Carey Nieuwhof: “10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often”

relattendOne of the more surprising statistics showing up in recent research is the decline in church attendance among the most committed church members.

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.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Carey Nieuwhof: “10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Church Less Often”

  1. John says:

    I find that here in the Northeast it is engagement that empowers most churches. There are no Revivals or Gospel Meetings that demand people to attend five or seven nights a week. That would be something totally unnecessary to most minds. But those special days that people are asked to serve and give of themselves are well supported.

    I have heard some people in the South speak critically of how members here are not revival motivated. But those Christians in all denominations here who strive to live a revival every day don’t worry about that.

  2. Mark says:

    Carey catches a lot of flack from some who say he doesn’t quote the bible in his posts but sometimes it is hard for him to find verses to back up the problems he addresses and this one is cultural. In his post he talks about online church. This is a growing area. Some ministers and priests actually have an online following and don’t even know it. Some Christians prefer the sermons of ministers in other denominations and download them and listen to two or three in a row when they get time or listen to one from a month ago. It’s like dvr and TV shows or on demand. The female ministers in the cofC have online followings too. Some rabbis put their sermons online as well and quite a few Christians listen to and learn from their sermons. Also, some blogs posts are better than some sermons. Some of Jay’s would be great homilies and with the corresponding readings would make an entire service, no lectionary needed.

    Some people feel like they don’t get much out of church (a direct benefit). On a given Sunday with a decently sized crowd, some will be rejoicing, some will be mourning, some will be in fear, some will be thinking that it may be a loved one’s last day on earth, etc. Thus another Sunday where it is “happy clappy” doesn’t make some want to attend if they aren’t feeling that happy. I have gone when emotionally all I could do was stand and say the confession of faith and the confession of sin and go up and get communion. Don’t ask me what was read or preached that Sunday. The confession of faith is the same for everyone. It is like the mourner’s Kaddish; the same one is said regardless of how the person(people) died or at what age or whether it was tragic or from old age. There could stand to be a bit of reverence in some of the services today. Not every Sunday finds everyone completely happy and carefree.

  3. David says:

    Engagement needs to go beyond being involved in church activities (as good as that is). Here in Atlanta we seem to be at the heart of two apparently very different church movements, which, in fact, share a great deal in common, and the Church of Christ would do well to learn from both.

    One is the “seeker sensitive” type churches, for example Andy Stanley’s “North Point Church” and “12 Stone”. Loud music, bright lights and great informality. At the apparent other extreme of the scale is the Anglo-Catholic revival lead by churches such as Michael Youseff’s “Church of the Apostles”, and Foley Beach’s “Holy Cross Anglican Church”. The Anglo-Catholic movement is a return to a very high church form of worship (almost Catholic).

    What both movements share is that the congregation is active and physical engagement. The congregation is very physically involved in worship. Anglo-Catholic worship involves a great deal of kneeling, standing, bowing, turning, No one is just sitting in the pews waiting for the preacher to start (or finish). Similarly at the 12 Stone, one doesn’t simply sit and stand, one is physically involved in all aspects of worship. For the Church of Christ, a simple suggestion to increase engagement might be that during the Lord’s Supper, instead of passing trays, we should asked people to to the front of the church to receive it.

  4. Dwight says:

    Not to begrudge assembly, but we are very “church”-centric and if we feel we don’t get anything out of church, then we must be a failure or the church has failed. Well the church or the congregation is the people and doesn’t only reside in our assembly. But we want the assembly to be the most important thing in a saints life, but it isn’t and we need to realize this. Assembly is but a small part of the saints life, not the totality. Saints ought to assemble to be lifted up, but they also ought to invest time in God, scripture, etc at home as well to lift themselves up. A saints life ought to be involved in worship, but church is supposed to be where saints take a moment to gather with other saints in worship and communion and sharing, etc. But these people go home and largely don’t take Jesus with them. What we have is an Temple set up. We go to it, do our duty towards God, then leave it behind. We have partitioned God, in worship and in life.

  5. Mark says:

    David,
    Thanks for the info on those churches. Near Washington certain Anglican churches are growing rapidly with younger people, and they have changed nothing. There is also at least one Baptist church that is liturgical as well. Lakeside baptist is one of them.

  6. rich constant says:

    I know last year I wanted to go to Pepperdine to see that guy that supposed to be real good with the Old Testament he was one of the pre-eminent speakers or something like that and I wanted to ask him a couple real simple questions specifically about the curse and especially in The Book of Deuteronomy although more about when they entered into the promised land I think its around Dut 27:1-13 also Joshua 8th ch.30 vr. after the walls of Jericho fell down and this new crowd that had just been circumcised seem to walk through the mountains with the blessings on one side and curses on the other.Tora covenant . then there’s always the warning that Moses is giving Deuteronomy chapter 8 17 thru 20.
    especially chapter 8 vs 19 thru 20 where Moses says that God will annihilate them just as he did the other nations if they prostrate themselves before an idol. and Fall away from his covenant

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