may have and get all “demandy” about what their commitment needs to look like (just to make up two words) – maybe if we try actually loving one another while not foregoing biblical truth, that may be worth a shot? Tongue in cheek, are we saying that church should be a “season?” I’d like to think it’s a little more long-term… Peace.

      • It’ll be interesting for your son when he looks out to start a sermon and notices how many families are missing from his congregation because of their season of sports being more important than church involvement. He’ll also notice the reduction in tithing and budget because families are spending their money on travel, coaches, and equipment rather than supporting the ministries of the church. He’ll also wonder why it is hard to get men to commit to ministry then realize its because they are more committed to their son’s sports.

        But then, maybe he will be in a church where that doesn’t happen. Who knows.

      • Christopher says on

        Unfortunately, some of those “seasons” last all year long, and the next, and the next. And those “seasons” also take place during a youth’s most impressionable age.

  • Tim Penarroyo says on

    I love my church though 3 of your discussed issues are very apparent. We have an issue regarding taking a sabbatical leave from the church after several years of religious attending our church or serving from the leadership. This pattern is becoming customary but Out my clear mind this should not manifest because church has s mandate to GO and unceasingly share the Good News of Salvation of yhe Lord Jesus Christ,

  • Real Life Moms says on

    My husband would agree with your closing remarks.
    At one time I was able to be a more involved member at our church, however, we now have a 3 1/2 year old with autism spectrum disorder.
    He is my ministry. It has changed our family dynamic in such a way that we have a hard time even planning an event for the same day.
    Church is hard for us now.
    It was heartbreaking at first, but it is now our normal. We have had to adjust so so much.
    Sermons from a perspective that I used to be able to adhere, feel almost useless to me now.
    Special needs parenting is a huge blessing, but being an active member of our home church has reached burdensome levels.
    This, I say, half heartily, as every day is a new opportunity. But the reality is still there.

    • Hopefully, your church has an active and vibrant online/social media presence so that you can participate and stay connected on the days when it all doesn’t work together. Praying for you and your family right now.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      My heart goes out to you, RLM.

    • If you love in a metro area, some churches will do a parents night out for special needs families. Might be something to look into.

      • We have a church here in AL that has a special needs Sunday School class for special needs. My prayer is that your church family are caring and loving on your family and not an out of sight out of mind kinda church. Bless you and your family.

    • Andrea Candy says on

      Dear Real Life Moms
      Thank you for your honesty. Jesus is with you in your reality, especially what takes place for you outside the walls of a church building. If fellow members of Christ’s body can’t recognise that, they are not worthy of the Name.

    • Rosanne says on

      RLM I have walked this path. Do the best you can with your child…listen to Christian radio or watch a preacher on TV. I would do this daily with my autistic child years ago working up from just seconds to 30 minutes. The church I attended had a room where we could go where he could them be active but had a speaker where I could hear the service. When we sat with the others we had to sit on the front row. Eventually he was able to sit for the whole service most days and quietly read his Bible story book. He eventually got baptized and played the drums or guitar with the praise band…thank God for music therapy where we discovered his gift of music. I had 3 NT children as well and was a single parent. It can get better continue to train and work with your child. Find the things that help you to reach him. Find a supportive church which will help,pray over you all and bless you. Ask God for strength and guidance on how to reach and help you child. I will join you in faith and pray as well. God’s blessing be upon your family

    • My wife and I have a nine year old with autism, and understand your situation to a certain extent. The solutions for church involvement never become easy and many church members become impatient with families affected by autism. I am a music minister and have considered (and still consider) getting out of vocational ministry many times due to my son. My heart goes out to you and all parents dealing with this growing tragedy.

  • Great post, Dr. Rainer. I recently read about “time poverty” in America. We commute longer, work more, and sleep less. As you said, we really do worship the idol of activities.

    • You are so right, Jeremy.

      • You know, there are some people who would love to be at church every week, but are prevented by illness or other things. If you can go, but don’t you are missing out on a vital part of God’s directive. He tells us “not to give up meeting together…” now I know that is not just a reference to corporate worship, but God’s design is that His people function in community with one another. Check out I Corinthians 12 or the “one another” passages. The reasons God has for us to gather together are too numerous for this space. No matter, He tells us that doing life together is His plan.

      • Mike Stidham says on

        I am employed by a non-denominational ministry that has me visiting our supporting churches on Sunday morning. I’d love to be a regular part of a congregation, but when all your eggs are in the “Sunday at 10 AM” basket, it doesn’t leave me much room for involvement. Churches with service times other than Sunday AM are few and far between here.

    • Amazing, isn’t it? When my parents were growing up during the Depression, their families worked 12-15 hours a day, six days a week, yet they still found time for church. Today we have all these great labor-saving devices, but people seem to have less time than ever.

  • Vacation – in my childhood we would pick the nearest Main Street baptist church out and go there. Now I am much more likely to lead a devotion with my family. One reason is that I can no longer predict what’s inside the church based on the label outside. From one recent example, Matthew 4:1-11 was a sermon about Jesus’s strong environmental record.

    • Jamie –

      May I suggest you look at the websites of some of the local churches? I am always able to find a church with a clear doctrinal statement with no more than 30 minutes research.

    • Remember the Drive-Thru Church? Today we seem to developing the start of the Church of PayPal Friendly Social Media and Enlightenment.

    • As Thom says below there’ s a lot more info from websites. Also I think we model for families when we visit a church on holiday that even if a church isn’t perfect/ to our exact doctrinal specification or matching our worship style preferences and standards that we don’t go because it will live up to our expectations but because we seek to gather with God’s people.

      • linda edamura says on

        i’m sure that God, our father could give us a hand. our neighbourhood in renfrew height area, an owner who living at 3249e23rd ave vancouver bc v5r1b6 canada, hangs out a plate at the balcony, back of the house. we are out of mind that we don’t know what is the plate’s purpose for. it hangs for 24 hours that no one would take it back at night. A post is near the plate. in windy days. the plate would hit the post nearby creating noises that we cannot handle it. most of time at night, eventhough we closed the windows. we still able to hear the nosise. YES noises, how could people sleep/rest with noises? no one could do that. unless the person is deaf at all. So. i’m please that God could give us a hand so we don’t wish to see the plate at night. we in this neighbourhood need a quiet night to sleep.
        thanks GOD

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