I recently read a post by Carey Nieuwhof on declining church attendance: 10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often. Although attendance is not the goal or mission of our church, it is an important part of who we are and what we do as a church.
The reasons he suggests below are facts, whether we like or agree with them or not. The reasons suggested are his, the comments that follow are my summary.
1. Greater affluence
More people have more disposable money, and more options. Travel options, technology options, options for their kids.
2. Higher focus on kids’ activities
A growing number of kids are playing sports. And a growing number of kids are playing on teams that require travel. Many of those sports happen on weekends.
3. More travel
People have more travel options, going to visit family or friends, or for leisure – going camping or to a friend’s place for the weekend or a weekend at the lake.
4. Blended and single parent families
For families like these church attendance can be more complicated because of shared custody demands. For many children, perfect attendance is 26 Sundays a year. There is also a greater challenge to getting the family ready for church as a single parent.
5. Online Options
Many churches post their services online. People have greater access to spiritual services apart from attending church. Some churches promote online church attendance. Inspiring preachers and worship are just a click away.
6. The cultural disappearance of guilt
People used to feel guilty about missing church. This is decreasing. And guilt is not a good motivator anyway.
7. Self-directed spirituality
People look less to churches and leaders to grow spiritually. There is a decline in trust in institutions, people are more educated and can ‘google search’ all they need for spiritual help.
8. Failure to see a direct benefit
Either there is no direct benefit in your church, or there is but they do not see it.
9. Valuing attendance over engagement
Some churches focus more on attendance than on engagement. Ironically, if you value attendance over engagement, you will see declining attendance.
10. A massive culture shift
There’s something deeper going on. Our culture is shifting, seismically. We are in a new world, whether we like it or not. The things that church experienced and valued in the 20th century no longer work in the 21st.
I would add one more reason to the list, perhaps a combination of all of the above.
11. Busy life-styles.
People are busy. Driving here and there, on this board and for that school event. Family demands, longer working hours, getting work done around the house. Complicated family circumstances. Social and recreational opportunities galore. For many people Sunday morning is literally a day of rest, when they can finally sleep in or catch up before starting over the next day.
These are realities we have to face as churches and church leaders. We need to rethink how we disciple people. Our goal is to develop followers of Jesus. We have to find people where they are, and help them get to where they need to be. Making people feel guilty, pressuring them to do more, lamenting about the lack of spirituality, none of this will help.
Doing things we did them in the last century will not produce the same results today.