How to Deal With Declining Church Attendance

How to Deal With Declining Church Attendance

April 6, 2016 by

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.

You can read articles by Carey Nieuwhof, Mark Clement, Will Mancini and Thom Rainer or listen to one of our Church Marketing Sucks podcasts that touches on the subject.

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 impact on the change in church attendance.

Church attendance is different in Utah compared to Vermont. Make sure to look at up-to-date, state-specific data 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.

Don’t Panic

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.

Empower your congregation to invest in relationships.

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Post By:

Joe Porter


Joe Porter is the communications director at Whitewater Crossing in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area in addition to maintaining his photo and video business.
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3 Responses to “How to Deal With Declining Church Attendance”

  • Rick
    April 14, 2016

    Well this article confirmed what I was feeling about the decline at my church thanks. Got some work to do.


  • Adam
    April 19, 2016

    Great points! I love that quote, “There’s no “versus” here. It’s a both/and. We need both to be effective.” I’ve found that’s the best approach to warming people up to my efforts in digital ministry. Selling digital ministry efforts means first creating an understanding that no one will force our congregants to log in from home. It means sharing what we have to offer here in the other places that people spend time (sometimes much more time!). Great article!


  • Craig
    April 20, 2016

    I think the first section that questions what are “non-downloadables” raises some interesting issues. I’m actually on board with the idea of traditional church essentials (worship and preaching) being a downloadable, but I’m not sure what to do with the subsequent idealization of church leaders that results from people primarily encountering a leader on a screen. Yes people can have contact in other settings, but after our leaders prepare a high quality message and high quality music, how much time will they have for other face-to-face activities with everyone? There’s some interesting academic research released over the past decade and a half on how computer mediated communication impacts our relationships. It’s not all ominous and stuff, but some people engage more readily online than in person. Could we start having online church communities with less diversity of character? Imagine an online church experience with mostly analytical or type-a people.



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