Since the 1970s, overall church attendance has gradually declined. Indeed, in their 2011 book, “The Other 80 Percent,” Scott Thumma and Warren Bird highlight multiple studies that indicate only half of members actually attend church—and of those who do attend, only 20 percent are actively involved in other church activities. So how can church leaders get these numbers to increase?
To investigate, we asked a random sample of 3,072 U.S. adults what, if anything, church leaders could do to get them to attend a weekly service more often. While 68 percent of respondents said that none of the choices provided would motivate them to attend church regularly, this report focuses on the responses of the 32 percent who did share a preference.
Overall, we found that the biggest motivators for weekly attendance are related to convenience and finding value in relationships with leaders and other members of the church community.
Offer a Variety of Worship Options
Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents reported that more options for worship times would motivate them to attend more often.
This makes sense, given that the number of hours Americans work in a week has been ticking upward since the 1970s. And since household chores, schoolwork and extracurricular activities take up much of the remaining time families have together, offering a variety of service times or online options to accommodate members’ busy schedules could help increase attendance.
Top Tactics to Get People to Church More Often
Considering that some churches have invested in state-of-the-art video, lighting and sound equipment to put on weekly productions that rival many theaters, it was somewhat surprising to learn that entertainment—such as musical performances, videos, guest speakers and contests—would motivate only 17 percent of respondents to attend.
We decided to dig deeper into these responses, to discover what specific tactics could be most effective for encouraging members to attend church services every week.
Offer Weeknight or Saturday Worship Services
Given that a variety of worship times was the most popular selection, we also asked what days or times respondents would prefer services be held. Thirty-one and 30 percent of respondents said weeknight and Saturday services, respectively, would motivate them to attend church more often.
It’s also worth noting that almost a quarter of respondents said an online worship service would motivate them to participate more. This might be a good option to test. Some church leaders live stream their Sunday service, or record it and broadcast on YouTube. That way, members still receive the message when they can’t be there physically—plus, it may also move them to attend in person more regularly.
Preferred Alternative Service Options
Let Members Share Their Stories
Seventeen percent of respondents said that a more personalized ministry would drive them to attend church more often. People in this group want to engage with the church, its leaders and their fellow members in more meaningful ways.
Digging deeper, we found that hearing stories from fellow members would motivate 37 percent of respondents. Meanwhile, 28 percent said a phone call or visit from a church leader to be counseled on issues they’re experiencing in their own lives would encourage them to attend more often.
Hosting a question-and-answer period before or after the worship service and allowing members to contribute ideas for sermon themes, while not the top choices, were still chosen by large amounts of respondents: 18 percent each.
Preferred Ways to Personalize Ministry
Incorporate Musical Performances
Overall, only 17 percent of respondents said that entertainment would motivate them to attend a weekly worship service. However, music has been a staple in worship services for as long as churches have existed. This may be why 47 percent of those who said entertainment would motivate them to attend more often said that musical performances would attract them to more services.
Videos or live skits that are related to the sermon’s message as well as inviting special guests or celebrity speakers to lead worship services were other top choices, being chosen by a combined 42 percent of respondents.
Least popular was the idea of holding a contest or raffle as an incentive—just 12 percent of respondents felt this option was most appealing.
Preferred Types of Entertainment
Provide Fellowship Opportunities
Of the people who said amenities or other services would make them want to attend church more often, 43 percent said member meetups and activities would give them the best motivation. Activities could include small groups, volunteer activities, group meals and potlucks, youth events or any other creative way to get people together outside of worship service hours.
Furthermore, almost a quarter of respondents (24 percent) chose an in-house coffee shop or cafe as an amenity that would motivate them to attend a weekly service more often. Not only can a coffee shop or cafe provide members with a relaxed way to connect and socialize with one another, food and coffee can also be an effective incentive to draw members to early morning services.
Many churches do provide on-premise childcare, and 21 percent of respondents confirmed that it’s an important amenity to get them to attend worship services each week. If your church has a lot of inactive members with young children and you don’t offer this service, consider recruiting a few people to handle this task.
Only 12 percent of respondents said transportation to and from church would get them to attend more, but this could be an especially effective tactic for churches located in rural areas or that have a large number of members who have challenges securing their own transportation. You could even arrange a carpool for members who are unable to drive themselves.
Preferred Amenities and Services
Keep it Local
When it comes to church location, there’s no place like home. The majority of people surveyed—72 percent—said having a church near their house is the most effective motivator for attending a weekly service regularly.
Being near other amenities, a good parking lot and having an new venue are nice, but not game changers. This finding aligns with what we established above: people want worship services to work conveniently into their schedules.
Ideal Church Location/Venue
Most people who responded to our survey were male (57 percent).
Demographics: Respondents by Gender
Age ranges were spread more equally, with individuals age 65 and older accounting for 14 percent of responses, and 25-to-34-year-olds accounting for 21 percent. The remaining age brackets fell in between the two.
Demographics: Respondents by Age
Thirty-six percent of respondents reside in Midwestern states. The fewest responses came from people living in Northeastern states, who comprised 17 percent of responses.
Demographics: Respondents by Region
Based on survey responses, we see that people are willing to attend weekly worship services more often when three main factors are in place: convenience, community and meaning. In other words, people want a church that is close to home with worship times that fit their schedules, opportunities to build relationships with other members and ways to receive counsel and messages about topics that are relevant in their own lives.
While entertainment and coffee shops are nice to have, those are only bonuses, and on their own won’t give members what’s most important to them in a church. Therefore, those tactics may not have a long-lasting effect on encouraging people to attend a weekly worship service.