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How to Deal With Declining Church Attendance
April 6, 2016 by Joe Porter
Christians are attending church less frequently.
It’s not by a significant factor, but church attendance is definitely trending downward. It doesn’t mean Christians are skipping out on church entirely, but enough are attending only one to two Sundays a month instead of three to four. For church communicators, why does this freak us out so much? How does this impact us?
The sky is not falling. Don’t abandon your entire communications strategy.
One possibility is that we have become so heavily dependent on communicating vision and teaching scripture in a large group setting in a physical building.
You Have Two Options
There has been a lot of discussion about why people attend church less often.
But rather than wrestle over the why, let’s focus on dealing with it.
In my opinion, there are two ways to address infrequent church attendance:
- Option #1: Give people reasons to attend church more frequently.
- Option #2: Accept that they are attending less frequently and find ways to communicate without requiring people to have a seat in your building.
Which option do you lean toward? Which one makes the most sense to implement?
The Third Option
OK, I am going to cheat and tell you there is a third option: both.
The tendency is to put our blinders on and focus on one strategy. But a balanced approach will help us move in the direction of the culture while not abandoning the weekend-driven strategy that has been so effective up until now.
How to Address Attendance Decline
1. Getting People to Attend More
Ask yourself: what element of our weekend service can only be experienced in person vs. online?
We looked at what Carrie Nieuwhof refers to as non-downloadables. We asked, “What element of our weekend service can only be experienced in person vs. online?”
The answers were not revolutionary—serving and community.
Our people want to get their hands dirty and volunteer. When they do that, they develop a community of people that they want to meet up with every week.
It’s what makes my introverted 10-year-old son take church attendance seriously. He serves on the tech team in our kid’s department.
What are your non-downloadables? (Hint: it is not music and teaching from the stage.)
Once you identify them, pour all of your communication energy into letting people know what they are.
2. Being OK With People Not Showing Up
If our goal really is to create disciples, what steps in that process can we put online?
We took a hard look at how we were communicating with our people online and social media.
Was everything driven towards getting them to a service on the weekend? Or were we providing helpful content to allow people to develop spiritually in an environment away from the church building?
Remember, it’s not online vs. on-campus church. There’s no “versus” here. It’s a both/and. We need both to be effective.
This is similar to the discipleship vs. outreach discussion. If our goal really is to create disciples, what steps in that process can we put online?
The Impact of Not Attending Church
The best strategies are those where we empower our congregations to invest in relationships.
Most of us would agree that it would be very difficult for someone to be a fully-developed disciple without engaging with the body of Christ every weekend. But can we be OK with that being a process and not a check-list?
The best strategies are those where we empower our congregations to invest in relationships with people far from God.
Give your congregation resources to make it easy to invite those people far from God. Then continue to create highly engaging environments where anyone and everyone can’t imagine missing a weekend.
Location. Location. Location.
It’s also important to consider data specific to your location. Research shows that location makes an impacton the change in church attendance.
Church attendance is different in Utah compared to Vermont. Make sure to look at up-to-date, state-specificdata with large samples sizes like the one from Gallup.
In the state of Ohio, for example, 52% of respondents said they attend church weekly, nearly weekly, or monthly.
Most importantly—don’t panic. The sky is not falling. Don’t abandon your entire communications strategy.
However, it might be time to make a few tweaks in an effort to adapt to an ever-changing culture.
Joe Porter is the communications director at Whitewater Crossing in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area in addition to maintaining his photo and video business. – See more at: http://www.churchmarketingstinks.com/2016/04/how-to-deal-with-declining-church-attendance/#sthash.OEyxaaDd.dpuf
Linked from the great “Church Marketing Stinks” blog (click HERE for the story)- which gives new ideas on Technology and Communication with growing churches.