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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  • After reading so many good and not so good comments I just wonder what the discussion will be like 10 years from now? When Jesus comes will He find faith on the earth? (‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:8‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) I wonder what excuses we will make when we (the bride) stand at the Bema Judgement as our works are placed in the fire (1 Cor. 3:12) and we are clothed in “the fine linen, which is the righteous acts of the saints”? (Rev.19:8) Adorned for the Him who saved us? I have a feeling that there will be a moment when we will watch all of our excuses and or what we viewed as reasons for not doing what please Him will become a reality and we will see how off base we truly were. Thom your article paints an all too clear reality for many. It brings out the best and worst in the bride, which is seen by many of the comments. Truth is, the bridegroom is anxious to get His bride. The question, is the bride as anxious for the return of the Groom? Be blessed.

  • which of the Solae speak into a believer being committed to a church, let alone The Church?

    what you’re seeing in the lack of attendance is the conclusion of the Protestant Reformation: shifting the authority from the church to the individual believer means the church is unimportant which is why people cry out “the church isn’t a building”

    with each Solae, the protestant reformation took away the power and majesty of Christ’s Body, removing any Holiness in the sacraments; some go so far as to call them ordinances now. Its just bread and grape juice we eat, not Christ himself.

    Since the sacraments lack any Holy value the worship of God can’t revolve around them, so you focus on the sermon. and since churches, even within the same denomination, can vary drastically there’s is very little union. no union means no corporate prayer, just individual bodies praying their own prayers if they are indeed praying.

    Why is anyone surprised that the Reformation’s desire to be Anti-Church is producing a lack of love for the church? in order to change this sentiment you’d have to reexamine the Solaes, as I did being a Presbyterian.

    the love of Church and Desire to be apart of the Body of Christ has led me to eastern orthodoxy.

    i suggest people who are looking for the meaning of inquire about the Apostolic faith Found in Eastern Orthodoxy.

    • Christopher says on

      No, the reformation took away the power and majesty of the Pope, which was often used throughout history to persecute and murder true disciples of Jesus.

      Besides, Catholic and Orthodox churches have the same problem with attendance as protestant churches.

  • I can only speak from my perspective. I left the institutional church because:

    – 93% of my giving went to building expenses and church staff salaries, not the poor.

    – I felt like the staff ran the church (I had no voice).

    – I’m not sure I could agree with the statement of faith any longer. I needed more space to question and form my own conclusions.

    • I left a church with debt related to a school. The leadership lied to the congregation and misrepresented the financial statements, etc. So they are now on the hook for a million because of mismanagement and arrogance. Who is going to pay for this? The local authorities don’t care about the ripoff.

  • Tommy Vowell says on

    I disagree with the article. The church should lessen the focus on attendance and increase the focus on building real faith. Show me a church where they build the faith of families and I’ll show you a church that sees exponential growth, physical and spiritual. Show me a church that pressures the families to do more, work more, serve more, give more and I’ll show you a church with tired and diminished faith. I know this because I was that staff pastor that demanded the utmost of my people while I filled the calendar with more stuff. I was wrong to guilt trip families. And so are you Dr. Rainer. This article and whatever book that will come out of it will guilt trip yet another generation of families. Perhaps you should shift perspective and talk about faith building rather than doing more. Just my opinion.

    • I can’t completely agree with your perspective, but Thom Rainer’s 2nd point about the “idol of activities” relates to many churches as they have an overabundance of church activities that oftentimes afflict more guilt and unnecessary pressure than genuine faith.

  • Todd Humphreys says on

    People don’t attend church like they used to because the love of many has waxed cold!
    Also a lot of people are sick and tired of the blatant hypocrisy they see in church leaders! For example -This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves (when you see a TV preacher who is worth millions begging a poor widow for a $10 offering then you know he is a lover of his own self).
    Covetous – many religious people who are actually hell-bound and don’t know it covet their neighbor’s wife, house, car, home etc. Boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection (its amazing many Americans treat their pet better than a human); trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. All of these things are manifest in church people. We know Paul was speaking to “church people” acting this way because he said “they were having a form of godliness but denied the power of true religion”! Sinners don’t have a form of godliness! Many of these people are the way they are because they have been taught a heresy called (OSAS) once saved always saved! Both Catholics and Baptists are alike in many ways because they both believe the same heresy! Calvin was a Catholic and a murderer both! Many Americans actually prefer to believe in and cling to heresy and false doctrines! They don’t mind being religious, snobby, stuck up, and arrogant because they don’t want to make an all out commitment to Jesus Christ because it might cost them something! And these type of “religious bigots” actually prefer leaders who are just like them! Like Jeremiah the prophet said, “my people love it to be so”! If a person truly wants to find Jesus and truly live holy he can because God will reveal Himself to a person who searches for Him with all their heart (Jeremiah 33:3). If a person truly loves God He will find a church he can attend somewhere even if they have to drive a little while to get there. Me and my wife drive 45 minutes one way to church! You will do what you want to do! Those who receive Jesus are given power to become sons of God (John 1). We are Overcomers Jesus said because we have Overcome the wicked one! Greater is He (Jesus) that is in us than He (Satan) that is in the world! You will serve who you want to serve. There will be no excuses on Judgment Day for anyone!

  • E Stewart says on

    You don’t want to hear this, but….well, tough. “The church” is not a building; the church is people who believe in Christ. I have always been a faithful attender – and do not attend without serving significantly – but recent circumstances in my church have opened my eyes to reality – i.e., when I am gathered with at least one other believer and am engaged in activity that honors the Lord and/or serves as a means of spiritual growth for one or both of us, THAT is “church.” “Church” is NOT a building with special programming, pre-digested music and “culturally relevant” sermonettes for an hour on Sunday,, etc. So if the circumstances in which I currently find myself eventually lead to me abstaining from driving to some overpriced, gigantic building in order to sit in an audience not engaging with anyone else listening to a usually pointless church-style lecture and trying not to be distracted by the performance machinations of the “worship team,” that doesn’t mean I’ve “backslidden.” It might very well mean that I’m seeking actual authenticity with other fellow believers…and that can come 24/7 in any place at all.

  • Christopher says on

    Many of these comments could be summed up with: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” Well, I don’t have to go to my daughter’s school play to be a father, but what does that say about me as a father if I would rather sit at home or work late instead of support my daughter?

  • Allen James says on

    6. Church membership is too easy to obtain and thus commitment is low. When we raise the cost and expectation of membership, people will be more committed to attend. This is not the magic bullet but when we make membership as easy as walking an aisle on the first visit, it’s no wonder people walk away just as easy.

  • Thom–would that you were right regarding expectations!

    But that schedule I laid out is exactly what is being communicated in many venues. How often do we hear that you don’t care about the lost if you miss Sunday pm and midweek services? Or that we ought to be ashamed as parents if our teens are not at the local mega church for youth group? Or that senior citizens have lost their first love if they “let a little arthritis keep them out of church?”

    Reality checks: during the time frame we’ve become a youth focused church as a whole, following church growth movement policies, we’ve lost our kids. They grow up and the majority leave church, often permanently. There was a time when rural families (and most were rural) struggled mightily to make it to church once a week. And their kids grew up and stayed in the church. In the 50’s and 60’s so many moved to suburban living, church 3 times a week was the mark of a faithful believer, and so many of the offspring were lost to the church. Our answer has been to ramp it up a notch, offer more and more and expect more and more and condemn when folks get burned out. Reality is most families are putting in as many OR MORE hours out in the world struggling to survive today as my grandparents did on the farm when once a week attendance, weather permitting, was the norm.

    As others have mentioned, delivery systems have changed. Music, knowledge, information, and communication no longer require warm bodies in a building every time. We can be more creative than we used to be able to be.

    Example: when my kids were little our church faced a Wednesday night conundrum. If we had our meeting at 6 parents of small kids and the kids could attend, still make bedtime and homework got done, but the working moms and teens with afterschool jobs often simply could not make it. If we had our meeting at 7 the teens and working moms could make it, but the parents of preschoolers and early grade school kids dropped out rather than face a nightmare hassle both then and Thursday morning. We were too small a fellowship for two meetings so we did two things: we tried to meet in the middle at 6:30, allowing some of the parents of younger kids and some of the teens and working moms to make it, and we relaxed the expectations of our church culture. We worked at making sure there were no judgmental statements regarding those that still could not make it work.

    I’m not advocating churches meet only once on Sunday and that is it. I’m saying that nowhere I can find in my Bible does it say how many times a week we are required to attend. If we switch from the mindset that only what happens in the building counts, we can find marvelous ways today to help parents raise their kids in the faith, to help singles and families and teens and young adults and seniors and all groups find a way for Jesus (NOT church) to be number one in their lives.

    • Christopher says on

      If something is important to them, people will find a way to do it.

      • I disagree. As someone who suffers from anxiety and often barely manages to hold it together for the commitments of work and children…I sometimes can’t cram one more thing in. Unfortunately, my job will fire me if I don’t honor my job, and school expects a lot these days. If I choose to worship at home, that’s between me and God. And judgemental people are what drive many away from the church…it sure drove my husband away from Catholicism.

      • Christopher says on

        So… you can manage a stressful, full-time job, and you can make it to all of your kids activities and sporting events, but you can’t find one hour to worship and serve with fellow believers?

        If something is important to you, you will find a way to do it.

  • Jacob Leonard says on

    I feel like we spend way too much time focusing on the wrong things, like attendance and trying to get people in our services. What we need to be focusing on is the last thing Jesus told us before we left this earth. Be disciples that make disciples. You want people to attend church more? Show them your love, outside of church settings. Establish a relationship with someone outside of church events. Meet with them for lunch, coffee, whatever. Form a friendship. Show them that you care about their wellbeing and not your attendance.

    And as for the youth who are so busy, stop talking ill about them and their activities. Instead, attend their school-activities. Bring the church to them. Got some boys in your youth group who never make your weekend events because of football? Try making those football games an event. Load up the teens and attend that boy’s game. His church family supporting him will preach much louder than a sermon or devotional ever will.

    Too many in the church expect the church services to do all the work. They invite someone to church and expect that week’s sermon or lesson to change their lives. Keep that up, and your numbers will keep falling.

    People won’t care about the church until they know the church cares about them.

    • This is why some churches have children’s church, family services, and even a service for the 20-40 year olds. I wish clergy would be willing to preach an age-appropriate sermon at times. Even going to a Christian university and attending chapel, the ministers who spoke there did not preach appropriately.

    • Christopher says on

      The point of this blog is not trying to get lost people into church, it’s about supposedly committed Christians that always find excuses not to be committed.

    • Christopher says on

      “Bring the church to them” defeats the whole purpose of the church. The word church means “to be called out.” As believers we are to be called out and separate from the world. If we “take the church” to weekend sporting events, the only message we’re sending is that sports is more important than gathering for worship and discipleship.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t go into the world and do evangelism, but to conflate the body of Christ with a football game is shameful.

  • Johnny Herring says on

    Most small to mid-sized churches had sports teams for youth and adults when I was growing up back in the 60s and 70s. Now that is not so much the case. The church where I’m a member has a full sized ball field and a family life center with a full sized gym & scoreboard. They once had a T-Ball league and soccer league for kids and volley ball and basketball for teens and adults along with softball for adults. Now there is nothing. The field and gym are pretty much unused.

  • Debby Ewalt says on

    I used to go regularly to church. I stopped going when I got depressed. No one seemed to care that I wasn’t there anymore.

    • Another Anonymous Mark says on

      I’m sorry. Don’t give up on us. Find some place new and try again! The body of Christ needs YOU (yes you, and all that you can give) in the game.

    • Charles P says on

      I agree with AAM, Satan loves to kick us when we are down/depressed. Don’t give up on the local church, or if one is available check out a different one. If no one has called you, take the initiative to call a pastor or church friend. Ask them to pray with/for you.
      Remember John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, a full abundant life .”
      Debby, do you know the promises God made to you? He will never leave you of Forsake You. He said draw near to me and I will draw near to you. Remember you are never alone.