Carey Nieuwhof is a pastor and church thinker with a world-wide ministry. I receive a daily email from his ministry and have shared an article from his website before. Here's another one that is thought provoking, this time about church attendance. I'm including the 3 points. You can find the full article at its original website here.
3 New Realities About Church Attendance, Engagement, And Devotion
No secret—church attendance has fallen on hard times in the last several decades. Churches are closing, and even growing churches see people attending less often.
For a few years now on this blog, we’ve been talking about engagement being the new church attendance. After all, Jesus didn’t say ‘attend me’, he said follow me. And early Christians didn’t attend church, they were the church.
There are at least three things I think are very true about the times in which we’re leading (you can read more about these principles here and here):
Here are three new realities about church attendance, engagement and devotion.
1. The More Casual The Attendance, In All Likelihood, The More Casual The Devotion
So why does attendance still matter?
I can only imagine the deluge of upset people commenting on this point, but I’m going to say it anyway: generally speaking, the more casual the attendance, the more casual the devotion.
Infrequent attendance is often a sign of diluted devotion.
Please hear me. No, I can’t judge someone’s spiritual condition. I’m not pretending to do that. And no, this is NOT an absolute rule. But it is a correlation I’ve seen again and again.
This isn’t a description of what should be or even of what always is (as I wrote about here, there are some very devoted Christians who don’t attend any church), but it doesn’t take much careful observation to notice that Christians who attend church casually usually have a more casual commitment to their faith.
Think about it. If someone used to be fully engaged in the mission (serving, inviting friends, giving, attending and in group), and now they’re doing none of those things and showing up once every two months, do you usually discover that they are closer to God than they were before, or that they’ve drifted further away from God? In my experience, that is almost always a sign of drift.
And if someone is going to begin a relationship with Christ, would you recommend that they do this 100% on their own, only occasionally seeking guidance, support and mentoring from a wider Christian community? Didn’t think so.
Infrequent attendance is almost never a catalyst for spiritual growth.
Which leads us to the second reality.
2. Attendance Does Not Equal Engagement, But Engagement Almost Always Involves Attendance
So how exactly should we see attendance then?
I suggest this way: Attendance does not equal engagement, but engagement almost always involves attendance.
Showing up at church does not mean you’re engaged in the mission. You can still sit in a back row as easily as you can listen a message half-distracted while running on a treadmill. So attendance in itself doesn’t have particularly high value.
However, you’ll also notice that engaged people—people who serve, invite friends, give, and participate in the community, attend.
Hence, attendance doesn’t equal engagement, but engagement almost always involves attendance.
I would still look at the signs of engagement as a much more accurate gauge of spiritual health than attendance alone, but regular attendance is a partial indicator of engagement in the mission.
So why does this matter? Because we live in an age where what we say and what’s true are often worlds apart.
I’ve heard more than a few infrequent attendees say they’re still engaged because they watch or listen, but there’s just little evidence that they are at all engaged in the work of the Kingdom in their lives or in community. Faith has become about what they think, not a reality which they live out.
And I’ve heard some leaders say attendance doesn’t matter anymore.
But look closely, and you won’t see momentum there. You’ll see reverse momentum.
Things are almost always getting worse when attendance is declining, not better.
3. The Future Belongs To Engaged Attendees
For the reasons outlined above (and more) the day of counting heads and proclaiming your church to be a “success” are (thankfully) long gone. A full room is not a sign of a fulfilled mission.
No, the future of the church doesn’t belong to attendees; it belongs to communities of engaged attendees.
You can’t build the future of your church on disengaged people any more than a leader can build the future of any organization on a disengaged team.
If you have a sea of disengaged people, your job is to engage them or raise up a new generation of engaged people (here are 7 ways to do that).
But as the churches of the future emerge, you will see gatherings of engaged attendees emerge as the difference makers of the next generation.
The future belongs to leaders who don’t just draw a crowd, but who can build a core that becomes a crowd.
Those are the movements that change the world. And the world needs changing.
Here's to engaged attenders!
Wow! Another outstanding article from Carey Nieuwhof!