“Why aren’t more people coming to worship with my church?”
To some extent, I think every pastor and servant leader in the church has asked this question at one time or another. It is natural. You want to make a greater impact. But everyone experiences a lull at some point.
Sometimes they last longer than others.
Sometimes they last for years or decades.
Sometimes you wonder if it is something you are doing, something specific about your community, or something that is changing in society.
But you wonder. You wonder a lot.
Not because you are obsessed with church growth. Not because you think everyone has to come to your church in order to believe in God. Not because you need a big church to feel good about yourself.
But you wonder. You wonder because you care about people. You wonder because you love your city. You wonder because it grieves your heart to see so many people at local sporting events, malls, and other venues. Then you see empty parking spaces at church buildings on Sundays.
So why aren’t more people coming to worship with your church?
I have compiled a list of reasons many people have given me over the years for why they aren’t joining your church for worship. Some of these are my personal observations after my experiences working with pastors and churches across various denominations. But the majority are reasons people are not coming to your church have been provided by others who either have been put off by the church/Christians or admissions of mistakes by church leaders who have boldly shared their experiences with me.
9 Reasons People Are Not Coming To Your Church
1) Church Attendance Trends Have Shifted
You have heard about changing church attendance trends in many articles like Susan Malphurs’ post about how committed Christians are attending church less. But it is one thing for your to hear about it in other churches and another for you to realized it is happening in your church. But you are not immune from having your attendance trends change.
People are attending worship services 1-2 times a month in many contexts rather than 3-4 times. Now this isn’t all bad. There are some benefits such as contexts where you shift weekly engagement to a missional community and have worship times including the entire church less often.
You may be battling some of the tough aspects of this trend like a reduction in giving, less volunteers, and a concern about the level of spiritual maturity in your members, attenders, and guest. Those are all valid and helpful issues we should discuss.
I’ve heard many people malign Christians for the changing attendance trends. Let’s focus less on putting others down and more on evaluating how well we are doing. Does the weekly worship service yield growth as a disciple in the ways we have hoped or intended? What new opportunities are we seeing as a result of these changing trends? How could you learn what is driving the attendance changes in your church?
2) Too Much Insider Language
You know what I’m talking about. I’m guilty. You probably are as well. If you are evaluating your language, take a look at this example:
“We’d like to invite everyone to our all church meeting at the LRT next Sunday night.”
Not a bad announcement, right? Yes and No. You can tell that there is some type of meeting and they communicated where it will be held. No harm, no foul. But this announcement is riddled with issues. Here’s a list of questions you might want to ask about this announcement:
– For someone who hasn’t been attending very long, do they even know what the LRT is?
– Where is the LRT?
– Are all members invited or is this anyone that is in any way affiliated with the church?
– What time will the event be held on Sunday night?
– Is the church providing childcare for parents who don’t have childcare readily accessible on a Sunday night?
– What will you discuss at the “all church meeting”?
– If the meeting is open to anyone, who would benefit the most from attending? (It is one thing to make it open for guests and another to clearly identify who you are anticipating will attend and benefit the most.)
– How long will the meeting last? (Parents with children need to know this information to plan meals and bed times. If they don’t know this, they likely won’t come because they do not want to be exhausted by overly worn out kids.)
This is one small example of the impact of insider language on those who are guests or haven’t been attending for very long. What about other terminology such as Greek words in sermons, overly churchy language that non-Christians or new Christians maybe haven’t heard, or other issues.
Be careful that a new guest can understand and easily take action on the announcements you provide. If you aren’t sure, share your announcements with someone who knows nothing about your church and see what questions they ask. This might give you some powerful insight and also a chance to get to know someone new.
3) They Don’t Know Your Church Exists
It is possible for churches to have a transformational impact without doing much marketing at all. In fact, the lives of your church members are probably the best form of marketing your church has (if they are living according to what is being taught).
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the tools available to you today to get the word out. Your goal shouldn’t be to win the marketing game and “steal sheep” from other churches. Rather, you want to make sure that people who are considering church, exploring faith, or who have recently relocated to the area are aware that your church is there. Here’s some questions you might want to ask as you evaluate how aware your community is about your church’s ministries.
– When someone searches the word “church” and your city name or zip code, what shows up? Does your church show up? How could you improve your search ranking?
– Have you ever run a $5-$10 ad on Facebook or Google before an event or important sermon series? Why or why not?
– How could you better engage with people who recently moved to your city?
– When is the last time your church volunteered to serve the city by helping out with a community wide event designed to bless your city?
4) They Are Tired Of The Way Christians Act and Speak
As a Christian, you make mistakes. You say things you shouldn’t. I do too.
But non-Christians likely are tired of the way they see Christians act online, on TV, or in society. For far too long Christians have demanded their way in the United States rather than ceding their preferences in order to embrace the preferences of others. We have dug our own grave.
But what if your church were to begin changing your community’s perception of the church? What if you served your city so well that people couldn’t help but wonder what is so different about your church?
5) Your Worship Service is Sloppily Put Together
You shouldn’t expect yourself or your church to have it all together. You’ll never be perfect. But what about your worship service?
Your worship service can and should include a large amount of preparation, planning, and attention to detail. Why? Because you don’t want to be a distraction away from opportunity people have to hear the Gospel.
What impression do you think it leaves on people when your music isn’t well prepared? Have you evaluated the vocal ability of your lead singers? Your church doesn’t have to be an opera house but it can be very painful to listen to a worship leader sing out of tune. It creates a dissonance in the worship area that can frustrate people.
Invest in doing your worship service as well as you can. See if there are ways you can improve the music, the flow, the alignment of prayers, songs, messages, etc. Get some guest feedback to see what guests resonate with and what parts of the service are less helpful or distracting.
6) Your Church Is Known More For What It is Against Than What It Is For
You can usually tell pretty quickly if a pastor has a decidedly positive tone vs. a browbeating negative tone. The Christian life will never be without pain and suffering because of the effects of the fall. I’m not talking about a positive tone that encourages people to think happy thoughts and then God will somehow bless them.
But do your messages on Sunday morning AND during the week on Facebook, billboards, websites, and other venues inspire people? Do they give people hope for the future and the present as they navigate trials?
If they don’t, you might be spending more time preaching down to people about their sin or speaking in some other condescending way that discourages more than it encourages. You can’t avoid the topic of sin and be a Biblically faithful preacher but you also can’t preach in a uniquely Christian way and not provide hope to those who hear the words you preach.
7) The Meet and Greet Time is Just Plain Creepy
Have you evaluated your meet and greet time recently? For those that don’t know many people in your church, what impact is that time having on them? Do your guests feel disconnected and uncertain who to talk to? Do they wish they had more time to get to know people?
These questions and many others can help you and your church leaders to evaluate what the result of your “meet and greet time” actually is each week. Too often we do the same things and assume it will all work out afterwords because it works for us each week.
But how could you be innovated in the meet and greet time? How could you use that time as a catalyst for new relationships rather than saying hello to all your long-time friends and sitting down?
8) You Aren’t Praying For New Guests
When is the last time that you prayed for the people considering attending a church this week? There are people all over the globe that are thinking about Googling “church + your zip code.” How are you prepared to engage them this week?
You know the hurts that these people are experiencing. You know the frustrations that your own church members have on a weekly basis. Those who are considering attending your church are experiencing at least the same challenges if not worse. Life is hard and people need prayer and that includes you and I.
Pray for the people considering coming to your church building for worship this week. Do a prayer walk down main street, in your neighborhood, or in some other location. Pray for people that you’ve invited by name.
If God is not the one ultimately bringing about the changes in people, we will mistakenly tend to take the credit. Start by giving Him credit as you ask Him to send people and give you wisdom about how to connect with them.
9. Your Church Focuses More On Its Internal Activities Than Its External Service
You are probably very busy. If you are still reading this post, I would like to thank you for taking your time to consider these ideas. But don’t leave yet. This one is one of the most important reasons people aren’t coming to worship at your church.
Does your church focus more on internal events and activities than on external events and activities? Probably so. Most do. I am potentially okay with that depending on what you are actually doing to serve and reach your community. You may do more internally but you should never get to a point where you rarely do anything externally.
What local events are going on in the next couple months in your city or town? How could you mobilize a group of volunteers to serve without expecting anything in return? You don’t have to be against the idea of serving at a state fair and rising money for your church or other cause but I think churches would be wise to engage in various service opportunities annually where people could serve without your church benefitting in any material way whatsoever.
As you looked over these 9 reasons people are not coming to your church, which ones were particularly relevant to your context? Make sure you take some type of action that either initiates discussion or brings about change.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).