I want to share with you some of Carey Nieuwhof’s thoughts that I recently read:
Churches are closing, and even growing churches see people attending less often. We’ve been talking about engagement being the new church attendance. After all, Jesus didn’t say “attend me”, he said “follow me.” Early Christians didn’t attend church, they were the church.
In the future church attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance. If you want your church to grow, start trying to engage people. In the future church, only the engaged will attend because only the engaged will remain.
Just because gathering a crowd is harder these days doesn’t mean it’s not important. In fact, even in a post-Christian age where there are a million digital options, a 24/7 culture, travel sports on weekends for kids, and an infinite sea of options for people, it may be more important than you think.
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
Infrequent attendance is often a sign of diluted devotion. I can’t judge someone’s spiritual condition. And no, this is NOT an absolute rule. But it is a correlation.
This isn’t a description of what should be or even of what always is, 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? 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.
2. ATTENDANCE DOES NOT EQUAL ENGAGEMENT, BUT ENGAGEMENT ALMOST ALWAYS INVOLVES ATTENDANCE
Showing up at church does not mean you’re engaged in the mission. 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.
I 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.
Things are almost always getting worse when attendance is declining, not better.
3. THE FUTURE BELONGS TO ENGAGED ATTENDEES
A full room is not a sign of a fulfilled mission. The future of the church doesn't belong to attendees; it belongs to communities of engaged attendees. As the churches of the future emerge, you will see gatherings of engaged attendees emerge as the difference makers of the next generation. Those are the movements that change the world. And the world needs changing.