November 14, 2016 Ryan Stigile

Church Attendance Decline? There’s a Problem with Your Product. – Panic at the Church (Part 3)

“Our customer is the problem. That’s why we’re not making any money.”
Sounds like a surefire way to run a business, doesn’t it? Organizations like that don’t keep their doors open for long. Yet it’s the very mindset holding many church leaders back.

“Our customer is the problem. That’s why we’re not making any money.”

Sounds like a surefire way to run a business, doesn’t it? Organizations like that don’t keep their doors open for long. Yet it’s the very mindset holding many church leaders back.

“People would rather be at the ball field than church on Sunday morning.”

“Parents just don’t care about the spiritual growth of their families like they used to.”

“People won’t give their time to serve.”

“Millennials think watching church online still counts!”

When you start blaming your people for your problems, you’ll run out of people faster than you run out of problems.

Here’s the situation we find ourselves in today: Culture is changing. People’s schedules are shifting. And the church no longer holds the level of influence it once did. We can no longer expect people to change themselves to fit our models of ministry. We must adjust to reach the people in our communities.

Just imagine if a business refused to adjust to its surroundings. Some of them have. It doesn’t end well…

Blockbuster over-expanded in physical locations and held onto them for far too long. They eventually tried to go digital but they were far too late.

Newspapers insisted people should still pay for words to be printed and dropped at their doorsteps. All the while leading companies were experimenting with “paperless offices.”

Blackberry continued to make security the hallmark of its brand while users began caring more about features than privacy. Today, its market share is a mere sliver of its past.

Is your church insisting on something people no longer value?

Pastors are often telling us that people are attending their services less frequently. Yet we often see churches providing the same services year in and year out. Nothing changes while the results decline.

The business community would call less frequent attendance a market signal. It’s a passive communication of key information. In this case: People don’t value what you offer as much as they used to. If they did, they’d still be showing up.

So what should we do about that?

We can keep telling people to change or we can change to reach people.

If you’re ready to change in order to reach the people nearby, the following three steps from the business community can help:

  1. Take Personal Ownership of the Problem

When Howard Schultz returned as CEO of Starbucks, he readily admitted that the corporation had lost its way. He didn’t whisper it quietly in a board meeting. He declared it to the entire team — all 170,000 employees. That’s how an organizational turnarounds begins; with a wide-sweeping recognition that something is wrong and you hold responsibility.

Are you owning the problem or blaming the customer?

  1. Build Around What People Value

While many airlines were filing for mergers or bankruptcies, Southwest Airlines continued grow. Why? They’re built around what people value. The company forewent assigned seats and traditional, costly amenities in favor of an affordable yet friendly experience. They empowered associates to respond to customer needs.

Is your church built around traditional benefits or the values of those you are trying to reach?

  1. Meet People On Their Terms (Instead of Asking Them to Accept Yours)

For decades, people were willing to pay bulky, long-term contracts to have large cable television packages in their living rooms. Then Millennials came along with their own set of demands.

They wanted to pay less for only the channels they liked, watch TV anywhere on any device, and cancel their subscriptions without hefty fees. While other companies tried to market the same ol’ product to a new generation, Dish Network created Sling TV. Its an internet service that meets Millennials’ demands.

Many churches are ignoring the silent demands of their communities, hoping they’ll eventually come around to their terms. It may be time to build something they’re actually looking for.

Are you building a church based on your terms or theirs?


Have you found that people are engaging your church less frequently? If so, it’s time to take a fresh look at your product.

I’m not asking you to change the Gospel or filter out its truth. But I am encouraging you to meet people right where they are, presenting the Gospel in a way that truly meets their needs and speaks their language.

Jesus went to great lengths to show God’s love in a way that man could not ignore. Why wouldn’t we do the same for the families within and around our churches?

Read the Other Articles in the “Panic at the Church” Series:

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Ryan Stigile

Ryan Stigile serves as the Executive Pastor of Rock Bridge Community Church, a 5-campus church with campuses in Georgia and Tennessee. Previously, as Director of Expansion at NewPointe Community Church (NE Ohio), Ryan led the launch and development of new multisite campuses. With Mount Paran Church (Atlanta, GA), he guided the leadership team through a strategic change initiative to simplify and align its ministries. Ryan has a Master of Business Administration from Kennesaw State University and degrees in business administration and discipleship ministry from Lee University. He lives in Dalton, GA with his wife Emily and their daughter, Addison.
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