We’ve heard panic bubbling up in some discussions with churches lately as we talk about how church members — even the “committed Christians” — are attending Sunday services less frequently, driven by cultural changes, technology innovation, family commitments, increasing affluence, etc. Thom Rainer has been talking about this for a few years now. I’ve been chewing on the topic a lot and talking with other pastors about what it all means.
I can’t help but wonder if our panic is misplaced. After all, Jesus didn’t call us to take up our cross and get to a church building once a week. He called us to follow Him and make disciples.
I’m not trying to redefine what the modern concept of “full devotion” means. I am suggesting we may have already redefined it, if you take Christ’s call to His followers literally. He called them to lay down their lives for His mission. In some ways, we’ve made that too easy. Our culture, for a long time, has suggested donating your “lazy Sundays” to your local church is good enough.
Would you rather have a church full of people committed to attendance or a church full of people committed to God’s call on their lives?
It obviously doesn’t need to be an either/or kind of thing, but as church leaders, we need to be very clear on which is more important and what exactly we’re measuring to determine success.
Here are a few things I think distinguish a church that is more obsessed with producing disciples than it is with frequency of Sunday morning attendance.
- It invests most heavily and creatively into the things that help people take their next steps with Jesus.
- It is more concerned with building teams of people and equipping them to do ministry together than hiring more staff.
- It is more focused on sending its people into the community as ambassadors for Christ than it is in having bigger and better buildings for people to come to.
- It recognizes that the upcoming generations experience community online as well as in-person, and it works to leverage that ability to keep people engaged all week long, not just on Sunday mornings.
- It looks at the physical Sunday morning service as one part of sharing the message and has an intentional strategy for maximizing the resources put into Sunday services to go beyond the walls of the church.
I believe in the mission of the local church. I believe Scripture places a high importance on meeting together as believers, worshiping together, encouraging each other. I believe faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. None of those things were boxed in to a calendar day by Scripture the way we often box people in now.
There are steps you can take to encourage more frequent attendance; the Thom Rainer article I mentioned above provides some good ideas. But, we must also realize we’re living in the midst of a major culture shift. How will we lead people to be devoted followers as the world keeps changing? Surely our churches should be more focused on leading people deeper into relationship with Jesus and community with each other – wherever they are – than just getting butts in seats.
What do you think? Are you seeing this attendance trend in your church? What approach are you using to respond?