• Brandon Sutton

A major factor behind declining church attendance

In the past, I’ve shared with you some sobering statistics. To name a couple, 4000-6000 churches close every year due to lack of finances, membership and attendance. Approximately 65% of churches in North America are either declining or growing at a pace slower than their communities. I believe those numbers are even worse in Shelby County. I estimate that anywhere between 75-90% of churches in our area are either declining or stagnant.

I’ve also went to great lengths describing why churches are declining. I won’t list them again, but I do want to share with you one major factor that contributes to declining church attendance, and that is infrequent attendance.

On his latest Podcast, Thom Rainer (whom I owe this research to) said, “Declining attendance isn’t as much of an issue in churches as declining frequency of attendance.” What he means is this: many churches, mine included, aren’t seeing people leave the church as much as they are seeing their members and long-time attenders come to Sunday worship less frequently. For example, let’s say your church has 100 people who come to Sunday gatherings regularly. You might think, “we have 100 at our church” and this is true, but only 75 attend each week. You have 100 people in your community of faith, but 25% of them miss church every week, which makes your church’s average attendance only 75 people weekly. It may not be the same 25 people missing every week. It probably changes. Though, I would imagine you have the same faithful core group who comes every week. You also have your 2-3 times a month people, and you have your once a month and quarterly people.

The point is this: People don’t attend church as frequently as they used to, and that impacts church attendance negatively. Years ago, you were considered an active church member if you attended 2-3 times per week. Now, you’re considered active if you attend 2-3 times per month.

Why is this a problem? Well, it’s not only a problem in terms of attendance. It’s a problem in terms of witness. When Christians see church as optional so will their children. When kids grow up seeing mom and dad not caring about church as they should…guess what? They won’t care about church like they should either. When they see you make church optional, they will make church optional. Furthermore, it’s a bad witness to the world. When Christians miss church for sports, events, sleep, non-mandated work, and general recreation, the unbelieving world doesn’t see the power of God to save in us. They see a bunch of half-hearted believers who look no different than them.

Corporate worship is commanded in Scripture repeatedly. “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6). Christ deserves our worship and adoration, because “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Therefore, we should not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

This is a huge cultural stumbling block for the church. We have become accustomed to treating Sunday worship as optional. We cannot do that. My prayer is that Christians would treat church as a necessity; something we only miss when we’re sick, or dealing with a crisis, on the occasional vacation, or otherwise prevented due to uncontrollable circumstances. Bottom line, when we’re able, we go to church to worship “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

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