Leader to Leader, Leadership

Understanding Church Attendance Patterns

August 11, 2016 | Posted by Todd Jones

At one time we simply accepted as obvious that regular worship attendance meant that a person missed only when they were forced to by unforeseen circumstances. Like gentle waves on the ocean, attendance would rise and fall ever so slightly. Rather than the calm seas of the past, we live in times of rough seas. Today, regular worship attendance often means attending once or twice a month. The number of worshippers can vary dramatically from one Sunday to the next. Unfortunately, this turbulence is often accepted as a simple fact of our increasingly un-Christian culture.

While we cannot change our culture, I believe we could do a better job of encouraging more regular worship attendance among our membership. The first place to begin this process is with an evaluation of your current Sunday morning activities.

The evaluation process involves answering some tough questions:

  1. Do we, pastors and church members, act as if the worship gathering is the most important event of the week? Part of demonstrating our priority on the worship gathering is the effort that is invested to make the music, the liturgy and the preaching the best that it can be. However, that is just a part of the answer. We also demonstrate our value of worship through our conversations. When we share the blessings we receive from the worship service, you inspire greater worship attendance. This gets us to another question.
  2. Why is the worship gathering important to you? I routinely ask this question when I am called to lead a consultation with a congregation. Here are the most common answers: good music, loving fellowship, caring people, accepting people, meaningful preaching.

These are all good and important parts of the Sunday gathering. Many congregations work to execute these aspects with excellence to attract and retain worshippers. However, there is a dark side to this list. While each of these items is intended to be part of a positive experience in church, for many, they embody the very thing they like least about church. For example, you might love traditional hymns and the next person might love contemporary praise music.  Your congregation’s use of traditional hymnody might engage some while at the same time it might disengage others. Loving fellowship and caring people certainly are hallmarks of the Christian church. However, what some people see as loving, other people might see as being nosey. You can get the idea. The five answers listed above are answers from people who are regular in worship attendance and are from the church culture. It is important to continue do these things well to encourage regular worship attendance among that group. However, they don’t do anything for the group that is not attending church regularly. What do they value? From a variety of surveys, we know that they have a pretty consistent list:

  • They want a church that helps them grow in their relationship with Jesus.
  • They want a church that encourages open and authentic community.
  • They want a church that applies the Bible to life.
  • They want a church that does not judge the culture.
  • They want a church that is making a difference in their community.
  • They want a church that encourages them to draw conclusions from God’s Word.

As you evaluate your congregation’s Sunday morning activities, how are you doing in addressing both lists? If we ignore the first list, we will dampen the enthusiasm your current, active attendees have for your church. If we ignore the second list, we will fail to engage newer and younger members for a strong commitment to worship.

Todd Jones
Todd Jones is an assistant professor in the practical department of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. He teaches a variety of core courses in the curriculum, as well as, elective courses in church planting and congregational revitalization. He assists congregations as a consultant focusing on staff development, strategic planning, and church planting. He has been married for 33 years to an amazing wife, Susan, and has two adult children.