Many pastors are really focused on church attendance, more specifically, ‘regular’ church attendance. ‘Flaky’ Christians (at least in regards to being in church every week) frustrate, confuse, and sometimes make pastors mad. Pastors commiserate with other pastors about this, preach sermons (Five Reasons Why You Need To Be In Church) on it, and guilt their people by pointing out to them how messed up their priorities are. But what some pastors have failed to recognize is that something has changed and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it.
About five years ago I began to notice (mostly from talking to pastors…remember, that’s what I do) that a higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. No too long ago we were upset if someone missed one, maybe two Sundays a month. Now, more and more people are regularly missing two, maybe three Sundays a month. Remember, they like their church. They think their pastor is great. It’s just that they are really, really busy and the weekend is often the only time they have to rest and catch up. I’m not saying this is right, just that it is. And yes, we can complain that they have messed up priorities, or shallow commitment…this might be true, but busyness and overcommitment is the world they now live in. Most of the people in our churches are two income families which explains why they can feel so far behind and so exhausted on the weekends. For many of the people in our churches, the church is on their list of important things (which is better than not even making the list) but it’s not at the top…like it is for pastors.
The good news is that this cultural change needs to be taken into consideration if we are trying to figure out why Sunday morning attendance seems to indicate a drop or a plateau. The number of people in your church is probably higher than Sunday morning reflects. Your Sunday morning numbers might suggest that you are shrinking when really, it’s just that your people are coming out less often. You might actually be attracting new people but your numbers on Sunday have leveled off, why, people are coming out less frequent.
The bad news is that I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this cultural change. I’m not saying to give up (well maybe I am) talking about why church is important or why commitment to your church is important, but when we do so it often reflects an attempt to bring about change by using guilt and shame…and that seldom works.
There might have been a time when we could answer someone asking, “How large is your church?” by telling them our Sunday morning attendance, but those days are gone.
Back in the old days (I can’t believe that I am old enough to say something like that) we were told that if we had a good enough Sunday morning experience that people would be there. If people were irregular in their attendance, the problem was with the preaching, or music, or children’s ministry. It made sense at the time. It doesn’t make sense today.
A higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. You can choose whether or not to let this drive you nuts.