Four Key Attitudes That Are Killing Church Attendance

There has been much written on declining attendance in churches. Specifically, many of us have addressed the issue of attendance frequency where even “active” church members attend less frequently.

Many pundits have rightly observed the impact of culture on the church, where church is, at best, just another activity. We have also addressed the issue of increasing choices. Many church members and attendees have so many opportunities to do other activities, and they can often afford them like never before. Still others note the increasing numbers of people working on Sunday, precluding them from attending worship services that day. Even more lament the reality that many children’s sports have been moved to Sundays.

These reasons are sound. But behind many of these reasons are attitudinal issues. These attitudinal issues are really the sources of the problem. And there are four attitudes in particular that have a devastating effect on church attendance.

  1. The attitude that church membership is not biblical. One commenter on this blog challenged me: “Show me where church membership is in the Bible.” I asked her to check 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul said clearly, we are members of the body of Christ. He wrote that letter to a local church in a local community. You might argue that many churches have adapted cultural forms of church membership, where it looks more like a country club membership or a civic club membership. Probably so. But don’t take those biblical deviations to be an excuse not to practice biblical church membership.
  2. The attitude that we are part of a church primarily to get our needs met. It is this attitude that causes much division in the church. We demand our own worship style, our preferred order of worship, and the building to be built, painted, and arranged just as we demand. But we are to be functioning members of the body of Christ for the greater good of the body. If you have any lingering doubts, read Philippians 2:1-4. Look at verse 3 in particular: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves.” Take that verse to your next church business meeting.
  3. The attitude that church leaders are not held to a higher standard. I hear it again and again from pastors and church staff. It’s frustrating that many church members have a lackadaisical attitude about church attendance. But it’s exponentially more frustrating when deacons, elders, and other church leaders do not set the example, when they attend infrequently and demonstrate low commitment. Take a few moments to read 1 Timothy 3:1-13 to see clearly that church leaders are indeed held to a higher standard.
  4. The attitude that expectation of faithful church attendance is legalistic. For sure, we can turn any admonition into a legalistic trap. But God gave us the gathered body to encourage and love one another. Look at Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

We shouldn’t take breaks from our church family any more than we should take breaks from our own family. We are to serve, to love, to encourage and, simply said, to be there.

Declining church attendance has at its core unbiblical attitudes.

It’s time to stop pretending otherwise.

Posted on November 19, 2018

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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  • I really appreciate the article and have read through some of the comments. I think I have to be honest to say that my struggle as a Pastor is that I would lean towards not attending church on a regular basis if I wasn’t paid to do so. That may be more of a comment on my own leadership than anything else seeing as I am God’s servant in leading the church, though I do wonder if it would be different or the same if I was elsewhere. The hard truth is that we are in a consumer culture and we have allowed that consumer culture to affect our souls and our walk with Christ. As I heard someone say recently we have made our relationship with Jesus private and subjective as opposed to communal and more biblically based. If we continue in this thinking while it may not serve as the Church’s undoing – Jesus will be triumphant after all – there could be many who miss out on being a part of what He was / is trying to establish before His return. A church without spot or wrinkle is washed in the blood of Jesus and not in the fulfillment of their own ministry wants and desires.

  • Chris Rees says on

    Just a couple of quick points.
    “Members” in point one is relating to the metaphor of the body members being arms legs, ears, nose etc. Paul is talking about us being part of the body of Christ. Not something signed up to and voted on.

    The church is not a building, but the people. It’s not church attendance we need, but committed followers of Jesus. Attendance is the overflow, not the goal. I could go on…

  • Wendy Dackson says on

    I would love for ONCE–only once, mind you–if I were to see a single “church leader” take responsibility for the “Body of Christ” not acting particularly Christlike, and to stop blaming people who have been badly harmed at the hands of the Body of Christ for saying, “No More of This Noise.”

    • I know what you mean. My philosophy is that you are perceived condoning it if you do not condemn it. I have never seen older people or cliques called down for their actions but those of us who were run out of Christianity and could not break into the cliques were to blame.

  • Maybe it’s also the lack of mission in most local churches. We go to get our needs met, but there are so many competing places where needs are met (as in TV preachers doing a better job of encouraging you than local pastors do) that the local church seems an anticlimax.
    If a church has a burning and enthusiastic mission, maybe more will be drawn to come and participate.

    • Larry T Atkins says on

      entertainment. to many looking for entertainment and hype, a soft soap message, little commitment or sacrifice. So sad. We need true conversion and discipleship and a real spiritual revival.

  • Rev. Charles Provine says on

    As for #3 church leaders should be held to a higher standard. As with any course in life you follow your leaders. God holds me to a higher standard because HE has given me a flock to care for. Their spiritual health and welfare is my job. The leader’s job description is found in the Pastoral Epistles. We shouldn’t hold leaders to be perfect but to a high standard. As far as the article , I think it is spot on. I don’t think enough Christians know how to properly study the Word and worship the Lord God in Truth and Spirit.

  • Jonathan Hanna says on

    Yes, we should go to a church. However, if a certain church sticks with elementary doctrines (Heb 5-6), then one will be forced to go elsewhere.

  • As I understand your point #3,”. . . leaders are indeed held to a higher standard”, I would respectfully disagree. Holding leadership to a “higher standard” is simply a cover for legalism. We are all held to the same standard being conformed to the image of Christ. Church leadership should be exemplary, see 2 Thess 3, by living a life of maturity in Christ. All believers should strive for a life of maturity in Christ. The attitude of holding leadership to a “higher standard” invariably leads to the members being disappointed in their leaders and encouraging unscriptural standards. This disappointment is often an excuse for not being a part of a local church . . . leaders are not ‘good’ enough.

  • Last week I addressed the declining attendance at our Church in Sparta, TN. Yesterday I had a man who only attends church services on Sunday mornings but wants to control things say to me that a part time church member is better than a no time church member… For sure I disagreed! Also I encounter many who say that they have church at home and do not need to attend but that is indeed flawed thinking fueled by the deception of the Devil…

  • Sadly I recently was visiting a church and heard the senior pastor, in his sermon, explicitly let one demographic group (age related) know their input will no longer be heard. It was made clear one group would “have it their way” and the other group should “joyfully put the needs of the other group first.”

    No submitting to each other, caring for each other, listening to each other, or working together. Just a cold “this is how it is going to be.”

    I could not help but wonder how many of that “not to be heard” group would be there the next Sunday.

    Made me so appreciative to have found a Bible believing Bible teaching all ages groups reaching church.

    And made me aware how very easy it is to drive someone away and then blame them for having a bad attitude.

    • has happened at our church. One demographic is catered to above all others and those who disagree are told to “be a mature believer” and basically get over it.

    • Our church lost about 125 + people when the new pastor said the same thing.

      • I will add – these people did not drop out of Church, they found other churches to attend. They are very faithful in their attendance at their new church.

  • Once again, we are missing the forest for the trees. After over thirty-five years as a Southern Baptist Senior Pastor, I am not in the dark one whit over what our problem is. For two hundred years we have told them it was all free, when Jesus said, “count the cost.” We have told them service was optional, when Jesus said, “you could not be His follower without taking up your cross daily.” We told them just believe, and you will be saved, when Jesus said, “except you repent you will all perish.” The overwhelming number of people in this world who claim to be Christian associate that declaration with a series of ideas at some point they decided to embrace. Our churches as a result, are filled with lost people with a false sense of security, and the believer at large has reduced his or her eternal security with the ridiculous notion that believing in Jesus, without being transformed completely by His Spirit will save them. We are reaping what we have sown, and we as Southern Baptist are the worst offenders in that we did not guard our evangelistic ambitions to include the totality of Jesus’ admonitions concerning the souls of men.

    • Christopher says on

      Actually Jesus said, more than once, to believe in Him and you will have eternal life. No caveats, no additional responsibilities, just believe!

      The purpose statement of John’s Gospel reads, “I have written these things that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you will have life in His name.” No prayers, no walking the aisles, no baptism, no life-long commitment to service (not that any of those are bad things). Jesus’ “admonitions” were not about receiving eternal life but rather they were about how believers are to live once they receive eternal life. God’s grace is not activated by our works, our works are activated by God’s grace.

      If believing in Jesus is not enough, then what is? What do I have to do? What work do I have to perform? What do I have to check off the list? Am I not now earning my salvation? Yes, the transformation of the Holy Spirit is necessary, but believing in Jesus as Christ and God can only happen through the transformation of the Holy Spirit.

      Many more false converts are created through your approach of emphasizing works. Do this or say that and you’re saved! No faith necessary, just put on a good show, “Lord, Lord, look what we’ve done in Your name.” Maybe the reason you have such contempt for simply believing in Jesus is because you don’t really believe. You’re just relying on your good works.

      BTW, Luke 13 has nothing to do with eternal life. Jesus is speaking about the nation of Israel perishing (which happened in AD 70, for a time), not individuals receiving eternal judgment.

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says on

        I rest my case!

      • Craig Giddens says on

        There is no doubt there are major issues going on in the American church, but if you’re going to make a “case” it would be best if it were based on sound Biblical exegesis. When Jesus came to earth He came to Israel as their long awaited Messiah. He came to bring their promised kingdom. They didn’t want it on His terms so they crucified Him. God gave Israel another chance in Acts 1-7, but when they killed Stephen, God set Israel as a nation aside and after Peter introduced the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul was raised up as the apostle to the Gentiles. To Paul was revealed by Jesus the truths, doctrines, and practices for the church. If you want to know anything about the church you’d better focus on the Pauline epistles. The church didn’t begin until after the cross so why would you spend time in the gospels, which is the account of Jesus coming to His own and His own receiving Him not, trying to figure out what is wrong with the church? Salvation is a gift of God that He offers by grace that we receive by faith. I submit that your post is an example of the problem in the SBC demonstrating the decline in sound Bible preaching and teaching. Thar’s why Paul told us to rightly divide the word of truth.

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says on

        Sound Bible preaching according to who…you? “The church didn’t begin until after the cross so why would you spend time in the gospels”…thank you once again for making my point so abundantly clear, so once again, I rest my case!

      • Craig, I believe you must be a member of that non-denominational denomination with the comment “why would you spend time in the gospels.”

      • Christopher says on

        Your case for what – a false Gospel, a church full of people working their way to heaven, a denial of God’s grace?

        Anyone who says believing in Jesus is not enough is calling Jesus a liar.

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr says on

        You see then how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)

      • Christopher says on

        Quoting James 2 – again you have to ask what is the context? James is talking about our interaction with other people. The justification in view is not our justification before God, which is accomplished with a righteousness not our own but of Christ. What’s in view is our justification before the world, people taking our faith seriously because they see the fruits of our faith.

        If you insist that works are necessary for eternal life, not only are you contradicting Jesus, but you leave an unresolved question: how many works are enough? How do I know I’ve done enough? Can I lose my salvation if I don’t keep working? How do I know if that’s happened?

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Jesus told His Jewish disciples to count the cost. Jesus told His Jewish disciples to take up your cross daily. Jesus told the Jews except you repent you will all perish. You are confusing Jesus’ earthly ministry to the nation of Israel with His now heavenly ministry to the body of Christ. You want to know what Jesus is saying to the body of Christ? Look at what He told Paul to tell you.

      “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says on

        I rest my case!

      • Craig Giddens says on

        Your case rests on misapplication of scripture. If you’re going to use Jesus’ words to count the cost why don’t you use His words to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils”?

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says on

        You see then how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)

      • Rev. Joel M McDuffie Jr. says on

        Let the record show I did not say I believe in works salvation because I do not. If you read what I said to begin with, I said we have emphasized the faith part neglecting what the evidence of genuine faith truly is or looks like so men might have a sense of what it truly means to be born again. The belief of man is no different than the faith of the Devil if it does not lead him to submit to Christ as Lord and anyone who doesn’t submit to Christ as Lord does not possess saving faith. Possessing saving faith mandates the pursuit of holiness, without which as the writer of Hebrews says no man will see God. Anyone who holds to a position that believing can exists apart from the natural course of such apprehension affirmed by the predictable course of such belief is an idiot!

      • Christopher says on

        Mr. McDuffie, you are still creating unresolved questions. How many works must I perform to prove my faith genuine? Where is the checklist? What exactly does it mean to submit to Christ as Lord? Does that mean I can never sin? Can I sin sometimes, but just not too often? How do I know when it’s too much? What if I’m having a bad day where I’m self absorbed instead of submitted to Christ, is my faith invalidated that day? Are you submitted to Christ every moment of your life? If not, is your faith genuine?

        I agree that my faith compels me to strive to be like Jesus, but it is not my holiness or my righteousness that God sees. It is the righteousness of Christ imputed to me through faith based on His finished work.

        I have no faith in myself and no confidence in my flesh. My faith is wholly and completely in Jesus and His finished work of redemption. If that makes me an idiot in your eyes, then so be it. I know who my Redeemer is and it’s not you.

        P.S. It doesn’t matter what the devil believes, Jesus didn’t die for him!

    • Da v id T rou blef ie l d, D M in says on

      If memory serves correctly: George Barna’s research of about a decade ago indicated some 55 million US adults were “notional Christians” (at the time of the survey, no personal testimony of a born-again experience in keeping with the New Testament), some 95 million US adults were non-evangelical Christians (gave a born-again testimony in keeping with the New Testament but not so serious about it at the time of the survey), and some 15 million US adults were evangelical Christians (at the time of the survey, gave a born-again testimony in keeping with the New Testament and also serious about it then). The average church building in the US typically is not “filled” by any group presently it seems, but a large percentage of congregations’ membership rosters might include folk of the “notional Christian” sort described by Barna (the late Billy Graham referenced this?). If I am not mistaken, Christians of the “evangelical born-again” kind described by Barna are those the Holy Spirit is active today aiming to make of all of us who claim a previous life-changing experience with the Lord Jesus.

  • Bravo! It’s so easy to blame the pastor and / or staff when a church’s attendance is in decline, but much of the responsibility falls on the members. #2 has been a pet peeve of mine for years, but the other points are just as spot-on. Thanks for addressing these issues.

  • In Evangelical churches there is little to do but sit and listen to selected men (rarely women) in a one-way learning style. As there is no congregational saying of the psalms, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, confession, etc., there has to be a lot of singing to fill in the time and a generic prayer or two and a sermon that may not make a lot of sense. Churches would rather sing an 18-song medley than take time to pray for those who need it. I never heard the following questions asked: who or what cause needs prayers, who is suffering, who is in mourning, who is thankful, etc. For those in the in crowd, these items were supposed to be conveyed to the correct man before the service started and were mentioned in the announcements not in the service. Then you wonder why people don’t really want to come and just sit there when they do.

    • Mark Smith says on

      Mark, in our church the small group time on Sunday morning is where we engage in more personal support like you are asking about. People who need prayer, who need encouragement, who mourn, etc., do best when part of a group that they can share life with more intimately than in a large group like the worship service. That is what Sunday School, or some other small group format, is for.