In The Most Disturbing Trend Happening in Your Church in 2015, the most disturbing trend is revealed to be this:
Specifically, in the last 2 years, I have see one common thread become a common rope. Its presence is now ubiquitous; every church I talk with mentions this problem…. I have never seen a problem discussed this commonly amid a diversity of church sizes and denominational affiliations.
What is this one trend? It’s that your most committed people will attend worship services less frequently than ever in 2015. [Emphasis added.]
What does this mean? Simply that people who use[d] to attend 4 times a month may only attend 3 times a month. Members who used to come twice a month will only come once a month.
The article then gives three reasons for the decline in church attendance: kids activities, work travel, and online church. (There are many excellent observations in the comments as well.)
While those three reasons may very well be valid, I’d like to make a couple of observations.
Who are “your most committed people”?
What is meant by “your most committed people” in the quote above? Are they members? Are they people who profess faith in Christ? Are they people who show up because it is cool and the coffee is good? Are they part of The Dones (people who have not abandoned their faith, but are leaving the institutional church)?
The term “most committed people” really tells us nothing. They could be regular attenders, but were never part of the body of Christ. They could be lifetime members who have been driven out by changes they cannot in good conscience embrace. “Most committed people” means nothing without more information.
If we’re talking about a group of Spirit-led believers who have utilized their spiritual gifts and attended faithfully for years before starting to not show up, then I think we have a real problem.
If we’re talking about people who attended because they like the children’s program and the social coffee hour is good for professional networking, then while it is sad that they are not there to hear the Word preached, I don’t think anyone should be surprised if soccer games become more important. (After all, it’s a kid’s activity and they can network there while having coffee.)
Who are these committed people? If it is true Christ-followers, then I think there is reason for some real concern. For what it is worth, based on my study and interactions with people I think many of them are committed Christians and I do think churches should be concerned. I also suspect many of them are not Christians at all, but have come to church because it became worldly enough to make them comfortable. (Another post, another day.)
The solutions that are offered include: add value not venues, more training in discipleship, and helping people follow Jesus better.
I certainly would not disagree with any of these, but what jumped out to me were two things that were missing from the lists: community and outlets for people to use their spiritual gifts. I think these are two biggies that didn’t get mentioned. This is especially true if your “most committed members” are those who are more mature in their faith. They aren’t interested in flashy programs and holographic ministers. They are interested in real meat and doing the serious work of the Kingdom in the way they have been gifted to contribute.
Committed Christians are going to find it very difficult to continue to show up week after week, month after month, year after year and listen to feel good sermons and have no outlets for their spiritual gifts.
Are women being driven out?
Lastly, I wonder how much of this is also driven by women. Unlike Mark Driscoll who believes that you have to get the young men or you get nothing, I believe women drive a great deal of faithful church attendance. However in many conservative circles, women are being increasingly marginalized as rigid complementarianism is being pushed more strongly. How many intelligent and Spirit-gifted women are going to continue to show up each week in church where they are told
- Esther was a slut,
- pink is poisonous,
- Elisabeth Elliot can’t use a pulpit to preach but she can share from the music stand, and
- it apparently would be better for lost men to perish than hear the Gospel preached by a woman.
I do think people not showing up at church is a complex issue. I think to try to narrow it down to three reasons is frankly wishful thinking. It’s nice to think that soccer games and work travel are the main culprits. I honestly think that’s a shallow answer to a much more complex problem.
But at least someone is noticing that people aren’t showing up. If you recognize there is a problem and start to search for reasons for the decline in church attendance, you can attempt to fix it.