Several years ago, while I served at LifeWay Christian Resources, we noticed a big shift in the definition of “regular church attender.” The speed of the shift seemed to be fairly dramatic and it transcended theological tribe and type of church. In other words, people from every type of church were attending less frequently than they did years ago. Dr. Rainer, my boss and CEO, noted on several occasions “a regular attender used to be someone who attended church multiple times a week and it is now someone who attends multiple times a month.” A big shift occurred in the last several years around frequency of church attendance and here are three challenges for us ministry leaders:
A lot of us preacher/teachers teach in such a way that the content builds from week to week, typically within a series. For example, if a church walks through a chapter in the Bible verse-by-verse (such as Romans 8) or teaches the narrative story of a book (such as the book of Jonah), missing a sermon in a teaching series can be like skipping a whole chapter in a novel or an episode in a television drama. We can (and should) work hard for each week’s sermon to be understandable by itself, and yet we know that each week will make even more sense in light of the whole series. Obviously, ministry leaders are wisely using online tools to help people track with a series when they are not physically at church.
Marketing professionals, physicians, professors, and preachers all agree that people need to hear important messages multiple times for the message to take root in their lives. When people attend church weekly and an important initiative is announced for multiple weeks, they hear it and it *may* take root. But what if a message is communicated three times and people only hear it once? Very unlikely the message takes root. Church communication has always been a challenge, but it is more so with the reality of less frequent church attendance. Many leaders are wisely turning to other means of communication including, once again, online tools that put important messages in front of the people they serve.
3. Volunteers in Kids and Student Ministries
If you start with the premise that discipleship is relational and that kids and students need consistent adult leaders in their lives, leaders who love them and live the Christian life in front of them, then infrequent attendance is a big concern for the discipleship of kids and students. If a church staffs those ministries with inconsistent and rotating volunteers, and the bulk of families attend rather infrequently, then how many “leaders” will the kid see in a given year and how many times will the kid see those responsible to care for him or her? While we can utilize online tools to help us with teaching and communication, there is not a replacement for relationships and this is a big concern for those who think strategically about discipling kids and students. We must continually hold high the church’s responsibility, our responsibility, to love and teach kids and students well. And this includes doing all we can to ensure they have consistent leaders.
Should we be crushed by these challenges? Absolutely not! But we must recognize them as we seek to encourage and equip the people we serve to become more like Jesus.