U.S. citizens’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. Yes, the pandemic had a significant impact, but the trend of declining attendance has been going on since 2000.
In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.
The big question is, why? There are probably various reasons, but keep these statistics in mind: 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. And yet, only 18% of millennials find the Christian faith to be relevant to their daily lives. Less than 2 out of 10.
How do we fix this? Here’s what Thomas S. Rainer says can help:
1. Require an entry class for membership
By doing so, the church makes a statement that membership is meaningful. The class should also be used to state the expectations of what a committed member looks like. You may be surprised how many church members don’t think it’s important to be an active part of the church. No one has ever told them differently.
2. Encourage ministry involvement
Many members become less frequent attendees because they have no ministry roles in the church. They do not feel like they are an integral part of the church. Hold discussion groups, consider hosting online game nights, and try more ways to connect!
3. Offer more options for worship times
Our culture is now a 24/7 population. Some members have to work during the times of worship services. If possible, give them options. One businessman recently told me that he changed congregations to a church that offered a Saturday worship time because his job required him to catch a plane on Sunday morning.
4. Monitor attendance of each member
This approach is often difficult, especially for worship attendance. That is why the traditional Sunday school approach of calling absentees was so effective. Churches can incorporate this approach digitally with automated emails and text messages. Members are less likely to be absent if they know someone misses them.
5. Make sure your message is relevant to where your people are at in life! And… reach out to your local community!
People want to be a part of something that makes a difference. They desire to be involved in something bigger than themselves.
Unfortunately, in many churches membership has become less and less meaningful. But when membership becomes truly meaningful and healthy churches have a relevant message and mission, lives will be changed!