This chart is from the General Social Survey, limited to those considering themselves “strong” in their church affiliation and to white respondents.
So why has attendance dropped from about 1990 to 2010? The drop is nearly 10% out of 75% — a truly distressing figure. And I suspect that most readers have observed the same trend.
Carey Nieuwhof proposes 10 possible reasons, largely cultural. You should read the entire article, but I was most impressed with one reason in particular —
[W]hen someone merely attends church, the likelihood of showing up regularly or even engaging their faith decreases over time.
At our church, I find our most engaged people—people who serve, give, invite and who are in a community group—are our most frequent attenders.
More and more as a leader, I value engagement over attendance.
Ironically, if you value attendance over engagement, you will see declining attendance.
I think that’s exactly right. A church culture of attendance will eventually collapse against a consumer culture that feels no guilt over missing church. A culture of engagement and involvement — where attendance is incidental to more important things, such as serving the local community’s needs or evangelism — will drive attendance because church will be about more than merely being present or getting something. It has to be about giving something.
When we attend to be of service to others, attendance will matter much more than attending to get what’s in it for ourselves.