The Once-a-Month Churchgoers Are Becoming More Common

It is fascinating to watch the trends among congregations as they start to regather with COVID-19 beginning to fade. Some of the trends are really good. For example, we are seeing more churches now receptive, if not savvy, to technological developments than any point we can recall. Also, we are beginning to see a resurgence of evangelism in the local church.

To be clear, any developments thus far are in their incipient stages. Time will tell if these trends truly become long-lasting.

One of the most disturbing trends we are seeing is the decreasing frequency of attendance. Two decades ago, a frequent church attender was considered a person in church services or activities once or twice a week. Prior to the pandemic, the twice-a-month church attendee was considered active by most church members and leaders.

But one of the trends emerging from the pandemic is the increasing number of once-a-month attendees. We are watching three developments as this trend emerges.

The Once-a-Month Churchgoer is the Fastest Growing Segment of Church Life

Our information at this point is both early and anecdotal, but we are hearing from numerous pastors that many church members who were frequent in their church attendance are now once-a-monthers. This observation lends itself to many questions. Is this trend temporary, one that will improve as COVID concerns wane? Are these members re-establishing themselves or are they easing themselves out? What are the motivations for such infrequent attendance?

Further anecdotal information from pastors points to the lack of concern by the once-a-monthers for their infrequent attendance. One pastor said they are acting as nonchalant as the CEOs (Christmas Easter Only).

The Once-a-Month Pattern Is a Continuation from Pre-COVID Days

Our team, led by the work of Sam Rainer, has been reporting on the attendance frequency decline for several years. It was a pattern of slow and methodical erosion.

But the pandemic both accelerated and exacerbated the trend. We were lamenting the twice-a-monthers in 2019. We are challenged by the once-a-monthers now.

 At This Point, Churches Are Doing Little to Address This Problem

I hope we will see a surge and recommitment to new member classes to raise the bar of expectations of church members. I pray we will get more serious about the importance of the local church. I also pray we will not surrender to culture and assume we cannot win back faithfulness from Sunday sports’ leagues, lazy sleep-ins, and fifteen Sunday vacations a year.

 A common refrain among the once-a-monthers is that Sunday is the only day they have for family time. What are they doing on Saturday? And why is church not the best family time possible?

 Too many churches have dumbed down what it means to belong to the body of Christ. Check 1 Corinthians 12 again to see what a church member is really supposed to do. And don’t forget: the New Testament from Acts 2 to Revelation 3 is either about the local church or written in the context of a local church.

 God thought the local church was sufficiently important to feature it in most of the New Testament after the Gospels. No, the church is not perfect. Yes, it has hypocrites – every single church member. But it is God’s plan A, and he didn’t offer a plan B.

 The once-a-month church attendee is not as much a function of culture winning as it is the church surrendering.

 It’s time to reclaim the local church and its importance.

 Anything less is flagrant disobedience to God’s plan to make disciples.

Posted on May 24, 2021


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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20 Comments

  • Where can I find the statistics or the research mentioned in this article?

  • Ken kroohs says on

    Please tell me where I can find any statistics, research or even speculation about changes in frequency over time. Many thankd

  • Too many churches look for people on seats and car park attendants but which churches are actually making disciples. People go to church year after year settled at a “spiritual plateau” or frustrated as they have no other role options.
    When was the last time your Church trained you how to share the gospel for you to make a difference?
    When was the last time your Church trained you how to teach biblical truth rather than have 10 questions from the Sunday sermon for a connect group ?
    When was the last time your Church trained you how to give wise counsel to pray through relationship and sin issues?
    We have become inept at actually making disciples and training up Timothys as Paul did. Church is now done by paid and often charismatic officials.
    Potentially gifted people (who are probably not charismatic) sit in pews not really fulfilling their God-given potential.
    If the only purpose you have in Christendom is to be on the welcome team or be carpark attendant or manage lighting – we have a problem and maybe some frustration.
    So the question from this is – what difference does it make if I attend church one Sunday or four Sundays in a month?
    Perhaps some have discovered – not a lot.

  • While it’s true that attendance has declined in a lot of churches ‘post-pandemic’, perhaps we should be looking at this from a different perspective. For example, what is it about our church that you do not miss badly enough to want to faithfully return to it? Where are/were we lacking ‘pre-pandemic’ that has left you so nonchalant about returning?
    Church attendees who have decided that once a month attendance is now sufficient leave me wondering is the problem with the person or their particular church (or a combination of the two). I think it’s time to be asking some hard questions of both instead of assuming (aren’t we great at that!) we know where the blame lies.

    • Absolutely true!! If a restaurant lost customers would we blame the customers? (Agreed they are not customers – but a reasonable parallel)

  • Don Hagner says on

    I pastored a church where one couple was a very regular one or two Sundays a month attenders. The Board asked me to reach out to them especially to increase their attendance commitment. I soon learned that they were in church every week…just not always with us. They were “regulars” at four different area churches and enjoyed the “special attention” from each of those pastors. Years later, when the wife died, the memorial service was well attended with four pastors taking part (and previously unknown to each other in their service to the family).

    • I would be inclined to turn their request around. Have them reach out to the members to see what is getting in the way of being present in Church. Over the years, both before being ordained and now after, there were some who weren’t swayed by the clergy calling on them – calls made by the clergy can be viewed as self-serving (part of the job – more people in church means bigger salary). I have had members tell their story about joining a church and the more dedicated members were invited by someone (not the clergy) who is a member.

      That said, sometimes people are that way – they expect to be catered to. Sadly, there’s not really anyway to know it until people share information.

  • Mike Fogerson says on

    What a call to arms, Dr. Thom. Dang! LOVE IT. Thank you for the shot of encouragement with a challenge chaser. Smooth, sir. Smooth.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    A further thought, Thom. Cell group churches and house church networks usually have one big worship gathering every month when all the cell groups forming the cell group church or the house churches forming the house church network gather for worship. Otherwise, the cell group participants and the house church members worship whenever the cell group or house church meets. Two trends that you have noted is the preference of the younger generations for small, intimate gatherings and the emergence of the micro-church—a small, intimate gathering. Cell group churches often have a discipleship track that new participants are expected to take to prepare them to become fully functional disciples of Jesus. This track includes evangelism, cell group leadership, and cell group multiplication. With the younger generations we may be looking at engaging them in cell groups, house churches, and other micro-churches rather than more conventional churches. Cell groups, house churches, and other micro-churches meet at times when all the participants can meet. This may not be on a Sunday morning. What we may be seeing is not only a change in church attendance patterns but also a change in the shape of the local church.

  • Is the “Once-a-Month” calculated as a Sunday attender of either worship or Sunday School (or equivalent?)

    While I heartily agree that congregations need to expect more from our adherents, I wonder if there is MORE we can do to provide more opportunities for people outside of Sunday. I think tracking people who attend virtually might also yield some surprising answers to this quandary also.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Unfortunately, the digital attendance is dropping precipitously, not begin offset by in-person attendance. Once-a-month refers to going one time a month. If the groups are held on another time other than the worship time, they would be counted separately (only a small minority of churches still call groups “Sunday school”).

  • Growing up I only heard sermons directed to older people. I did not understand why listening to a long (and often loud) talk with multiple points and singing a few songs constituted Christianity. Now I understand that Christianity is supposed to be a way of life, after changing denominations and going through a real Holy Week. I also came to understand that Jesus was in earthly form a pious Jewish rabbi who merely offered some revised thinking contrary to the Pharisees’ legalism. The similarities in Jesus and the teachings of Judaism are there if you read the Torah and listen to the Prophets. Jesus said “follow me” not fill the church house at 10 AM on Sunday. His only additional command, the mandatum, was “love one another.” This is why I believe that podcasts are beneficial, a few minutes on one teaching of Jesus to remind people in their busy lives how to follow Jesus, who said my yoke is easy and my burden light. Now, if a service needs to be held at times strange to some to accommodate people, there is no harm in that. Liturgical churches usually have a service starting between 7 and 8 AM. They would be more than happy to see it full of people headed off to play sport or work. Clergy would not care if they were in uniforms. Look at the late Kobe Bryant who had taken his daughter to early mass before being tragically killed on the way to run a Sunday morning youth basketball program. How many times during wars did someone conduct a brief service on the battlefield with soldiers in full battle gear and heavily armed? Did that not count?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The point is simply that the New Testament pattern was to gather as believers and worship together.

    • “Jesus was in earthly form a pious Jewish rabbi who merely offered some revised thinking contrary to the Pharisees’ legalism. ”

      If that’s your understanding of Jesus, then I think you need more instruction in God’s Word, not less.

  • Joe Gillis says on

    I remember back as far as the early 1990’s receiving youth leader training (I helped lead the college ministry at a very large SBA church in Huntsville, AL) and the trainers even then were suggesting that getting a youth leader to be in church a minimum of 20 weeks a year was the expectation. I thought that was very low – I was disappointed when I was there less than 40 Sundays and most misses were to visit my out of town parents. I was a Middle School leader at North Point CC a few years ago and the median number of weeks our students attended in a year was 13. The most dedicated were in the high 20’s.

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    May be we need to focus on getting individual members of the family back in church one day a week (not necessarily on Sunday) if we cannot get the whole family as ideal as that may be. Get Dad in to a small Bible study group, Mum involved a community service project related to a concern that she is passionate about. Establish more points of contact than the Sunday morning worship gathering. I got involved in one church because it has a small group ministry and was a 9-month-old church plant. I wanted to learn more about small group ministry and church planting. As far the Sunday morning worship gathering, the music was to loud. I damaged my ear drums at rock concerts and experience pain in my ears when the music is very loud. The sermons, while well-delivered in a conversational style, were irrelevant to my daily life. They were geared to younger people. We also may need to have worship gatherings on other days than Sundays. I know people who work Sundays. We may need to experiment with smaller worship gatherings scattered throughout the week rather than that one big worship gathering on Sunday morning. We no longer live in nineteenth century rural America where Sunday services were scheduled when farmers had milked the cows and completed their other chores. Even in twenty-first century rural America lifestyles have changed. In the area of southeastern Louisiana where I used to live, Catholic vigil masses late Saturday afternoon and early Saturday evening were heavily attended. Some local evangelical and mainline Protestant churches took their cue from the popularity of these services and offered services on Saturdays in the same time slot.