In a survey by Gallup taken this year just before Easter, 75% of Americans who attend church say they attend because the sermons are relevant to real life and teach the truth about scripture. Programs geared toward children and teenagers was also a strong factor at 64%.
The survey was done in such a way that the responses from Protestants and Catholics could be differentiated in order to see if there were any differences in the appeal to attend church. For protestants having dynamic leaders was noticeably more important as to why they attend a church than Catholics. The most pronounced difference was how much more important music is to Protestants (44%) in terms of the appeal of a church as compared to Catholics (29%).
I did a blog recently on a Barna report which reported a specific group of Americans who love Jesus, but just don’t like the church. You can read that blog by Clicking Here. However, in this Gallup survey they also outline the top factors of why Americans, who formerly attended church but do not attend today, choose NOT to attend church. I found it interesting that 44% of Americans who are in this classification say they prefer to worship on their own. Another 36% say they don’t like organized religion, while 33% said they just aren’t very religious.
So, what do you do based on this study? Let me highlight 3 strategies I think would help your church.
1. Content Still Matters.
There was nothing in the survey numbers of those who have abandoned attending church that indicated the content of the sermons drove them away. While at the same time, the top two reasons given by those who attend church related to the content of the sermon. What you preach matters.
What is interesting here is content in a sermon that related to real life was as important as content that was Biblical and brought a deeper understanding of scripture. Basically, you need to make sure you’re doing both every Sunday. Don’t get so topically driven that you’re in danger of not teaching the Word. At the same time, make sure your teaching of the Word applies to helping someone live life better right now. When I was coming up as a pastor, Rick Stedman really spoke into my life and my preaching through his strong emphasis of application in his sermons. Every attender would have a sermon outline in their bulletin and at the end of each point there would be 1-2 applications. It transformed how I prepared my messages in that I made sure there were clear applications people could immediately leave our church and apply in their daily lives.
Preach the Word and make it applicable!
2. Stream your services or at least make them available online.
This survey revealed that of the people who said they don’t attend church anymore, 44% said they prefer to worship on their own. Why not embrace this barrier and see if you can appeal to them online? Whether it is simulcasting your worship services and/or posting your sermons online, make it a strategic push to reach this 44% by embracing their barrier.
Understand that it is not just a matter of shooting the service. You have to make intentional efforts to make sure these online viewers are noticed and appreciated. During your simulcast and/or in the tag intro of the sermons you post online, make sure you speak directly to the online attenders. Thank them for viewing and invite them to participate in the same things you’re asking your live audience to do. For instance, “I want everyone here this morning and everyone watching online to….” or “We want to welcome each of you this morning as well as all of you who are attending our service online.” As you acknowledge the online audience make sure you also mention something like, “…and we want to invite you that are watching online to come and join us here for one of our worship services. We would love to meet you in person.”
Along with this acknowledgement, you need to communicate with your current onsite attenders exactly how they might go about approaching these folks in an invitation to your church. Explain to them that their first invitation to someone might not be to your church’s physical location, but your cyber location. That first invitation might sound something like, “You ought to watch one of the services at my church online. They simulcast them on Sunday mornings or you can watch them later once they post the service on our website.” What a great first step in trying out your church to see if they might like it. Maybe after they watch a few services online, they could then more easily be encouraged to come and attend a service in person.
I’m not saying you would want someone to continue as an online attender indefinitely. I believe strongly where the scripture encourages us to not forsake assembling together for worship. However, attending online is a step in the right direction and better than not attending at all. The ultimate desire would be to bring them to your church physically.
3. Emphasize the Benefits of Attending
As I was just saying, God intended for us to physically be together as a church body. Even though technology has in many ways heightened personal interaction, it is still not the same as being physically together. In preparation for this blog, I did a little research and found this article from NPR entitled “Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why”. This article is in review of a study done by the University of Pittsburgh that addressed U.S. adults ages 19-32 about the usage of 11 social media platforms outside of work. The study was to gauge any feelings of social isolation in light of social media interaction. The results showed that people who said they spend the most time on social media, more than 2-hours per day, had twice the “perceived social isolation” than those who said they spent less than ½ hour per day. In other words, this study and others seem to show that we’re more connected than ever and yet more socially isolated than ever. This effect is a problem in our culture and yet an opportunity where you as a church can step in and help.
The following is the conclusion that Lydia Saad, with this Gallup Study, surmised from this research to churches…
“…churches and others may find some success with the message that worshipping in communion with others has benefits that can't be achieved worshipping alone -- addressing the No. 1 reason non-attendees give for not attending.”
Some of the ways you can minister to the felt needs of these folks while also emphasizing the benefits of attending your church are as follows:
Finally, through your online and streaming messages, regularly speak to the benefits of physically being there onsite. Be purposeful in including phrases like “You can just feel the energy here this morning.” or “For those of you watching online I wish you could be here to….”. Instruct your current attenders to emphasize these same onsite benefits of coming to visit in person to those they invited already to watch online.
The reality is that most people like these mentioned above are not just going to come to you on their own. You have to be proactive and go get them. Hopefully some or all of the things I have offered here will be of benefit to you and your church. If you would like to talk through this subject more or even just bounce some strategy off someone who is not in your context, then feel free to Email me or give me a call (404.578.5301).
You can read this article by Clicking Here. I submit these articles and ideas to you in order to add value to the work you’re doing in your local church. If you would like to talk about this article or other ideas to grow your culture of generosity please Email Me. Keep me in mind if you’re looking for coaching or a consultant in the area of giving and/or a generosity campaign/initiative. If you don’t already, I would also really appreciate if you would follow me on Twitter at @cstovall16 or on my Generis Facebook page.