How a Decrease in Attendance Frequency is Affecting Your Church

Sam Rainer

November 17, 2019

A phenomenon is impacting churches across the United States. Maybe your church is an anomaly. But most churches—regardless of size and denominational affiliation—are experiencing a decrease in attendance frequency.

Attendance frequency measures how often a person comes to church. For example, an “active” member was once considered someone who came twice, or even three times a week. Today an active member is considered someone who comes twice a month.

Many reasons exist for this decline—from travel sports to the demise of cultural Christianity. Not every reason is bad. Some may be inching their way into church for the first time. Others may be returning to church after years of being gone. People don’t jump back into the church; they tiptoe. However, in most cases, it’s congregants fading away that is the issue.

In my next post, I’ll focus on some ways to solve the problem of declining attendance frequency. In this post, I’ll reveal the impact of this trend.

The church feels smaller but is actually larger. Consider a church that has four hundred people attending four out of four weeks. This church has an average weekly attendance of four hundred. Take the same church with the same people but change only the attendance frequency— lowered to two out of four weeks. The church’s average weekly attendance is now two hundred.

The true size of your church could be double the average weekly attendance, if not higher. Many will wonder Where is everyone? on a Sunday morning, but pastors and church leaders will experience an increased ministry load. As attendance frequency declines, the congregation will feel smaller while getting larger. The people coming less frequently still email, call, and set up counseling appointments. They still ask you to do funerals and weddings and come to the hospital.

Spiritual disciplines become weaker. As one discipline goes, so do the others. People who attend church less frequently are also likely to read their Bibles less, pray less, and share their faith less.

Communication becomes harder even as the methods of communication increase. In a past era, the church used the Sunday morning gathering to communicate. Then bulletins became popular. Then churches started to utilize newsletters mailed to homes. Then slides on screens started. Then email newsletters become prevalent. Now we have social media and texting services. At our church we use no less than twenty pathways of communication. Overcommunication becomes important in an era of decreased attendance frequency.

Congregational loyalty declines and church hopping becomes even more common. When people come less often, they tend to be less loyal to a particular congregation. When they are less loyal, then it’s easier to switch churches.

Giving becomes less consistent. Online giving has helped moderate this problem with automatic deductions. But the reality remains, when people attend church sporadically, then also tend to give sporadically.

Swings in attendance patterns become greater. As attendance frequency drops, the swings between the highs and lows become greater. Three-day weekends can create greater dips. Holiday services can create greater peaks.

This phenomenon is happening in most churches. Growing churches and declining churches can have issues with drops in attendance frequency. In my next post, I’ll reveal some ways to counter the problem.

8 comments on “How a Decrease in Attendance Frequency is Affecting Your Church”

  1. Susan McClash says:

    I think many people are watching Church on TV or streaming it. That way they feel they don’t have to tithe.When people leave a Church it needs to have a committee to find out why and see what can be done to welcome them back or assist in their situation or work through their pain. So many people have been hurt and need a mentor to guide them back to “safety”. Just a thought or two.

  2. Jim mcclure says:

    I believe we’ve reached a place in our churches where people are seeking to be entertained rather than taught the true word. Thus the Mega Churches incorporating the light shows, fog machines, dancers, etc. the sad hung is this will not sustain a true seeker of God. I’ve seen many friends excited over a production in a Church, but came away with no closer relationship with God than they began with. The small Church doesn’t have the finances to do this.

    1. Collin Wood says:

      It’s very easy to take shots at mega churches who have a certain style of worship services. Having an intentional plan to disciple your people is much more important than what style of worship service you have.

  3. Seth says:

    As culture changes, so do the definition of words and how they look in real life. Could it be that the definition of “attendance” has changed from “presence” to “attention” in the minds of the people and the church has not yet learned how to reach them with this new mindset? As you said in the article, there are far more pathways to communicate than before, but even though physical attendance numbers have gone down, demand has not. Perhaps they never stopped attending, only stopped attending in the way we define it?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Seth, I appreciate your thoughts. Personally, I believe the church must gather incarnationally (in person, like Jesus) in order to exist. A church that does not gather does not exist.

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