The Quarter-Time Church Member: Five Observations

The Quarter-Time Church Member: Five Observations

If your church is typical, over one-half of your members attend one out of four weeks or less.

I am convinced that the decreasing commitment of church members to their local churches is one of the greatest problems in our culture today. More than polarized politics. More than petty social media. More than the divisions related to a pandemic.

You see, healthy churches are positive forces in culture and communities. They serve and love others. They unite families. They communicate the gospel, where one finds true hope and peace.

But when church members begin to lessen their commitment to their churches, those congregations become weaker. They become unhealthy. And unhealthy churches are bad for the communities they serve and the culture in which they live.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where nominal church commitment is no big deal? How did we come to accept quarter-time church members as normal behavior? Though we could expand significantly on these questions, let’s look at five key developments.

1. We fail to see that the local church is God’s plan A to do his mission on earth, and that he has no plan B. The New Testament, from Acts 2 to Revelation 3 is all about the local church. It is clear that God means for local congregations to be the focus of his ministry. When we minimize the local church, we minimize the work of God.

2. We embrace the false notion that commitment to a local church is legalistic. Try using that same argument with the family unit: “Oh, your strong commitment to your family is too legalistic.” Why do we use this legalism angle with the local church? I would rather my children and grandchildren see me at the church when the doors are open rather than treat my local congregation like a part-time civic club.

3. We have let culture dictate our schedules. If Christians would stop letting their kids play Sunday-morning sports, the leagues would soon get the message. Instead, on this matter and others, we let culture tell us what’s really important. In doing so, we are communicating to our children what is and what is not important.

4. We have accepted strawman arguments about gathering at our local church. Have you heard either of these two comments? “The church is not the building; it’s the people.” Or, “The church is about sending not attending.” Both of those comments are often used to suggest that the gathering of church members each week is not important. Tell that to the writer of Hebrews who said, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

5. We see church as a place to be served rather than to serve. Have you ever heard church members argue about their preferences? You probably think that’s a rhetorical question. Sure you’ve heard it. Preferences about the style of music in worship. About the order of worship. About the color of the carpet. About the time of service. The list could continue. If church membership is about getting perks like a country club membership, commitment to the congregation will inevitably wane.

These five observations alone could explain the phenomenon of the quarter-time church member. He or she is not really committed. He or she is really not making a difference.

To all of you who say you are connected to a local church: Are you really? Are you really gathering without excuses? Are you looking to serve rather than to be served? Are you willing to give up the trappings of culture to be a growing disciple in your church? Are you really so committed that you would put your church first, only after your Lord and your family?

Are you a quarter-time church member? If so, you are a part of the problem.

Be a part of the solution.

Posted on November 1, 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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  • Annie Weatherly-Barton says on

    Sorry to say it but this is a Guilt Trip piece! The idea that this is either or is a total lack of understanding how some churches work depending in what kind of place your church is situated! We are in a rural village where church happens inside & outside!

    The idea that God can only have one plan rather limits God!

    This is all far too simplistic and naive!

  • Randy Rudy says on

    Let’s consider that we are approaching the “end times”. If so, what is happening in the church is biblical as referenced in 2 Thess 2:1-3. In part, “for that day will not come unless the falling away comes first”. As discouraging as it may be, don’t be surprised by what we are experiencing my friends.

  • Marian Buller says on

    Due to covid things have become difficult re attendance. We had a great set up with zoom and worked well I thought. We are a small congregation but have been closer than we are at present. We have a coffee hour after our service but only a few people attend. Makes me sad as how can anyone get to know our fellow parishoners otherwise? We live all over our small town not close to the church as in previous eras. The pandemic has a lot to do with the lack of contact and the previous social activities.

  • Frederick Manning says on

    One reason people leave a church or reduce their attendance is a lack of teaching God’s Word. It is God who draws us to Himself and His church. It is through hearing God’s Word that we are convicted and motivated to become conformed to His image. When pastors substitute their opinions and contemporary issues for His Word, there is little reason to attend church services because God is no longer in the building.

  • guillermo m chavez says on

    I believe the day emperor Constantine institutionalized the Christian Church was the beginning of the end. Since then, through the Centuries, the Church as an institution has been the cause of wars, divisions, exclusions, prohibitions, persecutions, murders, etc. The present social- political situation, of hate and lack of trust, speaks volumes about the church’s lack of influence in the governance of this nation. Despite the fact that the majority of the “rulers” of this democracy are church members, and the Senate and House of Representatives have chaplains, the core values and principles that our Christian faith espouses are seldom reflected in the legislative initiatives that become laws. Furthermore, in our own denominations, we are facing moral misconduct, division, discrimination, etc. Those are the main reason that many people do not go to church on Sunday.- Especially the new generations. So, I believe that the starting point for us as clergy and Institutional representatives is to start “cleaning our act”, and move forward with humility repentance and a renewed faith. Don’t worry about who is coming because God’s presence only requires “two or three”.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Guillermo –

      I will continue to be concerned for those who are disobedient and do not gather. Certainly, God is present where two or three are gathered, But that is a strawman argument that does not negate the command not to forsake the assembling of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). That command preceded the Constantinian era by more than two centuries.

    • Finally a voice of reason and spot on! Very well said.

  • Excellent article. Thank you!

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    This is spot on Dr. Rainer. I yell about number three a lot. I just allowed my son, who is a Senior in high school, to begin playing indoor soccer on Sundays. Thankfully, his game did not begin until after church. It will be one of the few that I can attend. As I walked into the building, I felt like a foreigner in my own area. All of these parents sitting around in shorts and shirts. I came straight from church and still had my tie on. I sat there for an hour thinking, “how do we reach these people with gospel?” As a pastor I feel neutered as it pertains to reaching a younger crowed. This coming Sunday my church will celebrate 201 years of existence. God has been good. I have leaders who feel that we may not be around in five or ten years. There is no growth at the moment. We began the Pray n Go program last Spring and we specifically pray for different areas. We have yet to go door to door and have just gotten door hangers printed. I also have people who have not returned to church because of Covid or they have grown quite comfortable with our service being online. It is a crazy time to be a pastor.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Yes it is, William.

    • The fact you had a tie on from church and assume those in shorts need reaching…..IS the reason people don’t go to church. Maybe those people sitting there in shorts attended services and are some of the best Christians on Earth?? Don’t wait for a door hanger but walk over and start up a conversation about sports and find out. There’s your mission field!
      Jesus never said wear a tie or that a service had to be in the morning or afternoon or one service or 10. Don’t judge those at games in shorts and t-shirts without knowing for sure who those people are and don’t sit behind the church walls and pray out. I think God has already answered our prayers but we sometimes get stuck in tradition. No offense intended and just wanted to offer a challenge.

  • Number one reason is because nobody wants to go for the very tone if this article. It’s up to the church to figure out why that is the trend, not the person. The Bible is full of making a congregation of believers but I think most churches completely miss the mark on why they are there. We have articles like this that point to the person but I blame the so called “church.” Is your church what God intended in the Bible? I remember several churches turning people away because they were not wearing a dress. Really? Why is the largest church in the US packed but the majority are not? There’s your readond but many church people call that church unbiblical and talk down to it. Christians are great at cannibalizing their own and no one wants to be around those people. There’s your answer.

  • #5 is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I get so tired of hearing people complaining about how the church “isn’t meeting their needs”. Jesus said he came not to be served, but to serve. I fear many modern-day church members have it backwards.

  • R.E. Clark says on

    The number one reason I see after serving 22 years as an associational missionary and 40 plus years in ministry is that most churches no longer see the importance of an effective invitation. Gone is the day of actually inviting folks to join a fellowship of believers. When you ask folks about their church relationship they no longer respond with, “we are members at such and such church.” Instead, they will tell you where they attend.
    We continue to be dismayed at the ever decreasing baptismal numbers in the convention and its connection to so many churches no longer giving an impassioned invitation. We act as if we are embarrassed to expect a response to the Good News.
    I hear great sermons all the time, but many come to a sudden end with no one given an opportunity to respond to its content. The people who sit in our pews and chairs do not know what to do! Quit assuming that we are preaching to people who do! We must be willing to give instructions and offer an opportunity for response to those instructions.
    Start giving effective invitations again and we will see baptisms on the rise and commitment to the local church grow!

  • Bob Myers says on

    Thank you, Thom, for your clear and prophetic word.!

    This issue, perhaps more than any other, discourages me as a pastor. I have nearly become cynical. Such attendance patterns should not be tolerated among church leaders and yet, sadly, even in my own church they are. And because of the political realities of my small congregation, I am virtually helpless to address it.

    This sad state of spirituality in American Christianity is an indictment on our culturally-shaped faith, as you point out. Late theologian, Robert Webber, known for his renewal efforts in worship puts his finger on the shallowness of contemporary faith when he wrote, “God set aside one day to be a sign of his Lordship over all our time and our activity. Through it [the Lord’s Day] we recognize God’s rightful claim to every moment of our lives. -Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 103.

    “God’s rightful claim to all of our lives.” Somehow, we’ve missed that.

    God help us, though I fear the heavenly assistance will be painful.

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