50-Percent Attendees

One of the things our church leadership is constantly chewing on is a relatively new trend with my generation and younger.

My parents and their generation would define "regular church attendance" as "Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, every week." My generation defines it as "Sunday morning, fifty percent of the time or more."

Busyness in life, accessibility of travel, dispersion of families to various geographical areas, joint-custody, a consumer mentality, and a host of other contributing factors make this a reality. But it is a reality.

We can all agree that it's not a positive trend. In the future, I might blog about some ideas I have for how to turn the tide. But for now I just want to raise the reality and its potential impact because if you don't think about the implications, you'll fall down a slippery slope.

It affects communications: If you make an announcement about anything on one Sunday, bank on the fact that less than 1/2 the people who consider your church "home" will hear it.

It affects planning: If you need leaders for something that happens every week, you had better be good at either team-building or handling disappointment.

If affects preaching: The vast majority of your congregation will hear less than half of your series. If your message builds completely on last week's, you probably just ought to preach last week's message.

It affects turnover: The tendency is to over-use the extremely faithful because they're around every week. The result: they start showing up every-other week.

What else? I know I'm missing some of the implications. Some of you live in this reality like I do. What are you noticing?


Malcolm said...

First, I have to say that my carnal side is glad that this is happening and being seen elsewhere. I pastor in upstate NY (about 2 hours north of NYC). I assume we are smaller than your church, we run on average about 350 a Sunday which is large for our area. However we consistently swing up or down, week-to-week by about 50 people. And frankly we don;t know where they are going.

There are two factor that I have identified that consistently come up when talking to people about it. The first that plays big for us is weather. As shallow as that is, when it gets warm people flee to enjoy it. What is surprising to me, and I moved to this area from Southern California, and grew up in Florida, is that when winter comes people hibernate. A dusting of snow or even the threat of possibly-potential-maybe-it might think of snowing-sometime in the very near to distant future keeps people from coming out to worship. It is truly baffling.

The second is the continuing proliferation of worship services broadcast on TV and online. I am torn on this as I want to expose my people to as much solid teaching throughout their week as possible. Yet, TV/Online services are increasingly taking the place of attendance in a physical worship service in our context.

One of the things that I think it effects significantly is the community mentality o the church. We are struggling mightily to keep people connected to one another, and the attendance patterns of most of our folks keeps them from truly investing in the lives of their fellow church members. Therefore, congregational care has become solely the burden of paid staff with the congregation itself content not to get their hands dirty. I think this issue of community life plays into the other areas you mentioned as well.

I would appreciate your thoughts on stemming this trend. We have preached on it, spoken in small group meetings on it, met with individuals who are the usual suspects all to no avail. It is indeed frustrating and a trend I believe we will ultimately see be a detriment to the churches influence at large.

Thanks for listening and for your continued web presence.i find it encouraging.

RobSweet said...

Love this post, Chris.

You've hit the big ones. I would add one more that's kind of a summary of the others... it affects momentum in a big way. By momentum, I mean ministry momentum within the community as a whole or in individual ministry teams. But I also mean individual spiritual momentum in the lives of those who come only half the time. I'm not suggesting it's impossible to grow spiritually while attending church sporadically. I am suggesting that inconsistency in anything makes it harder to grow. In nearly every area of growth, momentum matters.

I also love Malcolm's point about community. This is enormous and may be the most destructive aspect of this trend. The nature of 21st-century suburban lifestyle makes it difficult enough to build and live in true community. Trends like this only add to the difficulty.

Josh Horton said...

I would be surprised if OSU wins six games to be honest. With the # of starters lost on an already pathetically underachieving under coached team, I dont see how breaking the six win marker is anything but a pipe dream.

O right....thats not what your post was about...Id echo the way this kills community. Churches aren't just posting sermons online anymore, they are streaming them live on sunday mornings. Now you can get more and more, not just the big shots, from the comfort of your living room on sundays. I think inside the spectrum of community there is an array of things that crumble: encouragement, accountability, consistant community of prayer for the individual to take part in.

To Rob's point "I'm not suggesting it's impossible to grow spiritually while attending church sporadically." I guess it hinges on what your view of the church is, or if your simply referring to a sunday morning service. But assuming your sunday morning service attendance reflects on your overall involvement in a community of believers I would more on the impossible side of things. Especially if our understanding of growth=actually growing...not just keeping yourself from falling off the deep end (which I find is more and more what we let slip under our radar as "growth"). If its actually growth then I would say its rather impossible. If it is just not back tracking to much then sporadic involvement in a church is fine. (ps I wasn't attacking your thought Rob, more curious how you think it takes place? What would that look like in a sporadic involvement?)

Chris Freeland said...


Sour grapes taste awful. You forget we had the swashbuckling ex-fighting Zorro come help as a consultant this year. That's worth at least one game.

Agree with the community point. However, I don't know that it necessarily impedes spiritual growth. It certainly doesn't help. However, my experience is that a lot of the people who are less-than-consistent to worship services do show up to something spiritual throughout the week (worship service, small group, mission project, etc...). It's just not always the same thing.

Josh Horton said...

Ya, I would agree, thats why I didn't say five games....

I would also agree with your statement. I was more referring to the idea of total involvement being 50 percent.

C and P McKinzie said...

It affects motivation. The faithful do the work, the 50-percenters see the faithful doing it and think, "I don't need to help. The faithful have it under control." Bad for the faithful (burnout/ turnover) and bad for the 50-percenters (who become 25-percenters).

To add insult to injury, the faithful become 'resentful' of the 50-percenters, and the 50-percenters see the faithful as holier-than-thou or irrelevant (disconnected b/c they're so wrapped up in the church culture).

Can't wait to hear your ideas to improve the trend...

Anonymous said...

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