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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  • Heartspeak says on

    Bemoaning limited church attendance as a measure of commitment or relationship with Christ misses the point.

    Consider the reality of Sunday mornings.

    Music – (which we can get easily all day everyday via internet, cd’s, videos.) Nothing precludes us from musical praise throughout the week. 50-100 years ago, with limited exceptions, Sunday morning church was the only place you could get that experience apart from conferences and tent meetings.

    Teaching/Preaching – Likewise great teaching and/or books are readily available. Back a while, the local church was the ONLY place you could get that, apart from special events and meetings. It’s no longer necessarily the primary place.

    Fellowship – Sunday morning really isn’t the place it happens. Small home groups are AN avenue to build relationships but they don’t typically meet on Sunday morning–SS classes, yes but that’s instruction mostly, not focused on relationship building.

    I go to church primarily for the 20 minutes before and after the gathering to connect with folks and arrange opportunities to connect over a meal later in the week.

    I think people intuitively understand that the usual hour or two on Sunday morning falls far short of meeting the real and felt needs of people to both grow in their faith or feel cared for. Missing a week or two a month from the ‘pro forma’ routines of church on Sunday morning really doesn’t even have a serious impact on one’s faith or interactions with other believers.

    Churches today are placing a very high percentage of their time, dollars and resources on something that delivers a very low percentage of actual spiritual growth. They run the risk of appearing too focused on getting people into the club to sustain it rather than really focusing on the things that people need and are longing for but not experiencing on a Sunday morning.

    Our world has changed, our message has not, but our methods might need to change rather than lament that what worked ‘so well’ 50-100 years ago isn’t working so well today….

    • Excellent points!

    • Terrible points. If you think that’s all there is to church, I would advise you to go back and read the New Testament again.

      • Ken, that’s about the most useless comment in this thread. Why not try to engage the points, and if you disagree offer counterpoints?

      • I agree Brian. I agree with Heartspeak, good points, leadership needs to listen and think “outside the box”.

      • Heartspeak says on

        Actually, I don’t think that’s ‘all there is to church’. When people are committed followers of the Master they want and need desperately to connect with other committed followers of the Master–i.e. the ‘local’ church.

        For the first 300 years of church history, dedicated buildings and the accompanying institutions were not part of the Church. Today, unless one attends a dedicated building of a legally recognized entity, they are not considered as ‘going to church’ and are told that they are ‘forsaking gathering together’. This emphasis is hollow, corrupt and seen by more people than ever to be a transparent attempt to ‘define’ what church is and is not.

        And this definition is not biblical. Read the comments here, there are many voices who are saying that the ’emperor has no clothes’. Yet many more who trash talk those voices and tell them to ‘suck it up’ and quit sniveling. The record speaks for itself, churches are closing, youth are rejecting the message, pastors are quitting in discouragement and shame. The lives of the churchians are indistinguishable from the their unchurched neighbors all to often. No, the model of yesteryear is broken.

        It’s about a relationship and commitment to the Master, not a ‘commitment’ to a local legal entity as a measurement of their commitment to the Master.

        (btw, the commitment to the ‘local entity’ is a by-product of a commitment to the Master. Yet all to often it is held up, sometimes inadvertently I’ll admit, as the goal and regardless of the commitment to the Master. That’s all we’re saying here. Examine the message that is being conveyed, even if it is not what you’re speaking…)

      • Christopher says on

        First of all, to say that dedicated buildings were not a part of early Christianity is claiming knowledge that you simply don’t have.

        Second, the reason we have dedicated buildings is so that people will know where to go and so that large numbers can be accommodated. If all the believers in my town want to get together, the only option, other than the church, would be to rent the community center, which would then become a “dedicated building.”

        Third, if gathering together at a specified time and place (gasp!) is so “unbiblical” than what exactly is the church suppose to look like? The church is described in the Bible as both a body and a building. In order to be functional the different parts of a body and building, which are many, must be in physical contact. Disconnected believers randomly deciding to get together does not constitute a functional church. That’s why the NT always focuses on the local church

        I’m not saying our church model today is perfect or above examination, but your obvious disdain for the “local entity” tells me that your whole argument boils down to one thing:

        You just don’t want to go to church.

      • Chris, your argument boils down to your opinion. You are not engaging.

      • Heartspeak says on

        Just to be clear….

        -They went house to house
        -Paul wrote to the church that met in the house of…
        -Paul also taught in a public hall (did he rent it? who knows)
        -These were not dedicated buildings
        -house to house daily may or may not have had dedicated times of doing so (I suspect less so than we might like to believe)
        -who says accommodating large numbers of people is really optimal? one might make the case for the opposite
        -what is ‘disconnected’ about ‘… 2 or 3 gathering in my Name’?
        – I attend regularly, (and serve, and give). Just because I think we need to think differently from what we have known as the ‘norm’ over the past 100 years or so does not mean I have ‘disdain’ for the work of Christ in local gatherings… Au contraire, I love the Church and am deeply concerned at what it has become in N. America.

      • Christopher says on


        You said that no dedicated buildings existed during the first 300 years of the church. I’m sorry, but you can not possibly know that. Furthermore, no where in the NT does it say or even imply that ALL churches in every city met in houses. Even if they did meet in houses and the house constituted a designated time and place, how is that any different than using a church building?

        Paul always began ministry in a new city by preaching in the synagogue. Why? Because that was a designated time and place in a dedicated building where large numbers of people would be gathered!

        The NT model of the church is suppose to bring MANY people from all different backgrounds and walks of life together in unity under one Name and for one purpose. Your model would inevitably result in people just hanging out with their buddies.

        First you argued that gathering with the church is not necessary. Now it seems that you’re arguing that large groups of believers gathered together for worship and edification is actually a bad thing. I guess Jesus had it wrong when He preached to literally thousands of people. I guess on the day of Pentecost the Apostles should have said, “Hey guys, break up into groups of 2 or 3 and then we’ll talk.” I guess I missed the part of Paul’s letters where he says, “Make sure You’re not all in one place when you read this!”

      • Here are your own words: “I go to church primarily for the 20 minutes before and after the gathering to connect with folks and arrange opportunities to connect over a meal later in the week.” If you think church is more than that, then perhaps you should have chosen your words a little more carefully?

    • Craig Giddens says on

      While there are a lot of readily available books and teaching they are anything, but great. It’s becoming more difficult to find sound doctrinal preaching on the radio, TV, in books and sadly in the church. I’m not sure if there is a correlation, but as sound Bible preaching and teaching as the focal point of church meetings has waned in the church so has attendance declined.

  • Rick Chromey says on

    First of all, Thom, I enjoy your blog. Regular reader. First time commenter.

    Here’s the problem for me: I’m a 54-year old pastor and professor of ministry who experienced an unwelcomed divorce. I grew up in a 60s/70s smaller church (attending easily 3 times a week). I loved the community and the opportunity. In my church we had only one paid position: the preacher. Everyone else were volunteers, including janitorial and secretarial. Every child learned ministry ASAP. I washed communion cups as a preschooler. I served offering and communion as a child. I led worship for Sunday AM church as a junior higher. I preached and took communion to shut ins as a teen.

    But something happened in the 80s/90s. Church went from being a place of mission to a Sunday morning “show.” Even worship pastors think it’s a concert, asking people to “stand” to worship (as if that’s the most “spiritual” posture). Preachers are incredibly territorial. Back in my youth I remember elders preaching and lots of guest preachers. Today, church is just a “Ted Talk and a concert” at most garden-variety evangelical churches. Last Sunday I walked in 5 minutes late, listened to a pastor talk at me for 30 minutes, sang three songs (all standing) and left the building without a single person acknowledging my presence. It’s practically not worth my time to get dressed for church anymore when I can sit home and watch it live-streamed in my pajamas.

    To be brutally honest, I’m almost “done” with church. Not because I want to leave the “church” but because the “church” left me years ago. My divorce sealed the deal. It’s pretty lonely being a single divorced pastor and, trust me, when suddenly you’re unhirable it hurts. I’m now happily remarried two years but still remember that pain and still get “no” when I pursue an open position. All I ever wanted to do was be a pastor and despite a 30 year marriage and a stellar ministry career, it’s painful to watch it all crumble overnight. But I’m learning to be content. I’m good with God.

    What I’m not done doing is BEING the Church. I am a Christian who loves Jesus with all my heart, soul and mind. I serve the least, love the lost and help however I can.

    So here are my five reasons for not wanting to attend your church (in no particular order):

    1. You’re great at “welcoming visitors” but have no idea how to engage and invite guests into the mission of your ministry. I don’t need another coffee mug. I need a friend.

    2. I love singing and worshipping but find the whole “show” thing troubling. Turn up the lights. Put the spotlight on the people not the guy in skinny jeans and the cool hair cut. And, for the love of God, sing some OLDER songs. What is it about Christian music that you can’t sing a song more than 5 years old? And there’s more than the 3-5 hymns to sing, too. If I have to learn a new song every week, I’m out.

    3. Create space and time in the worship experience for community. I’m not talking that “meat and greet” thing to waste time so the musicians can fix/tune/change instruments. I mean, REAL time (up to 10 minutes) where people can meet, share, pray and discover friendships.

    4. Preachers need to realize in a YouTube, Ted Talk and Twitter culture that less is more. The 30 minute sermon was a nice thing in yesterday’s church but we prefer you set the table and let us TALK about it. I don’t need you to tell me how to live. I need you to “rightly divide God’s Word” and let me talk it out with a friend. You can do that in under 15 minutes.

    5. Get back to biblical traditions like baptism and weekly communion. The early church didn’t wait months to baptize. They did it immediately upon confession of belief. And they practiced the Lord’s Supper weekly (or more), not weakly. In our attempt to be “convenient” we’ve lost MUCH of what Christ desired for his Community. Acts 2:42-47 should be our template.

    Okay, that’s it. Thanks again for your writings, Thom. And God bless you.

    • Jacob Leonard says on

      This guy knows what’s up!

    • Excellent points!!!

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Thank you, Rick, and bless you as well.

    • Another Anonymous Mark says on

      Rick- why wait to be hired? Start a new church today!

    • Christopher says on

      If you ever found the perfect church you wouldn’t be allowed to join.

      • Rick Chromey says on

        I’d settle for an imperfect church at this point. Just want authenticity, community, opportunity to serve and mentoring…and for people to look past the mistakes. People do change. I’m not the only one that feels this way, btw.

    • Rick, very good comments. Many are playing “church”, it is almost as if it is an enterprise or game… a social club. Many in so-called leadership are there as professional “vocational” people…. therefore no one else has gifts except them. I say Amen…. don’t give up… surrender to Christ and pray for wisdom.

      • Rick Chromey says on

        Thanks Bill…and all. And I’m not giving up. Never will. I love Jesus and His Kingdom too much for that. But when church turned into the “show” it started to lose me. And I’ll be honest, I liked it at first. I think it has some merits for younger Millennial believers, but it doesn’t create authentic community.

        As an old dog youth pastor, I understand the history. The “youth worships” of the 80s/90s are now the adult worship today. But, truth be told, youth worships were more to give young musicians opportunity to use their gifts than to enter into authentic worship. It seemed a good idea and fair trade, but now I wonder. Children’s church and youth worships also segregated many congregations. A lot of teens, especially in megachurches, never experienced an adult worship.

        I’ve also long preached the “professionalization” of ministry–a product of larger churches requiring more specialized leaders to oversee their programs–hurt the Church more than we care to know. When you have to pay people for nursery duty or salary people to mow grass, shovel walks, clean stuff and fix things, something’s missing. We all have talents. Today the only “glory” goes to those who get stage time. The rest of us just watch the “show” and hit the exits. Somebody getting a pay check will do all the dirty work.

        This was not the case in the early church. In I Corinthians 14:26 we learn that everyone was involved in worship, even bringing their own hymns, prayers and messages to share. Too many churches today don’t have a prayer…literally. We must get back to the template for Church (Acts 2:47): apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, prayer and breaking of (the) bread (a reference to the Lord’s Supper). This was the Jesus model (as portrayed in the Last Supper) and the example of the Church for centuries, even most of two millennia.

        I’m fortunate in my work to travel and experience a variety of churches of varying sizes, types and denominations. There’s still some good ones out there, but even the celebrated “mega” ones are finding younger generations looking elsewhere. Gen Xers who hung with their churches are certainly feeling lost. I’m not the only one who feels it.

        That’s why I read Thom’s thoughts. He’s got a good handle on the issues.

      • Charles P says on

        Reading your comments is like listening to my own thoughts. My church grew out of college ministries using then current popular songs. Now 30-40 years later, it would be a blessing to me (and my kind) to worship using some of those ‘first love’ songs, i.e “As the Deer”, “I will change your name”. Even Petra’s “Coloring” song or Second Chapter’s, “Easter Song”. Pastor’s at my church say, we can listen to whatever we want at home but at church we only do these current songs. Why?
        Rick I like what you said about volunteering. I remember as a youth preparing and helping to serve communion, sweeping or vacuuming up rooms when we were done using them.
        I’ve often thought there should be someone always at the church, with at least a fellowship area open as close to 24/7 as possible. Where people could gather, talk, fellowship, or just hangout or pray; an informal place where the church can grow together. Not likely a place busy families might make use of, though on occasion a family member may want to stop by.
        (Our) Church service doesn’t have built in time for fellowship. With two services one group is exiting and another is entering. And 15 minutes after the second is over the outside doors are locked. You can leave but if you forgot something inside or need to talk to someone inside, sorry.
        I can and do pray during my devotions, in my home, in my car, the same goes for worshipping God, and listening to teaching. What I don’t get on my own is fellowship, I would like to be able to get that at church and the best way to do that is to skip the service a find someone to talk to in another room or the coffee area because there really isn’t true fellowship time in the service.
        One other comment while I’m remembering it. The best all time sermon I’ve heard from one of our associate pastors was a short 15 minute sermon. Ps. Tom posed a question for us to think about. He gave us a scripture that spoke on the topic, He gave us cultural information that shed light on that time period and the culture of that day and he said, now if you are interested in knowing the answer to my question, if this is of interest to you these are some more scriptures you can look up on our own. He prayed a closing prayer and walked away from the pulpit. I looked up those scriptures and I asked God for insight, and I remembered that sermon for YEARS.

      • Christopher says on

        “Pastors at my church say, we can listen to whatever we want at home but at church we only do these current songs. Why?”

        Maybe it’s because those pastors are trying to accomplish the same thing that happened 40 years ago when your beloved songs were new and current.

    • AMEN!!! EXACTLY!!

  • Church members are filling themselves with the world instead of filling themselves with God. There is nothing wrong extracurricular activities but when these things begin to take priority over our relationship with God then these things become idols in our life.

    This has nothing to do with how many services your church offers on Sunday or during the week. This has everything to do with the heart of the church member and their commitment to God. I they are truly committed to God then they will be committed to church.

    As a pastor, this grieves my heart.

    • “I [sic] they are truly committed to God then they will be committed to church.”

      That is not the case anymore. There are many people who are committed to God who aren’t wanted in churches. Still others pray God will accept them even though the church won’t.

    • Why do pastors keep equating being committed to God with church attendance? They are not related at all.

      • Christopher says on

        Why do people keep equating being a committed father with spending time with your family? They are not related at all.

    • The church is Christ’s bride. I can just imagine someone telling me, “I really like you, but I just can’t stand that wife of yours.” If someone told me that, we would get into a very serious argument. How do you think Jesus fails when you claim to love Him, but criticize His bride?

      • What do you do when the bride doesn’t like or want you? All of you on the inside and are accepted by your friends in the church don’t know what it is to be on the other side.

      • Another Anonymous Mark says on

        Mark- sometimes you have to leave that rotting corpse of a church and start afresh somewhere else! That’s what I had to do.

        Another Mark

      • “All of you on the inside and are accepted by your friends in the church don’t know what it is to be on the other side.”

        I would say that statement is more than a little presumptuous on your part, since you know nothing about me or my past experiences.

      • Another Anonymous Mark says on

        Ken, Mark’s comment was a rhetorical comment meant to engage your thinking about cliques and acceptance in church. It was not intended as a personal analysis on YOU.

      • And MY comment was in response to people who think they can serve Jesus without being in church.

      • Thanks to the other Mark who is running ahead of me. Yes, it was not meant to say that Ken had never been on the other side. Isaiah said in 1:16Wash you, make you clean,
        Put away the evil of your doings From before Mine eyes, Cease to do evil; 17Learn to do well; Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

        This does not require the church.

  • This isn’t the 1950’s and it shows both from the pew and the pulpit.

    The local SBC pastor came here on the terms that he did not have to do multiple services, Sunday evening services, nor midweek services. There are activities at the church at those times, lay led. But he is absent. What does that say to the church?

    There was a previous leader big on pastoral sabbaticals. Of course, lay leaders were expected to serve faithfully decade in and decade out. What did the idea of the pastoral sabbatical say to them?

    From the pew side: the biggest hindrance to the gospel in families at times is the two paycheck family. We’ve been told time and again you cannot survive on one, but many do it. Just ask the single parents, or those committed to a sahp model, or those where one party cannot find work. Never the less, in a culture where mom and dad are over taxed on job hours, where the kids are expected to be in sports and internships and activities to earn scholarships, if the church expects a heavy outlay of time further fragmenting the family, many opt for some family time instead. We can finger point, blame, or lament but much more effective is working around their schedules.

    I don’t think we will hear “well done thou good and faithful servant thou never missedest church” if we fail to have the time for families, for neighboring, for sharing the gospel during non church activities, or for life.

    I do think we could have healthier families, healthier churches, and more effective outreach if “getting saved and joining the church” did not bring with it the baggage of “we expect you to be here for an hour for SS, 1 1/2 hour morning worship, 1 hour discipleship training, 1 hour pm worship, 1/2 day for women’s Bible study, half Saturday morning for men’s fellowship, 2-3 hours on Wednesday night, with other week night meetings for parents, teens, teachers, deacons, etc.” We overwhelm newbies with burdens when Jesus promises a lighter load. And wonder why they don’t come.

    A friend once put it to me this way: people attend events when the benefit they gain out weighs the financial, energy, and time costs.

    If people are not attending, instead of blaming them let’s reevaluate our offerings.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Linda –

      I don’t think any of us are talking about the hours you are stating. It is very simple statement: you spend time with those people and places where you are committed.

      • Heartspeak says on

        The statement is true, but one of the implications of that statement can be disturbing. The implication is that ‘if one is not committed to XXX local church, they are not really committed to Christ, to one another, to the Body of believers. No where does scripture suggest or require commitment to one local ‘club’ of Christ followers. Certainly, a commitment to fellow Christ followers is part of the ‘one anothering’ that occurs between like-minded believers. We are connected by our faith in Christ, not only by our membership in a local organization. Often, there is benefit and opportunity to be connected in a local organization and God certainly uses that inter-relationship. It’s the emphasis on the organization itself and the requisite commitment to that organization that creates the problem. When folks perceive that the emphasis is switched from being one in Christ, to being required to be one in a ‘ local organization’, that the trouble begins.

        You can be one in Christ within a local organization. However, all too often it’s the other way around in execution and in the ‘message’ that is sent despite the words that are spoken. Too many people have been getting another message. I suspect that is also a key piece of why so many are becoming ‘Dones’. It’s not good to measure one’s faith or commitment to Christ by their attendance at church. That is a poor, though easy, measurement standard. We’ve all seen folks who are committed to the organization but don’t seem near as committed to the Master. Exhibit A is those churches you so often speak of who are dead and dying precisely because they measured commitment to the local organization over commitment to being Christ-followers. They have not been very successful at growing the church nor passing on the faith to younger generations–but they were there every week!.

      • Christopher says on

        Hebrews 10:25

        We do not gather for worship just to get an attendance mark. We gather because we are the body of Christ. A body that is not in physical contact is not a body.

      • Heartspeak, I think you’d better study the New Testament more carefully. The primary emphasis in the New Testament is not on the “universal church”, but on the local church.

      • WOW! You said a mouthful of truth! Acts 2:47 … and the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved.” Being a follower of Christ who shares his life with others helping them to become followers of Christ is where the church gets filled. This doesn’t all happen in the building. We take the gospel with us and share it by investing our time and energy with others who don’t know Christ. There’s more “sheep shuffling” going on than new disciples being added. We’re not modeling a mission worth being committed to.
        Do I wish people who say they are followers of Christ would be more regular in their attendance? Yes. But I wish more that they would take the great commission seriously. This issue of church attendance is very complicated and impacted by our culture whether we like it or not. There are no easy answers.
        We need to seek God and depend upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit to guide us during these changing times. We are the church and we take it with us wherever we go. Maybe church will look different in the days ahead and we need to have a more open mind to what that means. The Urban Missionary in the heart of Denver took time to relate and minister to the street people for over a year before he ever had a “meeting” and it was a free dinner on a Thursday night. Church for them is dinner, fellowship, worship playing in the background and sharing of the Word afterward and prayer for anyone who wants it. No they don’t have a stain glassed building that they meet in on Sunday but it’s their church. Gang members are saved, addicts delivered and single Moms supported.
        Maybe we need to be more concerned if we’re reaching the unchurched in our community and providing loving care than how many are in the pew on Sunday on a regular basis. Who knows what God might do in our church (the people and their hearts) if we put our hand to what He wants done in our community.

      • Mary Lucas says on

        There’s probably a fsithful church behind this street ministry paying the bills!

      • Jean Jones says on

        Exodus 25 really woke me up on that mindset. This was the Lord speaking to Moses and said to build a sanctuary That “I may dwell among them.”

    • Hands down, best comment. I couldn’t add anything to this.

    • Christopher says on

      I agree. People are self absorbed and want instant gratification.

    • “A friend once put it to me this way: people attend events when the benefit they gain out weighs the financial, energy, and time costs.”

      You have summed up the issue quite well, but probably not in the way you intended.
      Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve. Too many people today have the opposite attitude. I’ve heard the “my needs aren’t being met” routine more times than I can count, and I have long since lost patience with it. If more Christians today would focus on serving instead of being served, we might see real revival in our churches.

      • Charles P says on

        The best and most realistic way I know to change the hearts of “Christians” is to have them go on an overseas (or out of country) short term missions trip. Encourage people to invest one or two weeks of their vacation time into serving people less fortunate then themselves. Speaking for myself, on my first trip to Mexico City to help build a church, I learned what a disgusting self absorbed Christian I was, in retrospect, I hated who I was. That evoked change in my life. This doesn’t speak directly to increased church attendance, but it does speak to a personal revival and a renewed commitment to following Christ.

      • Great idea, Charles!

  • Timothy Fish says on

    I see a tendency to design churches in such a way that it is all about visitors. We create fancy children’s programs so that visitors will see how important their children are to us. We put parking spaces out front for them to make them feel special when they attend. We give them free stuff and try to be a friendly as we can. So, they come and they join and they hold onto this idea that church is all about them. And if it is all about them then of course it is going to take a back seat when something else that is all about them does a better job of satisfying them. We need to ask people to make a commitment, but that means there has to be something they can commit to. If they come to church and we can’t find a place for them to serve we are just providing Sunday entertainment.

  • I am a pastor who struggles with seeing low attendance. I love this article. One truth that I constantly harp on with my congregation and my own family is- Parents, if you want Jesus to be important in your children’s life, He must be important in your life. Thank you Dr. Rainer.

  • Joanna says on

    The issue is in the heart. Once people truly crave to know, love and serve God above all else, you won’t be able to keep them out of church. I know this first hand.

  • Rodney Ward says on

    Last Saturday, I heard a Southern Baptist evangelist tell our church men at a men’s breakfast meeting he was speaking to tell us has a friend whose job requires him to work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    • That’s not far off from mu husband’s job. He is in law enforcement and only gets two weekends off every two months. And it is not uncommon for him to get called in days off because they are so short staffed. And he is always, always on call. I take our son to church alone, but it’s definitely hard to not go as a family. And my job requires hours until 7 on wed and fri, so wed church services aren’t possible when they occur. It ould be nice if jobs were still respectful of families and their time. I think the fact that Sundays are not sacred anymore from work, sports, etc; in society leads people to similarly place a lower balue on church.

  • At yesterday’s board meeting, when our pastor said he is praying for an attendance increase over the summer, most of the board members asked why. Their expectation is people want “a break” from church in the summer. They expect Sunday School classes to shrink, they expect church attendance to shrink, and they kind of think the pastors are crazy to pray for growth during the summer.

    The sad thing is if you keep expecting shrinkage, you will get it. The summer attendance goes down, you don’t quite recover during the fall, then when Thanksgiving and Christmas comes, you can’t really expect people to attend church, can you? Then try to recover in January, but you run into school taking over the weekends.

    The schools used to leave Wednesdays and Sundays alone – now those are days for sports tournaments and speech/debate trips. Society’s respect for the Sabbath has eroded, and the church has given ground to it.

    I wonder if in our desire to be “attractive” to the world, we gave up some ground.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      “The sad thing is if you keep expecting shrinkage, you will get it. ”

      Love that statement!

    • Angela, all I can say is… PREACH IT, SISTER!!! 🙂 I’m thinking about doing a Sunday School enrollment campaign in July, even though that’s the absolute WORST month for attendance at our church. Why? My question is, why not?

  • I would add one more reason: I’d suggest that one reason church attendance is on the decline is because many people have bought into the idea of “push-play discipleship”, a term my pastor-husband created to reference how easy it is to rely on the use of media in discipleship. We have far fewer teachers in our local churches and far more facilitators. Why spend a week or more studying and preparing a lesson when you could just push play and have someone else do all the teaching for you? And why show up to church when you could stay at home and listen to a podcast, play a sermon on YouTube or Right Now Media or even stream your church’s sermon via the website? The increase of easily accessible discipleship through media definitely brings advantages with it, but one of the negative consequences of this increase has been a belief that actual church attendance is no longer a key component of being The Church.

    • Well said, Amber.

    • Christopher says on

      Very insightful!

    • Bobby Shelton says on

      Well said. You even see this from the pulpit in some churches. search the web Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m., hit print, the Pastor has his 9:00 a.m. sermon all ready to go. The leaders that are left in the church need prayerful, insightful scripture filled study time for whatever it is they are tasked with leading.

  • MIke D. says on

    I wonder how the internet has affected church attendance. It is very convenient (for example, if there is a threat of bad weather or if you stayed up late on Saturday night) to stay home and watch the worship service on the church website. When we are traveling, we frequently watch the service on our home church’s website rather than attending a local church.

  • larry hurley says on

    Nice traditional comments.

    consider the multitude who work shift work. Our daughter (a nurse) has worked every other weekend 12 hour shifts, Friday, Saturday, Sunday = no time for church.

    consider the starting time of services. While is Arizona many churches had a Saturday service plus an early Sunday service with breakfast brunch available. (Ever tried to get three hungry children ready for church?) We used to have a 9 a.m. service at our church with 75-90 in attendance. They cancelled it and attendance at the traditional service did not pick up.

    • You get it, Larry.

    • Christopher says on

      Really, the “I have three children to get ready” excuse? Those same parents have no problem getting their kids ready for school Mon – Fri but on Sunday it’s suddenly unreasonable to expect them to get ready for a service that starts two hours later in the morning. BTW, I have three young kids.

      I’m not saying that start times are sacred but if people really want to be at church, they’ll find a way to be there, just like they find a way to do everything else they want.

      • Yes… but we have to get your kids to school because school is important. We don’t want our children to be ignorant in the three R’s; besides, if we don’t get our kids to school, we will have to answer to a higher authority – the principal.

    • I understand that some people have to work weekends. The majority of “reasons” I’ve heard for non-attendance, though, are really quite flimsy. Three hungry children? My parents used to get SIX hungry children ready for church every Sunday morning, and they fed us breakfast at home.