The New Testament, from Acts 2 to Revelation 3, is about the local church. That is a big portion of the Bible!
The local church is God’s plan A to carry out his mission on earth, and He did not give us a plan B.
Sure, the local church can be messy. It’s made of imperfect members like you and me. We are all sinners. No local church is close to being perfect.
But God made it clear that Christians are to be connected to a local church. Anything less than our commitment and devotion to our church is nothing less than disobedience to God.
And the base level of our commitment should be gathering. Our most common form of gathering is the worship service. But I stand amazed at how many Christians view the gathering of church members as just another optional activity. It competes with sleeping in, busyness, sports, and just plain apathy.
The watching world sees our lukewarm commitment and rightly concludes we are not committed to the Savior who gave us our churches. If we don’t take Jesus seriously, why should they?
At Church Answers, we have been engaged with church leaders for years. We asked them to discern the base level of commitment of their church members. Though these numbers are not precise, they do represent the essence of what we’ve learned. We classified church members into four categories according to their frequency of attendance. We did not include church members who never attend. They should not be on church rolls anyway.
|Category||Frequency of Attendance||Estimated % of Church Members|
|Core||3 to 4 times a month||30%|
|Marginal||1 to 2 times a month||25%|
|Fading||4 to 10 times a year||25%|
|Cultural||1 to 3 times a year||20%|
For the core, the local church is a priority. They demonstrate commitment more than offering excuses. This group likely provides 80% to 90% of the church’s financial giving. They are the first to volunteer and the last to complain. They are the core of the church. They are not perfect, but they are mostly a joy to many. We estimate they account for about 30% of the membership in a typical church.
Some churchgoers might be uncomfortable with our categorization of someone who attends once or twice a month as marginal. Frankly, many churches have elders and deacons in this category. But these members are, at best, every-other-week attenders. Their commitment to Christ’s church is lukewarm. We estimate that the marginals account for 25% of the membership in a typical church.
A church member who only attends four to ten times a year is likely on the way out of the church. They will soon be in the last category, cultural, or they will drop out altogether. They are “fading” away. We estimate that the fading account for 25% of the membership in a typical church.
In the past, this category of church members was much larger. The cultural church members attend church sporadically, one to three times a year, just so they can say they are a part of a church. They think it is necessary to identify as a Christian or a church member to be accepted in the community for business, political, or relational reasons. Though we estimate that the cultural account for 20% of the membership of a typical number, this number is declining. Most people today do not think there is any cultural benefit to identifying with a church.
The Church’s Response
One of the major reasons for the lessening commitment of church members is, simply put, many are not Christians. They are Christians in name only. They have minimal commitment to Christ’s church because they have no commitment to Christ.
We need to be cautious about estimating if groups of church members are Christians. We cannot ultimately know their hearts. Still, based on ongoing anecdotal evidence, we estimated the percentage of Christians for each category of church members:
- Core: 90% are Christians
- Marginal: 60% are Christians
- Fading: 30% are Christians
- Cultural: 10% are Christians
I recently wrote a book, I Am a Christian, to address this reality. While this book can certainly be used in a new members’ class, my primary purpose was to speak to those who are already church members but are not likely Christians. The book asks straightforward but biblical questions that get to the heart of an individual’s belief.
My prayer is that I Am a Christian will open the eyes of church members who are not Christians, and that it will be a great resource of assurance to those who are Christians. Even now, church leaders have begun using this book as a next step of discipleship in their churches.
The Essence of It All
To be absolutely clear, my theology does not suggest that church membership is a condition of salvation. Salvation is by grace alone when we put our faith in Christ.
But the evidence is strong, if not overwhelming, that many church members have not truly become followers of Christ. A commitment to Christ without a commitment to His church is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament.
An inactive church member, in many ways, is an oxymoron. It is time to address the problem of marginal, fading, and cultural church members.
Because, ultimately, it is a gospel problem.
Thom’s book, I Am a Christian, was recently released. It is specifically designed as a next step of discipleship for church members. You can get it on sale here.
Posted on March 6, 2023
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.
More from Thom
Not specifically the topic but capturing the earliest comment and the topic, I recently heard a congregational vitality presentation and a striking observation from the speaker was speaking about giving and community, “…but when we always operate and live in isolation from one another it is always always going to feel like we do not have enough.”
As you point out, the walk of faith is not known to anyone except the person and God. As a person who has had struggling times, sometimes “just showing up” is what sustains people (Christians) and communities. Each person’s walk is different and, arguably, my faith formation was based more on living in the presence of the holy in Church. Yes, frequency is important but for some who have been scarred by a bad experience, every-other-week is all they can handle to build trust in God and not what they were told about God.
In my experience as pastor of a rural church, these percentages are accurate. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate your work in drawing attention to this problem! Prayers for all church leaders and members as they seek the Lord’s help in addressing this issue.
Excellent piece thank you!
Thank you so much.
Shalom Dr. Tom Rainer and Team!
Thank God for you all and the resources that you provide for free and or minimal cost to Pastors and the Body ofChrist.
My Church has purchased several of your materials throughout the years by way of Lifeway, this site and now Christiansbook. And I’ve joined a few of your Webinars.
Our New Members Class includes your book, “I AM A Church Member”. It has made a tremendous difference and I see the growth and transformation from new members as well as current members.
Praise God for your open, honest and transparent teachings to build the Kingdom of God as you continue to carry out your Kingdom Assignment.
Thank you, Pastor Gray.
Hello, on topic treated church attendance some members in my community believes that when pay your tithe and others offerings you are more committed to the church than those regular attendance. Thanks for your good work