Originally published Tuesday, 01 September 2015.
The drive to church takes about an hour. That means we hustle. While my praise-team-singing wife readies herself in the cramped bathroom, I do my best to whirl around the house and keep our girls on track. The soundtrack of our Sunday mornings goes something like this: Yes, you have to wear those tights. No, you can’t match leopard shoes with that dress. I have no idea if that goes together. I think I saw your bear under the pile of clothes. Your sleeve is not a tissue.
It’s not easy to make that work Sunday after Sunday—amid the dog not wanting to come back inside and the water pipes being frozen solid. But what helps, what makes it work, is that we don’t do it for us. We go because Jesus intended His people to grow in community (Colossians 3:14–17). And—trust me—we need the growth.
But according to Will Mancini, founder of church consulting firm Auxano, the disturbing trend for many churches is in a decidedly different direction:
“Specifically, in the last 2 years, I have see one common thread become a common rope. Its presence is now ubiquitous; every church I talk with mentions this problem…. I have never seen a problem discussed this commonly amid a diversity of church sizes and denominational affiliations.
“What is this one trend? It's that your most committed people will attend worship services less frequently than ever in 2015. [Emphasis added.]
“What does this mean? Simply that people who use[d] to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.”
Why are so many Christians choosing to spend less time with a community of believers on Sunday? Mancini suggests that there are many causes, but he specifically cites three:
- Increased involvement in kids activities: parents eschew church to let their kids participate in club sports
- More travel for work: more business “road-warrioring” means less time for church
- Online church: people stay home and watch church on their tablets, Apple TVs, and phones
That doesn’t mean pastors and local churches should just go down without a fight. In particular, Mancini thinks this trend actually presents us with opportunities—if we know how to make an impact. He gives three pointers:
1. Add value not venues.
Instead of just adding more and more activities, find ways to beef up the value of what’s already there. Work with existing small groups to provide better training, for example.
2. Think training over teaching.
Your congregation can get inspirational teaching on the Internet. In fact, online churches often have better follow-up than some small congregations. What they can’t get is solid training that helps them grow in their faith on a personal level.
3. Design for ministry ends not means.
We have lots of programs, but not nearly enough discipleship. Doing more as a church doesn’t necessarily mean that people are growing. The trend toward less attendance may have much to do with us missing the point of what church is supposed to be about: helping people follow Jesus better.
On a recent post on ChurchPastor.com, Pastor Erik Raymond provided 3 keys for church survival that hit on the same notes as Mancini’s article:
“Jesus gave the command that ought to characterize everything the church does. This is her mission. Everything the church does is to promote people coming to know Christ and grow in him. As a result, the church must be intentionally involved in evangelism. This involves the church at large and the individuals within the church. The mood of the church needs to be evangelistic.
“The church also must be a training church. People need to grow in their understanding and application of biblical truth. This comes in many shapes and sizes from preaching to classes to community (fellowship); but it must be there.”
Now, it’s your turn. Do you attend less frequently now days than you used to? If so, what made you stop going as much? Are you seeing less involvement? How has your church overcome this?
John UpChurch is the senior editor of BibleStudyTools.com and Jesus.org. You’ll usually find him downing coffee at his standing desk (like a boss).