Friday, July 31, 2020

No Quick Fix For Drop In Church Attendance

Through the  years in my travels with New Jerusalem Singers as well as in serving as pastor in various churches, there is one question that consistently arises from church members and pastors alike. That question is, 
"Why is it so difficult to get people to come to church?"

No matter where I go or who I talk to this same question recurs time and time again. In recent years we have seen a serious decline in church attendance. People from all age brackets are concerned with declining church attendance.

Now, I'm referring to church attendance, not church membership. There are many people on church membership rolls all across this country. However, most do not attend church on a consistent basis - they are just church members. What I'm referring to here is actual "walk through the door and sit in a pew" church attendance in an institutional church setting.

The decline in church attendance has been felt by all mainline denominations and is a widely recognized characteristic of churches all across this country. Surveys reveal that the decline in church attendance has been gradual over the last several decades. Most recently, reports have revealed many people are leaving institutional church settings for their own spiritual benefit. Many are thriving outside the box of the organized church. They haven't given up on God or even given up meeting with others. They have opted for a more "organic" form of relationship with God. 

While it's been a smaller churches (churches with attendance under 100) that have been hardest hit, the so-called "megachurches" have blossomed. In 2018 there were 1500 mega churches of 2000 or more in attendance according to the Hartford Institute For Religious Research. 

Why have these "megachurches" grown so much? Why is it people seem to flock to them? These churches typically offer exciting worship services and a host of choices and options when it comes to Christian education and ministries. It seems there is always something going on for every age group. People are active in church related activities. They invite their friends and family to come and worship with them. 

It would be a good lesson for us to realize that enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. How excited are we about going to church? How do we relate our experiences at church to others? Is it positive? Is it negative? Many people today are looking for answers. They're looking for help. Our churches, today, should be spiritual centers for the elect, not social centers for the elite. We ought not set guidelines for folks to adhere to in order to be able to come to church. We must be willing to accept them just as they are. If there is any changing that needs to be done, let God take off the rough edges. He's quite capable of handling this task.

Let's take a look at church attendance from three different aspects. Let's look at church attendance from the perspective of the pastor, the church goer and the non-church goer. 

First of all, the pastor is in the "people business". His desire is to see the church grow not only in numbers but spiritually, as well, and for it to function as a body. He desires to reach out into the community and draw others into the local church. He further desires to see the congregation, that he has charge over, grow and become strong in the Lord. The more people who become strong in the Lord the greater impact the church can have for the cause of Christ. The pastor desires to edify the people and be available for them in times of need, trouble and sorrow. Being the pastor, it's important for him to see people come to church. 

Secondly, from the church goer's perspective, they are proud of their church and excited to be a part of the church. They are devoted to God, the church and in many cases their pastor. Many times they've invested much of their time, effort and abilities for the benefit of the church. They want everyone they know to come to church with them. 

Thirdly, from the non-church goer's perspective, going to church means getting up early on Sunday morning - the only day they can sleep in late. It means being late in getting to their favorite restaurant (especially if the preacher preaches too long), and perhaps not being home to see the kickoff of the Sunday afternoon football game or other sporting event. To the non-church goer, going to church in non-essential. They believe the church is full of hypocrites. They remember those who have fallen and use them for an excuse not to go to church. They complain about the pastor, they complain about the music, they complain about the activities of the church and if there's nothing to complain about they'll make something up if necessary. 

Pastors and church goers alike have asked me, "What's the answer. How can we get people to come to church?" I don't believe the answer is gimmicks. I don't believe the answer is scams. The answer is not necessarily programs. In fact, I'm not sure there is a "right" answer to this question. My advice is for us, as Christians, to live our lives in accordance with the Bible, be faithful in serving God, be a true witness of the grace of God, refrain from the attitude of condemnation that so many have and above all show love one for another as well as toward those who are outside the church. Jesus said in John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Love goes a long way in winning people to Jesus. 

Until next time...enjoy the journey!


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