“Full attenders”—people who attend church every week religiously (pardon the pun; it’s an old joke, but we can’t resist)—are becoming a rare breed. According to a Pew Research Center study, attending church once or twice a month is becoming more typical, and a good portion of people report that they seldom or rarely attend services throughout the course of a year.
But these numbers are nothing new. Over the past few years, there’s been no shortage of ideas about how to reverse this trend and an equally large number of ideas about why it’s happening. (The good news is that there seem to be a variety of reasons for the drop, at least some of which can be addressed.)
To cut through the clutter, we’ve rounded up what we think are some of the best thoughts about ways to increase church attendance and put them together in one nice, neat blog post.
5 Actionable Ways To Increase Church Attendance
1. Focus on the big picture, not the numbers.
This pastor from Open Network brings up a good point: The focus on numbers—for example, increasing attendance by 24% year over year or growing the organization by 10%—may be getting in the way of achieving the real goal, which is to invite more people to benefit from your message. To get into this mindset, he encourages church leaders like you to switch places with your congregants occasionally (literally sitting in the seats of your church) and reflecting on why people attend in the first place—and on what brought you there as well. What actions can you take that will help others feel the same? As Pastor Charlie LaTurno says, “We don’t have seats, we have opportunities.”
2. When you’re happy and you know it, tweet.
Okay, we admit it—this one appeals to us because we’re techies. But so are many of the folks you’re trying to reach, which is why it has the potential to be so effective. As Southeastern Seminary’s Chuck Lawless notes, genuine excitement can be infectious. Strategically use social media (that includes Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others) by finding out what platforms your target audience are already using and focus your efforts there. Ideas for building anticipation about upcoming services include posting pictures of sermon notes, screenshots of videos in progress, or snippets of the band rehearsing. Look to Josh Blankenship for tips on how to avoid social media blunders.
3. Mobilize your volunteers.
Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church says that engagement is the key to growth. In his view, having a church filled with members who sit in the back row and come to “get fed” once weekly is what leads to disengagement. He advises leaders to “stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people,” which is a natural way to increase church attendance. Passionate volunteers are also likely to inspire and motivate others, effectively inviting them to join the cause. To make the mission more tangible, consider connecting your sermons directly with volunteer opportunities, giving people a chance to put into practice what they’ve just learned rather than simply walk away. The experience could be so impactful that people will look forward to coming back.
4. Add value to the community.
Echurch rightly points out that the more your church is viewed as an integral part of the community, the more inclined people will be to associate themselves with it. Know what makes your community unique and find ways to reflect that in your mission. Get involved in community events, even if it’s just opening the church doors to give people a place to take a break or use the restroom or offering the parking lot for public use. Here’s another way to make it less about you and more about the community: Mark Alves of Churchmojo.com suggests transforming your ministries fair into a community expo and inviting outside groups to participate. Highlight a wide variety of community organizations (like tutors, food assistance centers, and homeless shelters) in addition to those your church is associated with, and you may be surprised how many community-minded people will be interested in the church as a result.
5. Expand your reach with live streaming.
As we mentioned in this post, it may be time to reconsider your definition of “attendance.” Live streaming makes it possible for people to attend your services without showing up physically, increasing the chances that more people will participate. In turn, live streaming offers a whole host of benefits that are likely to lead to greater physical attendance in the long run—including an increase in engagement levels, an enhanced sense of community, and a sense of gratitude for the flexibility that your church provides.
It’s natural for participation to have ups and downs based on what’s happening in people’s lives at any given time. So think bigger than that. When it comes to increasing your church’s attendance numbers, be focused on your mission. Be relevant. Be reflective of your community. Attendance will follow.