Everywhere I go, I talk to pastors who are experiencing the same thing.
People who attend church are attending less often.
People who used to attend every week are attending 3 times a month. People who were around twice a month often now show up once a month. And attenders who used to come once a month are showing up half a dozen times a year.
This is true of rapidly growing churches, mega churches, mid-sized churches, Bible churches and churches like Connexus (where 60% of our growth is from previously unchurched people.)
You can get mad at people…but that’s not really that helpful. If all people get is judgment or ‘should have done better’ when they show up at your church, why would they keep coming? You don’t line up to be judged either.
There are fewer and fewer of us every year who
Feel guilty when we miss a Sunday (I do…but I’m a dinosaur…I know it)
Have a natural instinct to head to a gathering of Christians on the first day of the week
Miss church when we can’t get there
Some church leaders I know wonder whether people will even attend physical buildings a decade from now. I believe they will, but maybe not in the droves people are even today.
So what’s going on? And how can you ‘compete’?
Well, culture is changing (in my next post I’ll talk about the changing characteristics of unchurched people).
But two of the biggest factors that used to drive attendance in the last 20-50 years are now reproducible online.
Two decades ago:
If you wanted to hear great preaching, you had to go to church. Podcasting and online campuses have changed this.
If you wanted great music, you had to go to church. Okay, maybe church music wasn’t that great 20 years ago. But somebody liked it. Now, for $20, all your favourite songs are on your phone wherever you go.
So what do you do?
Is the battle lost? Not at all.
Here are 7 ways to respond as people attend church less often:
1. Create an Awesome Online Presence. Launching an online campus is a goal for us, but between Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, app, website and blog, people can pretty much stay connected. And even giving to church online has never been easier. (70% of our offering comes in online.) Many people tell me when they’re not physically present they stay in touch via all of these media. Don’t judge your people for not being there, help them stay connected instead.
2. Elevate Personal Relationships. Somehow facilitating a personal relationship is easier and more effective in person. Churches that value personal relationships (even for thousands of people through groups) will always attract people who value personal connection (which is, I think, almost all of us).
3. Love People. Can you love fully love people without being fully present? Do human relationships go to their deepest level in person? I think so. 2 in 5 married couples meet online today. But even those 2 in 5 couples who meet online don’t stay online…they get married. Love can be expressed online, but its fulfilment happens deepest through personal contact.
4. Create an Irresistible Experience. There is something that happens when you are in the room and in the moment that doesn’t happen watching on line. A live concert is never quite the same as watching a song on YouTube or even a concert in full HD on a kicking home theater system. Church is more than the sum of its parts…between the preaching, music, creative elements, human interaction and hall way conversations. You get much of it online, but not all of it. At least not yet. (By the way, if your church is boring, you’ve already lost the battle. Start there.)
5. Offer Offline Surprises. Do something fun in the parking lot, foyer or service that you don’t podcast. Create some fun moments. Last year we handed out an awesome Canadian treat - gourmet butter tarts – to everyone who attended on a particular long weekend. People who missed it were completely bummed.
6. Create a Culture of Serving. Online church doesn’t allow many serving opportunities. When you get up early to set up and tear down, lead a 2nd grade small group, greet people with a smile, serve on the production team, or serve meals to the homeless, somehow you find a place in service of a goal greater than yourself. Make serving guest and others outside your community part of your culture.
7. Prioritize Kids and Teens. Parents can catch a podcast or watch online, but kids really miss out when parents miss. To be with their friends who are running in the same direction, and to have another voice (small group leader) who knows their name, favourite food and hopes and dreams saying the same thing a loving parent would say, is so far unreproducible in the online world. I believe that when the parents miss church, the kids are the biggest losers. The more you prioritize families, the more families will prioritize Sundays.
The shift in our culture is probably irreversible to some extent. But you have something unique to offer – online and offline.
What are you learning about shifts in attendance and the things that you can help people with offline and online?
About Carey Nieuwhof: Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting.