Church Attendance Decline: The Major Reason

Thom Rainer:

July 1, 2014 | by Thom Rainer

Few people will argue that church attendance in many churches in America is declining. Our own research indicates that the majority of churches in our country are not growing.

Most of us have ideas about this development. Many suggest that our nation is shifting away from its Christian roots. Thus, churches are declining as a smaller proportion of our country follows Christ.

I will not argue with that premise. Certainly attendance declines are related to massive cultural shifts in our nation. But I would also suggest that one reason for declines has a greater impact than others.

The frequency issue

Stated simply, the number one reason for the decline in attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. This matters—a lot.

If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week, average attendance is 200. But if one-half of those members miss one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.

Did you catch that? No members left the church. Everyone is still relatively active. But attendance declined more than 12 percent because half the members slightly changed their pattern.

This phenomenon can take place rather quickly, leaving leaders scratching their heads because the behavioral change is so slight it is almost imperceptible. We rarely notice when someone who attends four times a month fades to three times. Nor do we typically catch it when the twice-a-month attendee becomes a once-a-month attendee.

This sounds entirely credible to me, but I’d like to see the percentage of attendance over time.

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