The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It

UPDATE: Listen to the podcast episode about this post.

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 our own ideas why attendance is declining. Many have suggested that our nation is shifting away from its Christian roots, and thus the churches are declining as a smaller proportion of our country are believers in Christ.

I certainly 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 church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain.

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

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

This phenomenon can take place rather quickly in an individual church. And leaders in the church are often left scratching their heads because the behavioral change is so slight, almost imperceptible. We really don’t notice when someone who attends four times a month begins to attend only three times a month. Nor do we typically catch it when the twice-a-month attendee becomes a once-a-month attendee.

Five Possible Approaches to the Problem

Of course, the heart of the problem is not declining numbers but waning commitment. As I addressed in my book, I Am a Church Member, church membership is becoming less and less meaningful in many churches. As membership becomes less meaningful, commitment naturally wanes.

While I don’t want to suggest there is a magic bullet to this problem, I do want to offer some approaches to address it. These five have proven to be the most helpful in hundreds of churches:

  1. Raise the expectations of membership. You may be surprised how many church members don’t really think it’s that important to be an active part of the church. No one has ever told them differently.
  2. Require an entry class for membership. By doing so, the church makes a statement that membership is meaningful. The class should also be used to state the expectations of what a committed member looks like.
  3. Encourage ministry involvement. Many members become less frequent attendees because they have no ministry roles in the church. They do not feel like they are an integral part of the church.
  4. Offer more options for worship times. Our culture is now a 24/7 population. Some members have to work during the times of worship services. If possible, give them options. One businessman recently told me that he changed congregations to a church that offered a Saturday worship time because his job required him to catch a plane on Sunday morning.
  5. Monitor attendance of each member. This approach is often difficult, especially for worship attendance. That is why the traditional Sunday school approach of calling absentees was so effective. Perhaps churches can incorporate that approach in all groups. Members are less likely to be absent if they know someone misses them.

When Church Membership Becomes Meaningful

People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. They desire to be involved in something bigger than themselves.

Unfortunately, in many churches membership has become less and less meaningful. Until we get our churches back to the committed membership the Apostle Paul mandates in 1 Corinthians 12, we will continue to see declining attendance. But when membership becomes truly meaningful, our churches will become an unstoppable force for the Kingdom and glory of God.


  1. says

    I think some of these are great ideas; however I think it’s worth pointing out that several of them treat the symptom of two big issues that must be addressed head on. One is the idol of Self, often characterized by the need to be ministered to, a.k.a. “coddled” like stunted children. I have often wondered how much a pastoral staff could accomplish in terms of outreach, teaching, etc., if they were not so engrossed in the culture of pastoral care expectation that goes far beyond scriptural example. The Second is the “ADHD” lifestyle of the average first-worlder, that are so easily distracted by diversions and shiny objects.

    I’m sorry, maybe its just Monday morning preacher whining, but I believe many pastors are simply exhausted and frustrated by the effort required in just keeping the flock together and headed in the same direction, when we should be able to devote more time to adding souls to the Kingdom of God.

    • Thom Rainer says

      I hear you Phillip. Your concerns are exactly what prompted me to write my little book, “I Am a Church Member.”

    • David J. Faulkner says

      Brother Phillip,

      I can understand your frustration; however, I must say that I believe Pastors today are taking too much on themselves and failing to trust their membership to take on the responsibility for introducing the Gospel to the lost. My biggest frustration with Churches today is that the Pastors and Sunday School Teachers are focused way too much on “milk” and avoiding the “meat” of the Gospel. I firmly believe that the way to fix lagging membership and develop an effective outreach program to the lost, Pastors need to develop sermons that challenge the spiritual intellect of the membership (i.e. serve up the meat of the Gospel). These same Pastors then must take a hands on approach to Sunday School Teacher training and mentorship so the Sunday School Teachers are providing complementary instruction to their classes. (Of course, this will mean that the SBC will have to put some meat in the SS Quarterlies, which I find are so weak as to be likened to skim milk.) If the Pastor, Sunday School Teachers, Deacons and other leadership within the Church are prepared in the Word and challenge the Congregation to reach new heights of Spiritual understanding, I believe the Congregation will begin to walk the walk and talk the talk. The Congregation comes into contact with more potential lost souls on a daily basis than the Pastor can ever hope to come into contact and thus the Holy Spirit has more seeds to water and more of the lost will come to Christ.
      I have over 30 years of experience as a military officer and even more years of experience as a Christian and leader within the Church. Humans respond to challenges in a positive manner when they are challenged and trained. The reason the Church’s influence is contracting is that we, the Church, have taken a passive approach to teaching the Gospel because we are worried about offending. Jesus said that He came to offend and He is referred to as the “rock of offense.” Given that the Church is the physical manifestation of Jesus Christ on Earth, we too should be on the offense for Him.

      God Bless!

      • George B. A. Fountain says

        Thank you David!! I am convinced when we hear the Word of God from the man of God we will know the mind of God and the plan of God. Please be sure, I am not advocating the preacher going into some rant and flogging the sheep but in effect taking God’s people to God’s Word the God’s Word may transform God’s people. You said it well when you mentioned “passive approach.” I want to scream. It makes me angry as men who are well educated and well prepared are failing to stand for God before God’s people and lead them into a life-transforming exposition of the God’s Word… Kingdom oriented and leading the charge to reach their community and our world. It brings me to tears…

      • Billy Bowyer says

        David hit the nail on the head. After spending 15 years in management prior to going into ministry I learned to delegate by teaching and sending. many pastors have the rock start mentality and they want to do everything or feel they have to. i went into ministry because i went to the pastor and said “i see a need here, what if you guys started a ministry.” The pastor told me “NO, you start the ministry and we will guide you.” 11 years later, 3 degrees later, speaking in two countries and just about every continental state I understand his point. Church is not a business, I ran a 5 million dollar restaurant with 150 employees. Most churches need to get away from the “business” model and return to individuals sharing Jesus! The big lighted signs to not lead people to Christ, the name of the pastor on the sign means nothing to most people. Sharing in one another lives is where most conversions occur. To do this pastors and leaders need to train and expect the congregation to grow spiritually, to share their faith, to serve in ministries and to give. Instead of tending pastors need to be sending. Thanks David for a great comment!!

        • says

          The biggest problem I see with the suggestions in this article is that they fail to address the real issue in most churches. We don’t need membership classes to tell people they should attend church. Our services and our ministries would compel people to want to be there. If my life is negatively impacted because I miss a service, I will miss far fewer services.

          If you are involved in leading a “Seeker-Sensitive” type church model, and members are attending less and less, you have to look at what you actually offer believers in the way of growth opportunities. Why should we come, if we don’t get fed and are only expected to be worker bee’s and bankers in the ministry machine of your church?

          This is a “The Emperor Has No Clothes” moment for the church. You can not have a service that is designed to nurture believers and a service that speaks to the lost at the same time. It is one or the other. Choose carefully. If you make your weekend services designed to “reach” unbelievers, you are a fool if you think non-fed believers are going to stick around for long. They won’t.

          • Neva says

            I so believe what you said I’m tired of the seeker friendly church. What ever happened to pastors who truly seek the face of God for there message and not the Internet or even buy it from another pastor. People are so hungry for the real word of God not the watered word.if they spoke the truth they would see people come to the church.

    • says

      The bible clearly says the the Pastors’ job is to train the new christians for the work while he reads and prays so that he can continue to teach and read from Gods word. Para-pharsing 2 Timothy

    • says

      I like this statement from your article: People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. They desire to be involved in something bigger than themselves. Maybe it would help if ministers would preach the unadulterated gospel of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven of Christ for people’s salvation from sin. People don’t need programs, or cushions; or self-esteem elevations; they need the hope that only Christ gives them. He alone gives people motivation to attend church. It isn’t about numbers anyway; it is about faith in Christ. Even Christ said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men ubto me.” Maybe if all ministers preached Christ and him crucified, the church would grow and we would see a lot more happening in our church buildings.

    • says

      Amen, Phillip. I’d add that the drop in frequency is often tied to other problems, and that very often when people don’t attend as often, there’s very little follow-through in the church to check on them. People like to feel important, which means they like to feel missed. If they know people have missed them and might want to see them, they’re more likely to show back up. I actually left a church and was gone for at least four months (I think it was closer to six) before my small group leader contacted me to say she hadn’t seen me lately. That only confirmed my decision to leave that church.

    • Michelle says

      “however I think it’s worth pointing out that several of them treat the symptom of two big issues that must be addressed head on. One is the idol of Self, often characterized by the need to be ministered to, a.k.a. “coddled” like stunted children. I have often wondered how much a pastoral staff could accomplish in terms of outreach, teaching, etc., if they were not so engrossed in the culture of pastoral care expectation that goes far beyond scriptural example. The Second is the “ADHD” lifestyle of the average first-worlder, that are so easily distracted by diversions and shiny objects.”

      Isn’t it the responsibility of the minister to “minister” his flock aka church members and guests? This does not mean that the minister has to “coddle” anyone they need to know what is going on in THEIR church and let folks know that they are welcome. There is nothing worse than attending a church for the first time and seeing a disconnected preacher in the pulpit.

      I am an adult and don’t need to be patted on the back, coddled or otherwise tended to but I do WANT to feel welcome in YOUR space. I see the church as a body and building whose sole purpose is to serve and honor The Lord Jesus Christ and when the “people” get in the way with their holier than thou, dismissive attitudes and their sense of “this is MY church” the hypocrisy oozes like slime in a gutter.

      Your attitude and comments are exactly why many of us feel a disconnect with organized religion.

    • says

      Michelle, you are so right!!! I am 44 and have been in FT ministry for 18 years. I have never seen such a baby mentality as this culture. It is all about them. It is like church has become like college football recruiting…Hey we got the largest building and the coolest children’s area. Then the next church counters…yea but you ought to see our band and coffee maker! The 3rd church counters…well, we don’t talk about tithing or any other controversial issue. Deal!!! that’s my church!
      Less people think I am being to sarcastic, I don’t think I am being truthful enough. If folks can find a place to come and blend in so that they are not noticed for 8 weeks, they love it. Not to mention the small groups being led any many homes where everyone has their “spin” in what the scriptures means to them. You kidding me! I know these things for a fact. This is very sagacious judgment. The church has become so myopic in its vision and purpose. Kids today do not want to be under any authority at all, they come out of seminary (if they go) and want to pastor a 5,000 member church because they really know how its done. Meanwhile I have people beating down my door for marriage counseling and sexual addiction problems because they cant get anyone at the church they hide in to really talk to them. Look, the early church and 3rd world Christians world laugh at us.

      But you know what…just because a marriage gets hard you don’t leave. In fact, I have committed myself to greater spiritual growth to make sure Im not part of the problem. Im not leaving the church. Im hanging in there and fighting for her. Sometimes some things need to be said. It just hurts my heart to see such shallow people in the church. Yes, I know there are some great Christians out there…you just have to look real hard to find them. Just speaking the truth.

    • WCH says

      I have been a member of a Baptist church for over 30 years and have known numerous wonderfully thoughtful and talented pastors. However, the times our church experienced the most growth and productivity was during the intervals between pastors when we had “interim” pastors. These intervals usually lasted anywhere from 1-2 years as our pulpit committees conducted their search. It occurs to me that the main reason for this phenomenon is that the interim pastor is focused on preparing the congregation for the new pastor. He is not concerned primarily with growing the church but with healing and nurturing the church. He is trying to keep the flock in tact, unified, and heading in the same direction until the new pastor arrives. These pastors turned their attention slightly more inward, devoting much time to developing relationships among the members and to encouragement. You may call it coddling, but I call it feeding and caring for and loving the sheep, and it is very necessary in order for you to have healthy sheep. I was taught the great commission as a very personal individual responsibility. And when each member is respected and valued (not indulged) and forgiven they will bring in their friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. Of course, it goes without saying that the pastor should teach and preach the gospel, and members have a responsibility to attend regularly. But without the genuine affection of a loving compassionate fellowship present, it will not be enough.

      • Tim says

        I think there are two points being made in these posts that have a very fine line separating them. I do agree that a pastor should shepherd and minister to his flock. That is not coddling; it is biblical. Having said that however, once the flock has been fed and trained, it is their responsibility to do something with it; that is also biblical. The Great Commission applies to everyone, not just pastors. There are two many people who want to just blend in and go unnoticed. They show up on a Sunday morning, get their coffee and donut, and seem to have an attitude that says, “ok, I’m here. Now entertain me. I’ll go home and come back next week to do it all again…but don’t ask me to do anything for anyone else because my faith is a very private thing.” It is every Christian’s responsibility to help grow the Kingdom of God.

        • Kathy says

          Hi Tim I believe the same as you. I have wonder in the past that there has to be more than just being saved by God grace and going to church and being taught God words and just keeping the same routine alive, I think that a lot of Christians forget where they was at when someone got up out of their comfort zone to go out and help Jesus gather the lost sheep. I do appreciate your comment and I can honestly say that it was in 2013 when Jesus opened my eyes to this so I am very much so guilty of this also but am wanting to change.

    • Sandy says

      Take my church for example. The Pastor is genuinely cold and aloof. My husband and I were very active in our church for many years. He lost his job, and after two years got a job in a different state. We are in the process of moving, but have been unsuccessful in selling our home. It’s been on the market for 2 1/2 years. We were relieved of our ministries as they want us to have replacements.

      The church membership is 85. (used to be 300 20 years ago). We have been discouraged and actually left our church for a while to visit area churches. We returned to our church, but just don’t feel we belong there. We have been discouraged and don’t feel like going. Not a great excuse to be sure. But our Pastor has never called once to see how things are going or say that me misses us when we miss a few Sundays.

      Of course, we could call him- but just the fact that he or any of our “friends” at the church haven’t bothered to pick up a phone to see how we’re doing makes us feel less connected. When I was the Church Secretary, I often called people (on my own) if they missed two or three services to see how they were doing. Since the Pastor isn’t very busy (I know that for a fact after being his secretary) and just satisfied with the “status quo”, maybe we should find another church where we feel like we belong.

  2. says

    This is an interesting post. Membership is an interesting thing to consider; especially in my denomination that doesn’t have a culture of membership. I’d be interested to know how we can create a sense of membership in our situation.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Kaye –

      At the risk of sounding self-promoting (again), I encourage you to look at my book, “I Am a Church Member.”

  3. Jeremy says

    I agree totally with this article. I have tried to figure out a way to assess attendance in worship services, but we were unable to come up with an effective way to gauge attendance. This would be incredibly effective in not allowing people to slip through the cracks.

    Is there a means by which we could do “attendance” in the worship service?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jeremy –

      I hope others will offer their advice on this issue. Most churches I know that are successfully counting worship attendance have people responsible for each actually counting a small section of the total.

      • says

        One option, maybe — be small enough that everybody knows who is there and who isn’t, thereby creating a culture of accountability. Then, if somebody is gone, check on them to find out why.

    • jonathon says

      >Is there a means by which we could do “attendance” in the worship service?

      The more I look at this “solution”, the unhappier I am with it.

      Slice the security camera feeds once a second, and archive them.
      Run face-recognition software that spits out who was where, and when, based on the security camera slice.
      Run “check-in” software that compares the output of the face-recognition software, with the list of church members, regular attenders that are not members, and “known” visitors.

      FLOSS that performs those functions is available. The major obstacle being that one has to be a programmer in order to correctly install it. The secondary obstacle is that it is *Nix only.

      On Monday, the church public relations officer can run through the output, attach names to first time visitors, whilst sending out the church “thank you for attending” package, and contact people who normally attend, but were not present on Sunday, and for whom no prior explanation was given.

      One side-effect of a system like this, is that church greeters can, if the appropriate tools are provided to them, greet everybody but first time visitors by name. This usage can enhance the feeling that the church is friendly, caring, warm, etc. However, for a distinct minority, this usage comes off as the church being invasive, domineering, and wanting to control the individual’s life.

        • jonathon says

          I’ve been to a couple of churches that have either implemented what I describe, or are well on their way there.

          What could only have been understood as satire in the mid-seventies, is standard practice today.

          • Derek says

            Wow. I would have a difficult time with a church that operates like the NSA. The sad attribute of all of the technology is the lack of a true and personal experience. Parishoners’ are simply being tracked and monitored. Facial recognition software? Really!?

            If you have 5000 people on a Sunday morning you need to split and branch out. It becomes difficult to keep track of three hundred people, never mind 5000. When it becomes necessary to use technology to be ‘personal’ with parishoners you have lost sight of the goal.

            Church is about relationships.

            Does God relate to you through a database?

      • Sandy says

        We have ushers that count how many members are seated shortly after the service begins. There are visitor cards in the pews that visitors are encouraged to fill out and place in the offering plate. Our church is small and the people sitting in their “claimed” seats know who is missing from their small “area”. We have belonged to our church for 30 years and were very involved in it’s ministries and supportive of the Pastor. Then we go missing and nobody notices or cares? That really frosts me as I myself have called people when they have been missing for 2 weeks. And it’s not a “where were you” call, it was “we missed you the last few Sundays and hope all is well”. I am feeling discouraged about this.

    • says

      Our church has two means of tracking attendance in worship, and neither is 100% but it does help greatly.
      First, our children’s check-in is computerized. Parents check kids into our facility with a computer that prints a nametag with name, their classroom, allergy info, etc on the tag. It sticks to their shirt. Adults get a tag with matching number to pick-up their child. It is a SECURITY system, with the added benefit of knowing which families attended every week. It does NOT catch those without kids, but it hits many of our attendees.
      Second, we ask everyone in worship to fill out an “info” card that they place in the offering basket. It helps us connect with guests and most of our regular folks fill it out regularly to ask for prayer, give praise reports, ask questions, report on those who are sick, sign up for classes, etc. Volunteers enter every card and comment into our database. Those that miss for 4-5 weeks get a note from the pastor asking if all is okay and if we can help them. Fewer people falling through the cracks, better knowledge of who is attending and how often.
      Neither may work for all churches, but together we get a VERY clear picture of who is coming and how many people attend overall.

  4. Pat Hicks says

    Sunday School to me is very important…card….call then call on. Also if you will notice Pastors who are expositors…precept upon precept congregations are growing. People want to know and hear the Word of God. I know this takes much more study and preparation on Pastors part. I remember way back when….I use to call it wetting my whistle…pastors would teach/preach and I would think WoW I want to know more. Seems they want to get up and just talk….I did have my whistle wet a few months back about women in church but few and far in between. To me it is the churches fault…we need to be accountable…study…do not forsake the gathering and expect a prepared pastor…not just study on Saturday but all week long for Sunday. Pat

    • Melody mariner says

      Anytime we say its someone or something else’s fault we are playing the devil’s game. We have given an excuse. I went to a few lousy churches over the years. I had this complaint or that. Some were legitimate complaints they should change but none were an excuse for me being unfaithful. Once I realized that I was called to be faithful just as a bride is then I could see my accountability.
      Even if a church is preaching a false gospel that is no excuse not to be a regular attendee to a true church. There are no excuses. Can you give one example where God said we aren’t accountable because of some outside force?

  5. Kent Anderson says

    One of the things I have seen is that when you are more affluent you have more options. With more options you make choices, and too often church is not the choice people make – believer or not. They can go away with the family, they can make a day trip. They have a summer home. One of the keys of higher attendance was we were less affluent. My folk and in-laws simoply did not have the wide variety of options open to them. Church became the defacto priority.

    • Murray Phillips says

      I would also add that there was a time only a few short decades ago when Sundays’ were times you did not go to the mall, engage in organized sporting events, or, except in rare instances, go to your weekday workplace.
      These ‘subtle’ changes in our society are now bearing bitter fruit. Church attendance continues to drop. We accept lifesyle choices that were once considered ‘sinful’. We have low regard for neighbor. I could go on, but I think many of you get the idea. Only Jesus Christ can save and renew us as individuals. Nevertheless, we need a ‘community’ of believers to pray with us, support us, and help us to grow in faith.

  6. JonathonG says

    In my view, the greatest contributing factor to declining attendance over the past two decades is the absence of any true relational component in “belonging” to the Body of Christ. I have seen this in church after church, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Authentic relationships outside the building seem to be suffering or missing. Belonging to something bigger than yourself is where discipleship happens, it’s what keeps the local church community “sticky” and makes the church experience meaningful on campus and off.

    If we were to separate “Being” the church into three distinct components, I suppose we could have 1)Believe 2)Belong 3)Be sent. Plenty of effort is applied to our beliefs and to teaching the missional purpose of the church. Sadly, it appears that precious little focus has been given to community, or belonging of late.

    Just one or two generations ago, the majority of folks belonged to various people groups within the church and they maintained lifelong commitments to these groups. Today, relationships and connectedness within the church seem to be disposable or temporary, which mirrors society. Of course there are glimmers of hope here and there, but how are we doing overall? The nationwide statistics speak volumes.

    One crazy idea may be to do a “Passion Survey”. Find out which missional activities people are most passionate about and then help them connect with like minded people to do something meaningful in their communities. Simply ask; what are you passionate about? What are you good at? It doesn’t matter what you do, but do it together and do it for the glory of God. People will be engaged and on mission, they will minister to the community and your church will be much more visible.

    There is nothing more “sticky” than being on mission with Christ in our neighborhoods and cities… together. In this scenario, Sunday becomes a celebration of our “being” the church together during the week. My guess is that attendance will increase, and how you measure the increase that God provides is up to you 😉

    In His Grip-

  7. says

    Tom, I like your analysis and the responses you offer are also right on. Here are some rules for change agents. (Pastors nd ChurchbWorkers)

    1. All change is self change. Even addictions are solved by the addicts.
    2. The only people who can attract and hold members are the leaders who do things that attract and hold members.
    3. The higher the original expectations the higher the member commitment.
    4. The more modern members are deeply involved in practical ministry the greater s their commitment. If the Leaders do all the work the members will find other things to do. The modern Christian demands involvement that is important and sitting in a pew is not important.
    5. We started doing your list of needed changes in the Mid Seventies. New Members classes, small groups, lay involvement, leader transparency, member centered, and Ephesians 4: taken seriously.
    6. Many worship times and many styles for different preferences.
    7. High moral and giving standards taught.
    8. Lay Counseling, AA Groups, parenting classes, practical ministries.
    9. Vigorous lay outreach of mercy and evangelism.

    The church grew rapidly.

  8. says

    Love the perspective on the “how” behind the percentage drop. Also, raising those standards for membership is huge! However, it is possible that the opposite effect may happen. Dan DeHaan, in his book The God You Can Know, asserted that churches that raise the qualifications for membership would find fewer people but greater power.

    Trying to synthesize those two perspectives: it seems to me that when the local church experiences greater power, i.e. a more powerful move of the Holy Spirit, there will be more people gathering to see what all the “commotion” is about. It would then stand to reason that the church in 2013 would begin to look more like the church in AD 30-40.

    Speaking purely from our perspective as a church, if we fall in to the trap of pointing our fingers at culture and using the “they’re so self absorbed” reason, we will lose our leverage to love on and point people towards Jesus. Therefore, we have decided that we will consider whatever it takes to love on our community exactly where they are in an effort to expose them to the gospel; even if that means considering various service times and non-traditional ministry opportunities.

  9. David P Himes says

    I’ve read “I am a Church Member” just recently, and while there is much in the book and this post with which I can agree, I also find a fundamental flaw.

    Our use of the term “church member” grows largely out the translation of 1 Cor 12, which, in many English translations, uses the phrase, “there are many members, but one body.”

    I’m not going to say that “member” is a bad translation of “melos”, but it is a poor translation, given how our culture uses the word, member.

    Our connotation around membership is that it’s something I can sign up for or exit from. I can be a member of the Rotary, or I can leave Rotary and join Kiwanis. I can join the Republican Party, or I can join the Democratic Party.

    But 1 Cor 12 says we are part of the body of Christ. This is not a “membership” which we can move from one congregation to another. We are such an intregral part of of the body, that we cannot extricate ourselves from the body … and that’s a different point than being a “member.”

    Further, our use of and focus on membership emphasizes one of the common criticisms of how modern Christianity manifests itself. It often seems, the “church” is more concerned with it’s organizational self, than with following Jesus. Those of us who are olders (I’m past 60) are accustomed to this language of “membership”, but many younger people and many “non-members” are dissatisfied with “organized religion” and specifically, “organized Christianity.”

    Part of the solution (certainly not all of the solution) is to choose better language, that focuses on the common goal of following Jesus, rather than seeming to focus on building an organization. If we follow Jesus, there will lots of people who want help organizing to do good things in his name.

    • Thom Rainer says

      David –

      Thanks for your contribution. Good thoughts.

      The concept of membership has biblical origins, just as you noted. And you are right, culture has taken the word and perverted the meaning. I am not willing, however, to yield the meaning to culture. My hope is for the church to reclaim it and practice it biblically.

      • says

        Our church recently shifted our terminology from “member” to “mission partner” for exactly the reasons you and David mentioned. The culture defines membership in a way that undermined our approach. We got “partner” terminology from Phil. 1:4-5, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” So we invite folks to partner with us in our gospel mission. So far it is resonating with many without the cultural baggage.

  10. says

    Thom…great insight. i have always said if you want to know how many people you are actually ministering to at your church look at your monthly attendance not your weekly. Look for those that attend one, two, three, and four times per month. Yo may think you are ministering to 175 but i may be more like 200 or 250!
    You have hit on a great way to look at this issue of attendance. Thanks!

  11. Joshua Hamilton says

    Thanks for your constant quality information. Moving from the traditional “Sunday, Sunday, Wednesday” model will be one of the hardest things to do for people, but only the churches that are willing to move from models to meet needs will survive. I love the idea of the three pronged approach: Involve people in one corporate worship service, one ministry, and one small group. Getting this much from people that have a amazingly busy schedules will be a win. That means you will have to provide quality for the supposed lack of quantity. No longer will people just come to church because that is the thing to do. If you are not meeting a need, providing an opportunity to make a difference, allowing them an opportunity to provide feedback and input, and being culturally relevant (without being culturally driven), you are going to lose people. Where I live, we are overly saturated with churches. There is no more maintaining. You are either growing or dying and sometimes a good pruning is spiritually healthy for the community.

    Going back and teaching what membership means (and church/Bible basics in general) and giving clear expectations is also great. We will be teaching a “I Am A Church Member” class this fall to our Young Adults.

    Thanks again for all the great info. Keep it up. It’s helping!

  12. Globeman says

    JonathanG “hit it on the head”. Pastors and their staff have gotten less relational. And, I add, too “professional” . . .and seminaries are often to blame. If they would spend a little less time polishing their sermons and spend that time with their flock, they would have such greater results. The best sermons are not preached from the pulpit, but along side people in the trenches of life.
    The Great Commission is to make disciples, not just church members. Just a little time getting down out of the pulpit and relating to people in their everyday world, will go a lot further ; and see more results than the best sermons. Ask people what was the sermon was about two weeks ago and see what response you get. But, spend a half hour over a cup of coffee listening, really listening to the passion of ta person God has given though his spiritual gifts, and see the long term results. That will take a lot of stress off pastors.

    • Anon says

      I agree here that pastors are becoming too professional and less relational. Also they are developing a mindset that says “that’s not my job, it’s my co workers job” when called to come along side hurting members. The pulpit is of the utmost importance but the “one another’s” of ministry ate great discipleship and teaching opportunities that are often missed out on. When there is connection and relationship there is a desire to attend and build on it.

  13. Barry Whedbee says

    We are looking at using your book – “I Am a Church Member” in our Sunday School. Do you have teacher lessons that go with it? Thanks.

  14. says

    The reason may be very simple, yet I’m not dismissing a need for change within the church: 2Thess 2:3 “(3) Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” Many are quick to say the end is near, yet miss that fact that if it is, there will be a great falling away first!

    • JonathonG says


      With respect, that would be an easy explanation if the “falling away” were impacting the entire Body of Christ. The decline in the church is most obviously in western Europe and North America. While the church is growing like wildfire in other places around the globe.

      Western cultures are wealthy and depend on themselves for the things which sustain them. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God about what is truly going on in the countries experiencing decline for the past 30 years.

      Here’s a scripture that comes to mind as I ponder the decline in the Church in western culture:

      “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” Hosea 13:6 (NIV)

      • says

        I don’t disagree with you, as stated there is need for change in the church, however if we are in the end, the other is true too.
        If you wish honest answers one must look at several things:
        1) Salvation is “sold” as just believe and it’s done and once you say this “prayer” it’s done, yet this is not Scriptural – One is saved by acknowledging Christ as Lord (Rom 10:9-10), Lordship means to surrender one’s self as slave to the Master (Christ), which is NOT taught in American evangelicalism, thereby producing false converts that then run the church;
        2) Church in America has become “business” and in such uses gimmicks to “sell” salvation and increase attendance, when God calls use to preach (1Cor 1;18-23) and make disciples (Mt 28:19-20; 3) there is no training for the most part in church today other than the basics (Heb 6:1-2);
        3) Leaders are as babes in Christ and lack faith and convince in the Word of God and you expect the followers to be any different, many of which do not even know what the definition of faith or grace is: faith is defined as Heb 11:1, yet the word means: confidence in the Word of God. Many don’t even believe the historical account of Genesis! Grace is teach as “God’s unmerited favor”, yet it means: gracious divine influence on one’s heart reflected in their life;
        4) the church claims to know and love God, yet this verse comes to mind: 2Tim 3:5 “(5) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
        5) Many do not even understand that Christ NEVER did any of His miracles, God DID THEM THOUGH Christ (Jn 14:10) because Christ being God limited Himself to act as a mere man (Phil 2:6-7);
        6) We don’t believe Christ’s own words: Lk 17:6, Mk 11:23 and others in Matt because we do not believe; we say we do, but our lives show we do not – Words are an empty shell, it’s our actions that fill them and bring them to life.
        7) We don’t live out our faith – Read 1Jn for numerous examples.
        I could go on, but this is too long already. The reason Western Europe and American churches are in decline is because the vest majority of them are dead (religious) churches, not ones full of a relationship with Christ, which WILL change lives and the outside world wants to see life, not more death. in fact, you could remove God and Christ from most churches in America and their members will still attend. I’m not trying to condemn anyone, merely pointing out the truth as to why people are no longer interested. SHOW the world Christ and they will come until the end when the great falling away happens, if it hasn’t started already.

        • David J. Faulkner says


          You have hit the nail on the head. In my experience, a small group of true believers, filled with faith, are more effective than a large mass of people who are only in the game for what they can get out of the Church. A major problem for Christianity in the US today is that Churches have become “Fire Insurance” companies. In many Churches, the meaning and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been so watered down as to make unbelievers believe that “if I make a profession of faith and get baptized, then I can go about my life, but will not burn in hell.” This, obviously, has no basis in the Holy Word of God; nevertheless, this is what, I believe, a plurality of Christians believe. This scares me, since God has placed a heavy burden on my heart for the lost. Ministering to the lost is really easier than ministering to the pseudo-saved. I run into “christians” who believe they are saved (i.e. they walked the isle, answered the Pastor’s question correctly, and went for a swim); however, it is readily apparent that they have not received the conviction of the Holy Spirit based on their actions and fruits. It is very hard to convince pseudo-christians that they are not saved and that God requires more from the relationship than getting wet. This is not a problem of youth. I have found this problem in all age groups and is a contributing factor for reduced Church attendance, as these pseudo-Christians (i.e. tares) have a tendency to run off those of the lost who are at a point of readiness to have the Gospel opened to them.

      • says

        If the sheep are wandering and lost it is because the shepherds are not teaching them. If the students are not learning the teachers are not teaching. I don’t think we can blame the members. Sin was not invented in this decade. People have always been stiff necked and rebellious. It is our job as leaders to be change agents. People do not do what we EXPECT but what we INSPECT!

        I forgot to affirm the idea Thom presented ot knowing the sheep by name and counting them every week. If a member of the family misses two or three meals go visit and see what is wrong with them. What kind of shepherd will not even count his sheep?

        If we don’t even follow up on them and let them know we love and appreciate them it shows spiritual malpractice on our part. It is not the fault of the sheep! It is not the fault of the culture! Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, etc all had more blatant sin than us. But that was not blamed and people came to Christ.

        It is not rocket science but I Corinthians 12, 13 and 14.

        Count and love the sheep by name and pray for them in power. They will stick for sure.

        • says

          Yes, leaders have responsibilities to the sheep, nonetheless they are not to coddle them, feed them, yes, equip them, yes. Jesus did NOT coddle them; He told them the truth and they responded, He did not chase them down to win them over. They received what was taught or were offended and left and Jesus let them leave because Christ knew God is who holds them, not us or our methods. As for students not learning because of poor teaching, that is not true. Students have a responsibility to learn. Each person will be held accountable for what each person did with Christ regardless of the teacher. A teacher cannot force a student to learn, nor can a student force the teacher to teach. Each will be accountable for their own part.

          • says

            Coddling and caring is forbidden by Jesus.

            Luke 15: Now all the publicans and sinners were drawing near unto him to hear him.

            2 And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

            3 And he spake unto them this parable, saying,

            4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

            5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

            6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.

            7 I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.

            We did a yearlong research study with Christian people who have disabled kids. No one from the church ever
            called, visited or prayed for them or their sick child. Is that too much coddling? Would it mean that preachers and laity might have to actually know the sheep and ask why they are missing the services?

        • Melody Mariner says

          Was the Israelites Moses fault? Wasn’t Jonah mentored by God? Judas lived, traveled and learned from Jesus. Do we blame Jesus?

          • says

            1) Never said caring was not to be done, however coddling goes far beyond caring.
            2) As for teachers, they are responsible to teach and students are responsible to learn BOTH are responsible to God and will give account. James does warn against being teachers for there is greater responsibility in such
            3) The OUTCOME is NOT in our hands, it’s in God’s hands.
            4) The issue is the church in America is failing because it leaders do NOT lead according to Scripture and the students do NOT care to learn; as a whole it has become a business NOT worship; there are greater amounts of lost as church members than saved and it’s time to clean house; let the offended leave, let the worshipers of God stay AND actually LIVE OUT their faith instead of merely talking about it.
            5) We do not get saved by works, nor keep salvation by works, yet we are saved to DO good works! Matt 5:16 “(16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Jas 1:27 “(27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” 1John 3:17 “(17) But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” 1John 4:20 “(20) If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
            6) the church is so busy trying to find the next program that will solve the problem and fix the decline, they don’t see what God says to do about it – SEE #5; the world is tired of hearing about Jesus, they want to SEE HIM in those who claim to have HIM in their lives! Jas 1:22 “(22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
            7) Matt 5:13 “(13) Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” IF we aren’t going to LIVE OUT our faith, Scripture says we are good only to be trodden on.
            8) 2Chr 7:14 “(14) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Who is at fault according to God? HIS PEOPLE, not the world, HIS PEOPLE (leaders and students alike).

          • says

            Both student and teacher are responsible. The student to learn, despite the teacher, and the teacher, despite the student’s response.. Each person is responsible before God for how they handle what comes there way. The student cannot say the teacher never told me, the student has the Bible; the teach cannot say, they never listen, God told the prophets to teach even when the students would not listen. The only one you can blame in the end is YOU. The only one I can blame in the end is ME. It’s that simple. My point in my post was to show how leaders are falling short of their responsibility. I started with leaders because leaders are more accountable – Jas 3:1 “(1) My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” I said they were a lot more reasons, but did not continue. The post was already too large.

          • Melody Mariner says


            Is that not what I said?

            It stands to reason that I was speaking to someone else then and have no control over how the site posts it.

  15. says

    Thom thanks for the post! “We really don’t notice when someone who attends”…In the avg church smaller church of about 80-100 as a pastor of one I see those who are not there quite clearly. Just sayin:) And my wife reminds me too:)
    But…I am doing exactly what you suggest in #1 & 2, & 3. Starting 9-8 we will have Discover EBC, a requirement to becoming a member. What can I do about the current members who have not and will not go through the orientation class to raise their level of comm? Your suggestions are appreciated!

    • says

      “People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. They desire to be involved in something bigger than themselves.” And what if they really dont? I mean some churches and members have given in and have been spiritually “sedated”. They just dont care. How do you get people to care and want to be something bigger than themselves? This is a bog issue to what you are blogging about today. Please…your thoughts are appreciated

  16. Michelle says

    I would like to toss in my two cents on why I am currently not a member of a church nor attend a church. I was a member in good standing and attended a small S. Baptist church in my area for many years. I was even baptized as an adult in this church. In 1996 I became extremely ill after a botched back surgery. Did anyone from my Sunday school class drop by to say hello, are you still alive, can I go get you a burger? No. I heard nothing from no one other than the church secretary calling me after 4 months asking why I had not tithed in so long and that she would take a credit card over the phone. I was shocked and hurt by this. I explained my situation but all she was interested in was my money. Maybe my expectations were too high. I am from the South, not currently living there, and if a church member becomes ill or there is a death the church family falls all over themselves to make sure that there is food, prayer and comfort. When I was able to leave the house and start attending church again I returned to what I considered to be “my church home” but it felt wrong and I no longer felt like I was welcome. Since that time I have been church shopping I have tried different denominations and large and small churches. In the majority of churches I have attended I see cliches, few people come up to greet you and make you feel welcome, I am not one that needs coddling just a welcoming handshake or greeting , not people glancing over their shoulder with a scowl on their face, Sermons have grown increasingly political, I don’t go to church to get the ministers political views I go to church to talk about and learn the Bible. I detest the hate and intolerance that is being spread and hangs in the church rafters like a plaque. Hatred over sexual preference, hatred for those with differing views and opinions, hatred for women who must make gut wrenching decisions as to what to do with their body. As a child I was taught in Sunday school to pray for those who sin but not to pass judgement on them. It was okay to hate the sin but not the sinner and this is something I have carried with me throughout the years. To hear a minister spewing hatred to the congregation is to me the highest form of hypocrisy. Where has community service gone? I love working with my church family while serving the community as a whole. Hypocrisy runs rampant. It is almost like since they are attending church, the way that people act throughout the week doesn’t matter because come Sunday all will be forgiven because they are going to church. I had been attending a nearby church for several months and one day at the grocery store I pulled in to the handicap parking spot, hung my little placard and got out of the car. A woman had parked her car directly behind mine and came charging at me yelling that I “had taken her parking place.” I apologized but had not seen that she was waiting for that space and if her disability required her to have the space I would move over a couple of rows. She then yelled “I am not disabled I am in a hurry and I always park in this spot.” I recognized her from the church and told her so I then asked if she was the one that always parked in one of the handicapped spots at church yet did not have a handicap placard displayed. I turned on my heels and headed in to .the store with this woman yelling at me the entire way. As I returned to my car with my few purchases her car was still parked behind mine blocking me in. The following Sunday I visited with the preacher about this encounter and was told that this woman was on the Board of Director’s. I am not sure if this was the reason she was so un-Christ like, if this was an excuse or why this point was brought up. That evening I received a phone call from one of the elders telling me that “their” church might not be the one for me. Really? I now infrequently attend a non-denominational church but this time I went in with no expectations. I don’t attend Sunday school, I keep to myself, I am friendly if approached but I don’t feel as if I am part of the church body, the elite. I read my Bible throughout the week but I need my Sunday time with Jesus and I find myself, more often than not, taking 30-45 minutes on Sunday to read my Bible, meditate on the words and finding the solace, strength and serenity to get me through the week. If a church truly wants to attract new members and retain those members the minister, board and all decision makers need to really look inward and see what newcomers see. What is the first impression upon entering the church, do we have a welcoming environment, is the minister’s message one of God or one of man, how much involvement the church body has in the community they serve, etc.?

    • Kris says


      I think you have raised some good questions. But may I offer that I got lost in a lot of emotional and relational baggage in your post and almost quit reading before the end. You have some hurts that need to be let go before you are ever going to be satisfied with any situational involvement in church. Maybe it’s not my place to say it, but what you just wrote has so much resentment in it, I don’t know if anyone knows where to start.

      • Michelle says

        Kris, I appreciate your psychologic analysis and yes I did ramble. For a total stranger to pop up with “a lot of emotional and relational baggage..”, “some hurts that need to be let go before you are ever going to be satisfied with any situational involvement in church…” and “has so much resentment …” you have just emphasised the point I was trying to make. You don’t know me from Adam yet you were very quick to pass judgement based on a quickly typed interruption filled comment on an Internet forum .

        • Kris says

          I sounded rude and it wasn’t meant. I re read and agree with that. I just think this blog was about a decline a church attendance which means churches addressing their systems and how they fix these issues.

          I just felt your response was deep and I think there are some hurts there that if God helped you heal might better solve your apprehension to get involved in another church.

          My apologies. I approached this pretty practical and dogmatic. I hope God can help you with these hurts and remember not all churches operate this way.

          • Michelle says

            Thank you Kris. I am safe and secure in my spirituality and my relationship with the Holy Spirit. No worries on that front. I was trying to point out that there is more than 1 reason for the decline in church attendance. We have discussed this topic often in my Bible study group and every person has had an experience, or twenty, that has prompted them to find new churches and some have opted to worship on their own.

    • JonathonG says


      I appreciate you sharing your heart with us. I’m saddened to hear how you were treated and also by how this experience has affected your desire to attend worship regularly.

      Much of what you describe is (and always has been) peppered throughout the Body of Christ, but usually not all in the same place! I agree, yuck! However, as Christians we have a duty to hold to what is good, so maybe we just move down the road until we find the place that God has for us. We can do this and still keep the people that we meet through these experiences in our prayers.

      If I can offer one unsolicited piece of advice; let’s not allow the behavior of others to cloud our own commitment to Christ and our ability to remain connected to the Body. Since our individual relationships with Jesus are uniquely personal, I think we should focus there and let Him sort out all the other foolishness that goes on.

      Be blessed, I will be praying for you :-)

    • Ginger says

      Michelle, I am sorry that your church experience was negative and hurtful. I will hold you in my pryaers and hope that your new congregation truly lives out Christ love in the church, parking lot and the world :) Peace-

      • says

        Michelle, You are rightly questioning your treatment by the church you were involved in. You seem to be going though the same transformation that many of us who have been spiritually dissatisfied with the church system. May I humbly submit something for your discernment, prayer and consideration. Actually, this is for anyone else on this forum as well, including Mr. DeLong and Mr. Rainer.
        A brother posted the following on this very blog…(you may have missed it in amongst the many other comments). May Jesus bless you sister…
        7.”Jim, I left the following comment on Mr. DeYoung’s blog article:

        Most of the people who I know that have come out of the traditional, cultural church experience are people who were pillars in these same places before their exit. Why did they leave?

        Obedience: the Holy Spirit led them out.

        The increasing apostasy evident in the traditional church experience is a sign of God’s judgment against the errors they contain. What are these errors? Here are some examples [prefaced by a question]: “By whose authority do you support practices that God clearly rejects?

        For example, referring to the church as a building or place, which is a pagan idea and practice. Under the New Covenant, there is no official holy place for believers to gather: rather, we are the temples of the Holy Spirit that are built up together for a habitation of the Holy Spirit, as a holy people (2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Peter 2:5).] Jesus emphasized this truth in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:20-24).

        For example, the observance of special times and the creation of a holy day: Christians are no longer to observe special times and days, for they have been called to a sabbath lifestyle–in which every day is a day of rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ–and set apart to God.

        For example, dividing the body of Christ on the basis of creeds and interpretations, and this includes creating a list of members, as if it is man [and not God] who has the power to make men members of the body of Christ. We have no power to reject anyone whom God has received. Tragically, the entire system of organized religion is built upon a spirit of division that continually undermines people’s understanding that we are all of one Lord, faith, and baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Knowing the Lord makes us part of His body, not subscribing to a particular creed or emphasizing particular truths. Jesus’s last prayer for His followers before laying down His life was that they would receive the revelation of their unity in Christ (John 17:20-23): therefore, dividing [denominating] the body of Christ is a direct contradiction to the revealed will of God. Denominations are the fruit of men who desire to build their own kingdoms in order to receive the glory intended for God (1 Corinthians 1:10-15). Notice, these natural boundaries negate the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit to draw saints into fellowship and ministry with one another according to the Father’s will and direction.

        For example, creating an elevated class of spiritually elite believers who occupy the best seats within the assembly, wear special clothing, and are addressed by spiritual titles: whose function is to direct worship at a physical temple and collect tithes from the people to support themselves and temple activities. This includes allowing a human personality to predominate the assembly at the saints. Not only is this idolatry, the practice negates and grieves the work of the Holy Spirit to minister through the gifts of all the saints (1 Corinthians 12 and 14). This is an attempt to re-institute the Old Testament, Levitical priesthood and a rejection of the nature and reality of the New Covenant founded upon and sealed by the blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28; Romans 7:4; Hebrews 8:13, 12:24). Jesus commanded His disciples to never allow other believers to refer to them by any spiritual title, including ‘master’ or ‘teacher,’ stating, you are all brothers (Matthew 23:8). Every believer is a member of the royal priesthood, fully authorized and commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel, baptize in Jesus’ name, and partake of the Lord’s Supper with other believers, as the Spirit leads.

        All of these practices corrupt people’s understanding of the true nature of Christ’s atoning work, what He died to accomplish and reveal.

        Of course, many attempt to justify their support of what is false by pointing out the good that they also do: however, Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you,” (John 15:14).

        It is immoral to point to our good works, as a means of justifying the evil we do in the sight of God.

        How will we be judged?

        We will be judged on the basis of the truth we have received (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 12:48)

        We will be judged on the basis of what we say and do (Jeremiah 17:10; Matthew 12:36; Romans 2:6-11)

        We will be judged on the basis of God’s clear commands, as revealed through scripture by the agency of the Holy Spirit (John 12:48)

        Comment by Mark Bryan Finger — December 16, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

    • says

      Doug, I believe you are right on. We have to hit it head on with the Gospel. Gotta connect salvation with sanctification and pray that some “members” start following Christ.

  17. Hearspeak says

    Jonathon makes a great point–’belonging to something bigger than yourself is attractive’, just belonging to ‘something’, not so much. Too often church has been sold as the ends in itself and it will. not. satisfy.

    I AM a member of the Body. I have no interest in ‘being’ a member of a local organization. Churches that place as much emphasis on membership as they do on being a member of the Body (or even more emphasis on the former) are missing the boat entirely. However, cast a vision for the Kingdom, provide an opportunity for me to exercise my own Kingdom calling in community with others who are doing so and I’ll give you more time, energy, effort and money than you could ever imagine! But, don’t even think about making it about your local organization! It sure wasn’t about that 2000 years ago.

    We’ve called people to ‘get saved and go to church’. Why are we surprised then when, after they’ve done that, there’s not much else to keep ‘em? Call them to discipleship, model discipleship, don’t model the one or a few ‘doing it all’, empower them and anticipate that they will do the disciple-making, show them how you do it. Don’t try to manage them, that’s the job of the Head. I’ve seen too many aloof leaders, you know, the ones who ‘don’t do email’, ‘just do the teaching’, ‘are too busy’, are ‘guarded’ by their minions– I’m not going to be part of that! First off, their vision is too small and myopic.

    Be prepared to ‘lose’ your church and your job—you’ll be amazed at what God does next! “Except a kernal of wheat falls to the ground and dies,…..” John 12:24 I think this principle holds true in this conversation as well.

  18. Jeff Brickhouse says

    Interesting thoughts on the numerical decline! It was only a few years ago when Sunday’s (at least Sunday mornings) were “reserved” for church. If you have children or students in your home, you now know how much our community activities can pull us away from church at least once per month. It’s an interesting topic … Even as a staff and church leader, I will strugge with difficult choices when my son, who is playing college football, plays a game 12 hours away on a Saturday night.

  19. says

    It seems like we are focusing on the 99 and forgetting the one lost sheep . . . or should I say, we are focusing on the 1 and neglecting the 99 lost sheep. Calling it a success when you get every member attending every service falls far short of addressing the cultural shift and the church’s purpose and mission..
    The bigger question is: Why has the church failed to reach this generation with the gospel. It may be because we are more focused on programs and traditions than we are on people. Until we are moved with compassion for the lost we are fighting a losing battle to focus on church attendance. Matthew 9:36; Luke 19:10 I once heard a pastor say, “I will do anything short of sin to reach the lost.” We need to repent and do the first work. Revelation 2:1-7

  20. says

    Very interesting and timely post. John and I just had a conversation about church membership over sweet tea and brats with another family from our church just last night. Our church had over 100 more adults on average each week this summer than we did the previous summer, yet we have a net of 0 new members. There are many reasons for this. One is that we only scheduled 1 membership class during the summer months. Another is that visiting families usually take time to kick the tires of a church before committing. However, a huge reason seems to be that people do not value membership as they did even a decade ago. Commitment to organizations of any type is down. I wonder how the issue of frequency and commitment to membership factors into the issue of millennials leaving the church. I bet if I dug deeper there would be some correlations. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights, Amy

  21. Melody Mariner says

    I like your suggestions. The only one that may be difficult is the last one about the different service times. We used to have a Saturday night service. It was my favorite. My brain works better in the evening. You don’t have to yell at the kids to get up. They are already showered and dressed by that time of day. And it made it possible for us to volunteer the whole morning Sundays. Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way. So that means the staff and volunteers that do volunteer get spread pretty thin and they can burn out.
    Strangely enough the 9AM service seems to be the fullest one. I’m assuming for a variety of reasons.

  22. Don Bridge says

    Change the title “member” to “owner.” Membership implies entitlement, ownership implies commitment. Owners behave (or should behave) differently than members. Let’s start having Ownership Classes.

  23. says

    In one church I served we wrestled with the question of “What constitutes faithful attendance?” This was during a period when the church grew from 500 to 3000 over three years’ time. We reached out to others in our network, did a bit of research and reading and came to the unhappy conclusion that “faithful attendance” was two worship services per month.

    Then we started to ask, ‘Should regular attendance in a high-function small group be factored into this? If someone attends worship twice per month but never misses small group, does that constitute a significant commitment to the ‘little ekklesia’?” Since our small group ministry was still in roll out phase at that time (our penetration was about 40% participation in small groups) we decided to table that and revisit later. (I’ve since moved on from that church four years ago, so I don’t know if they ever did pick it up again)

    So I don’t have a good answer to the question of “What constitutes faithful attendance?”, but I do suspect there’s an unspoken cause here that we’ve not touched on in this discussion.

    Our collective experience with over 150 client churches in the last 15 years is that there is a significant problem and widespread failure in the American pulpit.

    Specifically, most preaching (at least in the churches that become our clients) boils down to little more than Christian moralism: “Don’t do this, do that, and you’ll be happy/have a rewarding life.” There is precious little effort at biblical exposition and even less at training believers how to think from a Christian worldview. There is still less effort at showing believers *how* to make the truths of passages like Romans 5-8, Galatians 2:20, 5:18ff work out in daily life.

    In fact, I would venture to say (working from memory here, which is always a risky proposition) that I have in all the years of doing interim work followed only one good expositor (he left under duress related to health issues). The rest of them were, well, not good expositors of the Word. I have not polled my colleagues on this but I’m confident they would say much the same

    The American pulpit has trained churchgoers to gather up three points, a puppy story and a poem with an application or two for the week. But they’re not challenged to think deeply, rarely encouraged to engage the values and systems of thought that conspire to make the blandishments of the world, the flesh and the devil so enticing and they’re never left wondering “Can these things be true? I must study this for myself.”

    If the nostrum is true that “the church becomes like its pastor in seven years” (and I believe it is true), then perhaps we pastors need to look in the mirror and ask, “What am I doing that has contributed to or exacerbated the problem of less than acceptable attendance?” Or perhaps we should let the mirror of the Word (2 Corinthians 3, James 1) look at us for a while?

    Maybe the problem lies with the physician rather than the patient?

    I apologize if this has come across as a rant rather than passion and conviction!

  24. DinnerTyme says

    From my experience, I no longer attend because a minister and members of his church judged me based on a long-time member speaking untruths of me. The minister even told me that he believed the long-time member because he “knew her longer” And my money just doesn’t smell as big as hers either. A lot of judgment and no communication. I’ll volunteer throughout the community, “do good” for others through area events and my own efforts to help others but my faith, prayer and studies of the Bible will rest in my own hands now. And how many others around the world feel the same way? Probably a larger number. I don’t think your 1 – 5 suggestions is enough….it goes beyond that. Trust. Honesty. Understanding. Communication. Acceptance.

    • Melody Mariner says

      In order to grow in Christ, a person has to be accountable to other believers. There are other churches and other bible studies. Look into Bible Study Fellowship in your area. No one is allowed to say what church they attend while studying the bible together. It helped in my healing to be around people that came from many different churches and denominations that were all a part of the body of Christ.

  25. Andy says

    Just stopping back by in Baptist territory to encourage all of you with your proposals for new methods and techniques to read one of your own denominational leader’s comments on this subject. Albert Mohler’s comments can be found on his blog at this link:

    I wonder how he would respond to your telling of the businessman who “changed congregations to a church [i.e. another congregation] that offered a Saturday worship time because his job required him to catch a plane on Sunday morning.” Do you think Dr. Mohler would move corporate worship service to a more convenient time/day, or might he instead preach on the Fourth Commandment? What is your objective of corporate worship: To worship God as He has directed in His Word or to increase your head count? Are some of you really asking how are WE going to save all of these lost people and recover our “dying churches” if we have to do corporate worship God’s way instead of OUR way? Which one of you wants to tell God that His directions on how He tells us to worship Him are … well, that His directives are just out of touch and no longer work? We almost sound like Dostoevsky’s tale of the priest who told Jesus that His unexpected return was a real hindrance to the work of the church. According to the priest, if only Jesus had agreed just that one time to bow down to the devil, we would have had all these people in all of these kingdoms.

    In the words of the Psalmist, in your corporate worship may you both bless God and bless His Holy name.

    • David J. Faulkner says

      Brother Andy,

      You have hit the nail on the head. If we, the Church, fail to submit to God’s will in the process of working out our attendance problems, then we can no longer claim that we are the Body of Jesus Christ. Obedience to God’s Holy Word must be the foundation of any plans or decisions we make.

      • Andy says

        Thank-you for calling me brother. Maybe I should visit your congregation’s worship service. Don’t worry about a “system “to catch this visitor as I will be easy to spot: I will be the guy who stands up with a Bible while the Scriptures are being read. (Luke 4:16)

    • Todd Wilhelm says

      I am not sure if Dr. Mohler would preach on the 4th Commandment. Dr. Thomas R, Schreiner, one of the premier Professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a proponent of an antinomian view of Christianity. Does Dr. Mohler hold to the same view?

      “When discussing Passover, I noted that believers are not required to observe the feasts, festivals, and special days of the Old Testament calendar. This includes the Sabbath, even though the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:8-11). Such a judgment surprises some, but it must be recognized that the entirety of the Old Testament law is abrogated in Christ.” – Thomas R. Schreiner “40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law” page 91.

  26. Jeff Johnson says

    Thom, thanks for the timely article – our staff was discussing this in our meeting just yesterday! I believe you make some great points and you obviously hit a nerve with the number of replies posted. As you mentioned in #5, Sunday School (or some small group ministry) is a great avenue to address this situation. First, it shares the load. The bigger the church = the more absentees. Plus, in my experience, you can’t wait until they miss several times to contact them or they develop the habit of not attending. Second, in sharing the responsibility with the church members thru something like Sunday School, we are teaching people to be responsible and accountable to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    There will always be absentees that staff pastors should follow up. As churches get bigger pastors tend to work with the people less and less becoming managers of a corporation instead of shepherds of the flock. But most churches have too many absentees for the staff alone to pursue.

    My biggest leadership issue with this is convincing my small group leaders to do this consistently. “m not sure why they don’t do it. My theory is that is not necessarily flashy work and it is something that must be done week after week. But I wish my leaders would see the value of the loving personal contact.

    Thanks for the post!

  27. says

    The idea promoted by Al Mohler and others that we can equate church growth, personal Christian growth and maturity with a certain style of preaching is irrational and unbiblical. It is not what Jesus did or taught. Anyone who knows anything about education, especially adult education, understands that lectures of talking heads of any kind are very poor as producers of change, growth and action.

    For every hour of lecturing Jesus and Paul spent days of personal interactions in very close relationships that have talks, modeling, experience, assessing effectiveness, etc. it is like trying to prepare a ball team for games with a 30 minute lecture and 10 minutes of cheerleaders singing old battle songs.

  28. says

    This is genuinely comical. Here, one of the leading spokespersons for Baptist – a presumed researcher, too – notes what he calls “the number one reason for the decline in church attendance.” I thought I had heard or read all of the misguided explanations for church decline by those who refuse to face the harsh truth that people are leaving the church because of rigid and narrow theology…because of closed-minded leaders and congregations full of those who reject truth in favor of myths…the misguided ambitions among leaders in the church…and, a host of other reasons I could not list here.

    But not the reason given here by Tom Rainer.

    Tom’s explanation here may be the most comical and misguided yet. I’m really surprised and thought at first he was just grabbing his reader’s attention with the title and his explanation for the decline he was soon refute too as a joke.

    But, as you have discovered, he isn’t joking.

    I quote him here again: “The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency…”

    Really? That’s the best you’ve got?

    I almost fell out of my chair when I read that. Genuinely hysterical.

    I never ceased to be amazed at the refusal by those who claim to hold the Truth at facing the truth about themselves at one-and-the-same time?

    How do you do that?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks for commenting Steve. I welcome those who disagree with me.

      By the way, was your dad T. L. McSwain who served as pastor of Hurtsbourne Baptist in Louisville? If so, he was my first pastor when I entered seminary. Good man.

      • says

        Yes, T.L., as everyone knew him, was my dad. It’s been nearly twenty years since he passed and infinitely sooner than I or anyone else was prepared to let him go. He was indeed a good man and a grand role model. I follow you frequently, too, Mr. Rainer. I find your explanation for the widespread departure, not just from Baptist churches, but as one who coaches and counsels churches representing virtually every communion in the US, Catholic, Evangelical, and Protestant notwithstanding, I know, as you know, the church is trouble. Serious trouble. Explanations for the decline, as in your explanation here, are, on the one hand, accurate in substance, sorely missing, on the other hand, to accurately reflect the gravity of the situation. Every major denomination in America is experiencing decline, some steep decline. The reasons? There are many. I have written about many of them for the Huffington Post, hardly the publication I’m certain many of your readers follow. But then, I could be wrong. I’m wrong about many things. What I think I accurately understand, however, are many of the reasons why people are leaving in such alarming numbers. Somewhere along the way, in my blogging for HuffPo, I got labeled “the voice for the spiritual but not religious.” Many people have concluded that must mean I, too, have left the church and, as a consequence, rank myself among the fastest growing group in America commonly known as the “nones,” most of whom were once ranked among the religiously affiliated. Those who have concluded such simply do not know me. I love the church. I am more deeply committed to Christ today than at any other time in my life. Admittedly, I do not share the same fundamentalist theology of many of those persons with whom I once shared ministry, but that in no way diminishes my loyalty to Christ or my love for the church. I would only ask that, in the future, when you write about the seriousness of what’s happening in American Christianity that your words and your assessment reflect a more serious tone and a more serious assessment of what is a most serious concern. Please forgive me if this comes across in any way as arrogant or judgmental. I mean no disrespect whatsoever. I am, however, weary of disregard by many leaders in the church with what is fundamentally wrong with the church across all communions and, as a consequence, is leaving scores of people, most of whom have not nor would ever consider abandoning their faith, with no other option but to leave the church of their upbringing.

        • Thom Rainer says

          Thanks so much. I hope you are comfortable calling me “Thom,” especially since I took the liberty to call you by your first name.

          There is no doubt that I constantly need correction in my life and ministry. I consider it a gift when someone points out weaknesses and errors in my writings in particular, and in my life in general.

          My family was at Hurtsborne Baptist for only a year, because I had the opportunity to become pastor of a small church in southern Indiana. It was during that year my own dad was diagnosed with cancer and died within two months. I will ever be grateful to your father for his calls and concern. I can tell you two were close, and that you still miss him to this day. I can understand why you do.

    • JonathonG says


      Your comments seem harsh to me, and do not appear to be offered in the spirit of artful leadership, professional coaching or for the nurturing and care of a soul as your website indicates is your purpose.

      Everyone knows that the decline in the church in North America is because we are fat, lazy and rich. We don’t preach Christ crucified, resurrected and seated at the right hand of the Father. There is also very little focus on righteous living or discipleship. Everything else you mentioned is a symptom of what I just mentioned, not the cause.

      As a participant on this blog for several months now, I have found that there is a healthy trend established by Thom Rainer. That trend is content and titles that provoke thought and elicit feedback from the visitors. Often, Thom leaves further dialogue and the exchange of ideas to the users of the Blog, which invariably leads to shared solutions and encouragement for everyone.

      Let’s build each other up in love and keep our eye on the prize.

      • says

        Thank you Jonathan for your comment. If I have come across judgmentally, I apologize. For pointing out the shallowness of this explanation for the widespread departure from the church, I do not. The explanation given by Thom Rainer for the decline of the church is simply shallow, disrespectful of the pain that many have experienced in making the decision to leave, and simply not an accurate portrayal of the seriousness of the issue. If you’d like to know more about what I feel in this regard, I would direct you to the many things about which I have written already and need not try to repeat here. If you are a reader of the Huffington Post, go there, SEARCH Steve McSwain and you’ll likely find, either much with which you agree or very much with which to disagree. Thank you for your comments. God’s speed my friend in your walk with Christ.

    • David J. Faulkner says

      Brother Steve,

      I can understand your disagreement with the article, but I cannot understand your “the harsh truth that people are leaving the church because of rigid and narrow theology…because of closed-minded leaders and congregations full of those who reject truth in favor of myths” statement. Do you believe that the basis of Christianity, the Word of God/Holy Bible is a myth? I pray, for your sake, that this is not your belief. If this is your belief, I ask, what would you put forth as the foundation of Christianity? I look forward to your clarification.

      God Bless you!

      • says

        For me, David, and thank you for your comment, but for me, the basis of Christianity is neither the Bible nor any particular church or doctrine. The basis is Jesus himself and what little we could ever know about him as recorded in the four Gospels. I do not, however, give equal credence to the other portions of the Bible, while I do hold all portions in deep respect and seek to understand through my study of scripture what people at various junctures of Biblical history understood about God and how God is related to this world. Thank you again and I wish you God’s speed as you seek to follow Christ in your own life.

        • says

          I also am a former Baptist who was asked to leave over narrow and rigid issues. I wanted to start small groups in homes and not use SBC materials. It was one of the most devastating events of my life. I too am in pain about the things I see that cause people to leave churches and denominations because oi what I would call narrowness of mind and heart but not always theology. Violation of the unwritten rules of being a Baptist is what troubles many.

          After the tragic death of Rick and Kay Warren’s son there were many calls by bloggers and writers for churches to be sensitive to emotionally distressed persons. I agree completely. Then some articles appeared by SBC Men of Importance that suggested members who asked too many questions and concerns of the Pastor be told to leave and find another church. It is that kind of merciless and defensive stance that drives many of us away. I have seen it also in response to this article.

          But take heart, Dr. I have found a different stance in many new churches that are loving, open, welcoming and growing. They provide love, hope, truth and healing to hurting members of society.

          • Thom Rainer says

            Thank you for your comment Gary. I am so sorry for your pain, but I celebrate your joy in your new church.

  29. Jonathon Grant says

    A post above leaves me feeling as though I should offer one last comment in this thread.

    Steve said, among other comments: “I do not, however, give equal credence to the other portions of the Bible”

    2 Timothy 3:16-17
    16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (KJV)

    All means all. Honestly, I don’t care who you Blog for, how many books you have written or which side of the bread you prefer to butter; No man is free to pick and choose which portions of the scriptures are relevant or whether they pertain to God’s ultimate plan for mankind. Either the Bible in its entirety is God’s word or it is not. Either ALL scripture is relevant, or no scripture is relevant.

    Much time, ink and pixels are wasted on discussing the symptoms made apparent throughout the Body of Christ, while precious little time or effort is focused on the sickness. We have speakers and coaches running all over the country telling us how to treat the symptoms. Rarely is there a man standing center stage, full of holy discontent and Holy Spirit boldness, identifying the illness for what it is, pointing to Christ as the cure and then investing time in a local body to facilitate favorable change for God’s glory.

    The stories of someone leaving in anger, the heartache and broken promises, people fighting over scraps of control or prestige; these are mere symptoms of the real illness. The illness is that Christ is not the head of the local churches or sometimes even entire denominations that are experiencing decline. I weep for the Church as a whole when I hear of divisions over Calvinism vs. Arminianism vs. Wesleyan. My heart breaks over the stories people tell about their leaving a local church family over the foolishness that happens within our churches. It’s sin and it grieves the heart of God.

    The cure is simple friends. Honestly, it is. Put Christ first and leave Him as the head of the local assembly. It’s that easy. Pray together, exhort and encourage each other. Confront the sin running rampant in the church, but do it in love. Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit. Preach about Jesus overcoming sin, death and the grave for me and you. Make disciples who make disciples for the glory of God. Grow in Christ, share your faith, and for crying out loud; express some Christ like love to one another. If the church would just focus there, all of the other issues would melt away. We won’t be perfect or trouble free, but we will be well on our way the where God wants us.

    I’m sorry to have yelled, but this is the number one burden God has placed on my heart and it burns in me like a raging inferno.

    • David J. Faulkner says

      Brother Jonathon, AMEN and AMEN! God has taken of His time to provide the Church with all of the guidance we need to avoid conflict, if we are obedient to His Word; and has given us all of the guidance we need to resolve conflict, once again, if we are obedient to His Word. Though I identify as a Southern Baptist and have attended SBC Churches most of my life; I have also attended Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Independent Baptist and, on occasion, Presbyterian. I do not hold with any of the Doctrines of Man (i.e. Calvinism, Armenianism, or any other ism). I believe that the Holy Bible, opened to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, says it all. In the current environment we find our nation, if the Church, regardless of denomination, does not pull together in harmony, the forces of Satan, which are growing more bold every day, will rip the Church apart, leaving only a small remnant to greet Christ upon His return. I firmly believe that denominationalism is Satan’s way of weakening the Body of Jesus Christ on Earth and is the basis of separation within communities. As you point out, all we need to is be obedient to Christ’s Word – Loving the Lord Our God with all of our being and Loving Our Neighbor as ourselves. This will put an end to jealousy / covetousness (the original sin of Lucifer) and bring forth a strong and healthy Body of Christ. Christians are running out of time to pull the lost into the Ark of Safety. The day of judgment will be bitter for both the sheep and the goats. For the goats, due to facing eternal damnation; and for the sheep, due to seeing those with whom we should have shared the Gospel of Christ standing with the goats. This vision, to me, is the most horrible I can imagine.
      God Bless you in your walk with Jesus Christ!

  30. says

    We all come from different backgrounds and personal reasons why and how often we attend church. I attend daily Mass Monday thru Saturday at my local parish. I attend services at my wife’s evangelical church on Sunday. At Mass we have the liturgy of the word followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist where I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. As I know this to be true; it instills in me a very strong wanting to desire to receive this precious sacrament that draws me to the church and to the Mass like a magnet. On Sundays I am also fed with the words of God. As a Catholic convert, I look at it as my Sunday attendance with my wife at her evangelical church as my Sunday School attendance minus the Eucharist. I’m grounded in my faith and know the theological differences that permit me to be fed there. That is how I am motivated to attend church regularly including during the week. It may sound confusing to some but I hope it helps others be motivated to attend church on a regular basis.

  31. fredric j.sharpe says

    The southern baptist convention voted Jesus as secondary to the
    bible maybe if we put Christ first attendance might improve.


  32. James says

    Regarding point #5, I began doing this at my church two years ago and it has been very eye-opening. We are a small 125 member church. I created a spreadsheet with every single person in the church on it, as well as a slot for visitors, and I began tracking attendance. If a visitor comes three times I put them in the spreadsheet. It has been helpful to me to learn exactly who attends at what time so I am not relying on guesswork. The sheet has helped me see who attends the most, and therefore who might be good candidates for leadership and other positions.

  33. says

    Wow, what a great discussion. As several have stated, I believe the main reason for this falling away in attendance is relational. Not only the relationship to each other in the congregation but to God as the head of the church. When I was a kid, we believed that to be close to God you needed to be in church (among many other things of course). Over a period of time this teaching has come under fire. People have been told you don’t have to be a part of a church to be in God’s family. We have also seen the decline of the family and to combat this have told people that family should come first. This is true, of course, but that has come to mean if junior wants to go to the zoo during church time Sunday, well family first, we’ll see you next week.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  34. says

    I think this post is spot-on. I have definitely seen this in my church where I have been a member for 25 years. One of my observations is that we ask people to commit to leadership, but we give them ways to not be consistent in attendance. For instance, most Sunday morning classes have more than one teacher (sometimes several) so the class is covered when a teacher can’t be there. While there are some benefits to this, it also gives more freedom to be conveniently gone.

  35. shirley notnow says

    The biggest reason for membership decline is the homosexuality thing. We are conforming to our own rules to our satisfaction to worship God instead of the the way god wants us to worship him. The Bible says that a union of marriage is to be between a woman an a man. Be fruitful and multiply. Can’t do that with two persons of the same sex. Yes, we are all Gods children but, some of his children have a sickness instilled in their brain that makes them display this unnatural an disgusting behavior. I have left the church as many as others have because of this issue. So get rid of the open gay an lesbian pastors, get marriage back to persons of the opposite sex. The devil has a big influence on this issue, we need to run him off. then I will return to the church

  36. richard sands says

    Thom..Thanks for a great article The responses are wonderful. But..i didnt see any reference to spiritual training and understanding as motivation for attending church. I feel do not feel that GOD is present in our church….
    #1 reason for me not attending church. Hope you can comment on this item…Thanks

    • Thom Rainer says

      Richard –

      I would hope that numbers 1, 2, and 3 would be filled with biblical and spiritual training.

      • says

        Dr. R would yo run a regular column on churches that are actually discipline members? It seems that the lists are enumerations of top ten problems and I want to see some successes. By the way, by discipleship I mean equipping in practical application of biblical truth not just more biblical overviews of thing the Minister learned in seminary.

  37. says

    I don’t disagree on this. But would like to add that many of the younger generation has fallen away from God. I myself have 3 children that have completely fallen away at this point because of reason of their own. I heard many young people say things like, its’ boring, there’s nothing there for them, they don’t have time, Sundays are for sleeping in and many other excuses. I have had this conversation with many different pastors. It seems the world promotes many fun things to do besides going to church. Of course it is a spiritual battle in a society that doesn’t hold value on morals and respect to the older generation. A live now and gain what you can attitude. It is sad and it is a sign to us of the moral decay of this world. Salvation doesn’t get their attention, going to hell doesn’t wake them up either. I wish that my generation was much more tougher on discipline concerning the true commitment to the Lord and the body of believers. The solution may start with having a full commitment to teaching the youth and getting them involved with activities directly with the body, the church. I’ve seen a lack of this even within my own church, even though they are very committed to the youth. Bring them up in the way………in force it above all other activities outside the church.

  38. Bob says

    I just read this blog for the first time. I am a Christian, but again stopped attending church. I find single males are not accepted as readily as females. For some reason single men are viewed as potential threats.

    Also, I find that so many church attenders put on a “Stepford Wife” face; they act like they have it all together and lead perfect lives in Christ. So if I were to be real and admit that I have a struggle, they act like I am less of a Christian. This is common.

    The churches are all about the lead pastor. If I remember scripture correctly, we are to meet and a person is to give the message, then after the message is given the others are to discuss the message. In churches today if somebody disagrees, then that person is viewed as a trouble maker.

    I like to corporately sing (worship) to Jesus. I like an inspiring message. I like to learn about the Old Testament as I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in the New.

    But why go to church if the negatives so outweigh the positives. I hurt when I am treated as if I have churchian leprosy.

    By default, I believe that church attendance is not necessary for salvation. Belief and faith in Christ is it for salvation, but to grow and minister effectively to others, as we are called to do, having a church home is unfortunately essential.

    This is my quagmire. I am curious what response I will get. I thank you all in advance.

    • David J. Faulkner says

      Brother Bob, It pains me to hear that you have had a less than uplifting Church experience which has caused you to decide to terminate your association. I agree with you that many congregations in the United States are not very welcoming and that, in many cases, it can be a struggle to fit in. As one who has moved over thirty times in his life and had to face the challenge of gaining acceptance in many congregations, one must face this challenge from the standpoint of attendance as “obedience to God.” You are upset with the apparent hypocrisy you have faced in Church and the less than welcoming atmosphere; however, this begs the question of: “Why am I attending Church?” If I only attend Church based on what I obtain from the experience, then I am failing to put Jesus first in my Christian relationship. We can always find tares (i.e. hypocrites) among the wheat (i.e. true Christians); however, the challenge is to not allow ourselves to become fixated on the tares, but to do all we can to become one of the wheat. I know that American Culture and to a great extent, the American Church, have embraced a “me” mentality; however, Christ never commanded us to be focused on “me,” but to focus first on our relationship with God, in obedience, and then to Love Our Neighbor As Ourselves. To quote a passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
      4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
      5 doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil;
      6 rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth;
      7 beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
      8 Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away.

      I pray you will see the wisdom in this word. God Bless!

    • Brett Page says

      Fear not, Bob. Jesus commanded us to pray in private, not publicly (Matthew 6 – Do not be ljke the hypocrites who pray in the public houses of worship. When you pray, go into your room and close the door. And pray to your father in Heaven who is unseen in these words…which is what we now know as the
      Lord’s Prayer). Those ‘Stepford wives’ were the people He was talking about!

      Pray in private, my friend, as God (through Jesus) directed.

      Now wait for those with vested interests in institutionalised religion to start firing!

  39. Ray Schwartz says

    Dr. Ranier … great article, and timely follow-up comments. Can you fell the hurt that is out there? It is a part of the problem too – people having been ‘run-over’ by a leadership that only sees ‘advancing’ kingdom objectives through a single lens of America corporateness. After 38 years of ministry, a band of bullies (only 4) caught up with me as a pastor, violated their own by laws, and tossed me to the curb so they could do things their way. With over 350 pastors a week either calling it quits, or being blindsided, this musical chair of leadership also affects the commitment level of ‘sheep’ being cared for – and also being herded to attend for no other reason then someone’s misplaced Kingdom expectation for larger and better. Now ‘out’ – I can’t get back in to a local church because of the perception of being ‘damaged’ – all because of some guys wanted it their way. This wasting of leadership needs to be reversed because it is one more example of churches not living up their own mission/vision statements of ‘loving God, loving others and serving all …” except their own leaders. Dying to serve, equip and train- but now can’t. Church leadership has become a ‘club.’ Whatever part I played over the years – I repent. We must release more ministry – and hold on to less. Great article.

  40. joshua chelliah says

    One of the reasons in my opinion is what is said in the Bible : “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Our ‘stadium churches’ are overflowing though !!

  41. Joyce says

    I have a question. My daughter used to live in one town. She found a church there and started attending, then met the man of her dream and they started attending as a couple. Then they got married and really had to work into their schedule to be able to attend, and that was on Sunday night. They joined on statement of faith but wanted to be baptized again because her husband had only been sprinkled and my daughter couldn’t remember her experience as she was a young child. My daughter got a new job and is now is attending on Sunday morning and her husband has worked his schedule so that he can now attend Sunday morning. They are faithful. Now, they have purchased a home 25 minutes from church. They still want to attend original church, so they can attend together. He works on Sunday and had to juggle things to get to go.
    Here is the thing. She doesn’t want to drive the 25 minutes to church at night and would like to attend night church closer to home, because she has to get up at 4:30AM. Is is possible, is it rude to attend one church in the AM and another in the PM. Would she split the tithe on the two churches. She has no problems, but just wonders if she would be accepted.

  42. Alicia Roark says

    Brother Rainer, I agree with you 1,000%. Here’s the tough part. Our church offers two different services: Sunday Morning and Wednesday Night which they call contemporary. I’m a young person in my 30’s but you couldn’t pay me 1 million dollars to get me in the door of my own church on Wednesday night. Why? Because it is the most boring thing I have ever experienced in my life. We have about 6 people who show up on Wednesdays. It’s become a chore sadly so I don’t go. I don’t get ANYTHING out of Wednesday nights. I know, it’s sad. The preacher preaches but other than the sermon, I get nothing out of Wednesday nights.

    Also, it gets tough to hear somebody “share a testimony” before EVERY song. It’s like they like to hear themselves talk. It’s tough.

    We have Sunday Night prayer meetings. Nobody goes to that either. We were once a 400 member church. Now we have 35 members. God is showing us who is in charge and IT IS NOT US.

  43. Brett age says

    I sense that young people today (and I have three young adult children in their early twenties) have a much higher sense of social justice than I did at the same age. They don’t go for the sacramental stuff any more. The bells and smoke. They eschew formal worship (as Christ told us to do in Matthew 6 – ‘When you pray, go into your room and close the door etc…). They are far more concerned about things like universal health care, the abolition of capital punishment (the right to life, Dad, they tell me, doesn’t end at birth!) the fair treatment of the lowest paid workers, refugees and others who Christ might have called the ‘least of my brothers’. A fairer distribution of wealth from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have nots’ – all things we know Christ would support by our knowledge of Him through the Gospels but things which are hard to sell. Much easier to bang on about same sex marriage, abortion, contraception etc. because holding those beliefs don’t actually require personal sacrifice. Giving up some material wealth to ensure the poorer are a little better off goes right to the heart of the Christian message. And it’s not pretty for many. That’s when the arms get crossed and otherwise ‘Christian’ men and women suddenly start espousing singularly un-Christian things like ‘God helps those who help themselves’, or ‘Health care is not a right’, or ‘I work hard for my money and they’re just lazy good-for-nothings.’ These types of statements, as inconsistent with the Gospels of Jesus as they are, repel the young from our churches when espoused by religious leaders. But that’s OK, because the young seem to be working on the things which Jesus Himself would probably deem important!

  44. Jee says

    I think people are getting wiser & reading scripture on their own. Many pastors are not called or annointed, pastoring is a pay check to them. God wants us to have a relationship with Him, not put the pastor on a pedestal. God never say in the NT you must join any church, He said assemble with the Saints and this can be at home, work anywhere not a building called a church. The hustle is if I tell the people God says you must attend church & bring me 10% when you come or you robbing God. Folks this is not true. Churches promote Christmas which is a pagan holiday & in Isiah the Bible describes Christmas & Christmas tree being a tradition of men & not to follow it. People read your Bible yourself so you’ll know the truth from untruth. If you have a church that’s standing on the Word & not yielding to rotten society, that’s great, but remember also in Paul’s day they had church at the house. Church today want people to come to them but Jesus & his Apostle took the church to the sinners, most church have church folk walking around on Sunday morning telling each other how saved & blessed they are but it doesn’t go past the walls of the church. Read so you’ll know what the Word says, don’t trust your salvation with a man who is no more than a good speaker, have a relationship with God, and worship God daily in everything you do for true worshipping requires a lifestyle change for most.

  45. Former Church Attendee Not Coming Back says

    Without going into details, one reason people try church and never come back is the abominable behavior of others to include the leaders! Also, the most important relationship w/God is the personal one. Sorry, but I don’t believe God favors 2 hour of worship on Sunday over 5 minutes of worship a day at home. Also, I’ve noticed several church leaders yelling at people, and bossing them around like children. Yeah, right that packs them in!

  46. says

    Interesting article. I tend to view church decline very differently than most of you.

    Great reasons why people go to services infrequently or leave their local congregations:

    #1 Religion: The vast majority of churches are all about living a meaningless religious church service life; and very little about fostering home groups for daily/weekly fellowship and growth

    #2 Denomination pride: The vast majority of churches are stuck on their doctrines and belief system (Baptists, Assemblies Of God et al.) and value Jesus’ teachings very little (although they use Jesus’ teachings for their own purposes e.g. Entertain or scare people into keeping their churches filled)

    #3 Arrogance & Pride: religous leaders assume Christians need their preaching every Sunday (it comes across in their sermons). The truth is people truly don’t. Some are better off praying with friends and reading their bibles alone.

    #4 Deceitfulness: Most churches are irrelevant and boring (because they are all about religion. It doesn’t matter how big or how fancy your church and everything in it looks. People can tell plastic hearts, rehearsed lines and fake smiles).

    #5 Vision: Most churches are doing literally and unashamedly everything they can to keep “growing” at whatever cost. If they simply did what God is doing, they wouldn’t have to. People hate to be coerced, forced, toyed with, lied to and manipulated. These are blind guides. Their vision of growth revolves around their business and not God’s. From pulpits they call them souls, but behind closed doors they are numbers, who translate into dollars.

    #6 Business: Godly people can’t stand most churches because it’s nothing more than a business, as the author above treats it. Funny enough, the author apparently has built his business for desperate pastors of the church business.

    It is wonderful church attendance is in a steady decline. It is wonderful God’s people are not blindly going through the religious motions set by their entertaining and many times indifferent pastors anymore.

    This is terrible news for these religious businesses but great news for God’s Church and His kingdom.

    Ps: it really was Jesus greatest commandment to build mega churches and fill them at whatever cost with whichever tactics wasn’t it? If your bible colleges only spent more time showing the type of life the disciples lived and why, you wouldn’t be so caught up going after these embarrassing antics

  47. says


  48. marc dupuis says

    hi.getting away from all these church attendance slash strategies per is very good to do this and gain knowledge and also attendance.i agree.just to add the old er churches then where i grew up in .had tighter family slash jobs close by within close range,just like the small prairie farm for example.the farms go,the church attendees go take it from there

  49. Rob Lannan says

    I often wonder if one of the serious reasons for decline in church is not the choices itself. The World Christian Encyclopedia (Barrett, Kurian, Johnson; Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001) estimated at least 33,000. “Denomination” is defined as “an organized christian group within a country”. It has become easy to shop for a churches and because of this and other reasons many churches have become socially conscious leaving the “consumer” to search for a church that preaches what they want to hear, offers the services they want, and they fits them socially. what do you think?

  50. says

    Question, so the biblical prophecy of “The Great Falling Away” is kind of lining up with the Last Days events, and there will be declines from this also, but how much do you believe the Great Falling away is contributing to the decline in attendance? Does that link to the statement you gave about America “moving away from” it’s christian roots?

  51. says

    its the reformation of the church
    let me just ask this question
    if you keep a picture or see and love the picture of your new born
    is that idol worship?

    if you worship a statue of the virgin mary is that idol worship knowing she is the mother of god

    these things are being used agenst the church
    like….hey look at the picture of my girl friend isent she like (wow)
    is that worshiping the image or who it represents..

    if the girl friend is real then the virgin mary is more real..
    none of it is idol worship.
    and I think bibles was changed to leed to this

  52. Rich says

    I agree with the premise but would love to see a study with specific data on the decline in frequency of church attendance. I “feel it in my bones” – I hear anecdotal evidence of it – but I haven’t seen the statistics. I’d also love to see historical trend data on this.

  53. mary maina says

    Thanks. quite a great debate! yes members are declining since people cant be give the gospel in its simplicity.the Billy graham style ,the good old time religion that is timeless and make listeners cope wth their circumstances.Men and women of God should be spirit led Period.they never would have to worry whether membres stayed or lef becoz the spirit would do the job.The work of preacher is to sow… God will give the growth.

  54. Michael says

    The real elephant in the room: Christianity has failed to evolve with the rest of the world.

    Every twelve-year-old in America know that there is not some white guy in the sky, floating around, assisting some, and passing judgement on others. That image worked hundreds of years ago, but no more.

    I believe in God as much as anybody; more than most. But I know (and most people know) that God is not a “He” or a “Him”. God is the supreme wholeness and creative force of the universe; the ground of all being. Pronouns just don’t work.

    Bring back something that people can easily believe in, without having to turn off their brain, and the people will return.

  55. says

    Have any of you considered digital advertising and search engine optimization with keywords linked to major stressors such as “divorce” or “bankruptcy” or “suicide?”

    Regardless of your feelings about the scriptural message, you must have new “prospects” in your place of worship every week. That fact doesn’t mean your focus is misplaced.

    Finally, church messaging should be tied to specific problems that people have. Today’s younger member-prospect is struggling with money, career, relationships, etc and feels un-centered and abandoned. Why aren’t churches advertising on the web with specific mention of issues that can be resolved through faith in God?

    Baby Boomers are drifting out of the work force and wondering what it was all about…they lack purpose. These people need to be escorted into the world of church-going with a message that is relevant to their stage in life?

  56. ZEKE says

    Maybe if churches were run like churches and less like businesses, where words like “family” weren’t catch phrases to fill the coffers so the people in charge could pay themselves, maybe If pastors and other “leaders” started to understand it isn’t THEIR church, instead it belongs to those in the seats.

    Articles like this are so blind. Blame the people for not coming, lets not look at the business the church has become. Tell ya what. Stop taking a paycheck for preaching. Get rid of the concerts you put on every Sunday. Be who you tell everyone else to be. Maybe people will start coming again. Hypocrisy breeds desertion

  57. fredric j.sharpe says

    the sbc has voted Jesus as secondary to the bible.i thought in my 80 years that Jesus was primary to
    christianity . maybe if we restored him to first place thing might change.



  58. Morrice T Baker says

    Church..”means called out”.
    As a member of a small church or a large church, membership in Christianity is on a decline even as it grows. Their are so many people that say they are christians that don”t follow the teachings. The new Church has no rules or consequences everything is okay. You can now hold office positions as a lovers of the same sex. There is now many ways to get into heaven taught by our new leaders. There are Bishops and Deacons that have been divorced still holding positions.(1 Tim. 3:2,12) Ministers caught in varieties of scandals leading Gods missions. These are some reasons why the church has a decline in members. When the church is just as worldly as the the people of the world where is the safe haven? To get the church back GODs chosen has to be above reproach. Leaders set the example for the flock as shepherds. Keep the laws of GOD in effect at his house the church then you will see an over flow of true christians. Notes—– 1Tim. 3:2,12– Ezek. 3:17,18,21– Luke 17:3,4–Matt: 18:6– 2Thess. 3:6– 1Cor.5:9-11 6:9-11 2Thess. 3:6,11 Titus 3:10,11…
    I’m just saying. The Church must keep it Gospel.

  59. says

    jesus did say the way to the father is to me
    he is also god the son in the trinity… that’s another thing….
    no one believes in the trinity no more

  60. Brett Page says

    Funny, you’ve mentioned lovers of the same sex and divorce. Absolutely nothing about social justice which was at the core of almost everything Jesus taught. Universal health care. Fairer pay for the poorest workers amongst us. Compassionate treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and other marginalised people. Reducing the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. That’s why the young are leaving the churches in droves. Because preachers (some) are pre-occupied on the issues which require no personal sacrifice and ignore those which do. Social justice requires a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. That’s when ‘Christian’ men and women cross their arms and frown. Because it means they might actually lose something material themselves. And that’s not part of their plan.

  61. Ray says

    Brett, I think that it is not the rich who in fear of are being taken from but the people that worked hard all of their lives to be able to just have their home to live in, and not starve in their retirement. I believe they are afraid of losing this type of small amount of security because someone wants to take from them and give to those who were never willing to really work for it. You know the free ride.

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