Statistics Don't Tell the Whole Story When It Comes to Church Attendance

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Do we get defensive, or do we get busy? A new book explores how to answer this question.

According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of people say they go to church every week, but statistics show that fewer than 20 percent actually attend. More than 4,000 churches close their doors every year. Between 2010 and 2012, half of all churches in the U.S. did not add any new members. Each year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. 

But according to a new book titled Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, hard numbers don’t tell the whole story. Hundreds of interviews and extensive hands-on research from a variety of sources reveal four basic reasons people don’t want to go to church anymore: they don’t want to be lectured, and they view the church as judgmental, hypocritical, and irrelevant. 

“Americans have been leaving the Christian church in droves for decades. We’ve watched church leaders try a variety of methods to bring them back, and nearly all of their efforts are missing the mark,” say authors Thom and Joani Schultz. “We’ve heard thousands of people tell us their stories, and the common thread is that the average church service is not connecting with them. People want God, just not how the church packages him.”

“Now, as God’s people, we can defensively bark back and shift the blame to all those heathens and backsliders who’ve abandoned the church. But that will do nothing but hasten the decline of the American church,” wrote Schultz in a blog post. “Or, we can explore ways to better be the church.”

Learn more about the Schultzs’ book here.


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  • Ryan

    I had my reasons I quit going to church and now can’t get myself to go back. None of them are people issues. When it comes right down to it, it is just not value added. There are new gods in town made of plastic, screws and electronics that the church can’t compete with. People don’t perceive them as gods because they fall in the realm of covetousness. Covetousness is idolatry. No, people will not say they worship these things but because people care more about their electronic things, give their time to these things and have forgotten God, it is no different than carving an idol out of wood or stone and worshiping it. Siri is just the beginning of one of man’s new gods. Siri and other devices that can understand and respond is now in its infancy. Think about the verse in Revelation 13:15 “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” People don’t go to church because their time is consumed with things and don’t have time to care about spirituality or God which even for a good Christian is difficult to sense in every day life. God is there and real and even I talk to Him about how difficult it is to connect Him, a Spirit, who deals with the heart, into physical life.

    • Stephen

      Idolatry is putting ANYTHING before God, including the plastic and toys. The word for that is SIN, and the penalty is DEATH. Lone Ranger Christianity is an illusion. Our connection with God is through the Body of Christ – The Church. He expects much more of us than Sunday worship, or time spent alone in contemplation. We worship Him by getting involved with His Body. He wrote the manual, and it is His football, so we play by His rules.
      Go back to Church and stop judging God.

  • WarriorofGod

    In the last Days many will fall away…..don’t be shaken,,,,have faith.

  • jane milligan

    We live in a narcisstic culture. The idol is SELF. The idol is what people spend their time focused on. And it’s everything BUT God, The Word, prayer. People medicate their empty souls with substances, materialism, wrong relationships, and things that neither edify or give glory to God. For this reason…God will bring judgment. And it will rain on the “just” and the “unjust.” The restraining hand of God is lifting. The wrath of God will come. Come Lord Jesus!

  • AmericanWriter

    Probably from my experience, the biggest ‘weakness’ is the program-driven, celebrity-coolness factor of the church. In the late 70’s and early 80’s churches were spiking in attendance, and it had nothing to do with the recent best seller sermons. Nicky Cruz would come into church, barely speak a word of English, and POW. It was like Batman, he would bring down the house. People come to church for one reason, power. They came to the Upper Room because of the power, it was power that brings them in and it is the power that sends them out. What this all means to me is: get back to the upper room model, pursue spiritual unity, holiness and wait on the power. He’s there, He’s just waiting…

  • RuralPastor

    Culture refuses to connect with the method we have developed to express our faith and love of Jesus. We have substituted programs for relationship and have exchanged “teaching” for true discipleship (living with/in front of one another). Those who are done “doing church” and are instead choosing to “be the church” can see the same kind of active revival that occurred during the Jesus movement of the 70’s. Turn off the stage lights, quit performing and see what God does as we fall on our face before Him!

  • Dave Ekstrom

    This is misleading. People say they go every week but actually most only go every other week. Every pastor knows that if everyone showed up at the same time, he couldn’t fit them all in his church. This has been a trend for some time. So the 40% figure of regular church attendance is probably correct. Only “regular” means 2 times a month. So at any given Sunday, you have 20% attendance. And this doens’t count the many watching religious programs on TV. Do you know any other institution that has such loyal and large percentage of participation? In Chicago, if the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks were all playing on a Sunday, and each had their typical attendance, there would still be far more people in church. And how many people attend sporting events 25 times a year?

    I know, I know. People should be in church every Sunday. But the reality is they are not. Attendance is down? Yes. But not nealy as badly as often reported, at least not in Evangelical churches. We can stop panicking and calmly ask how we can reach people better. We don’t need to make rash changes. And note that it is the liberal churches whose mantra is “relevance” and “inclusion” (read “compromise”) where attendance is truly crashing.

    Let’s look at individual cases where churches aren’t growing and where they are. It’s no longer the case that you simply hang out your shingle and expect people to show up and keep coming. Ingrown and unfriendly churches are not going to make it anymore. Mediocrity just won’t cut it. Excellence in welcoming, connecting and equipping is not an option anymore.

    Listening to the pagans dump on the church as “judgmental” is not wise. Those people who say that never will come. Don’t model the church to appeal to people that can’t be reached. I loved Rainer’s book, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and I highly recommend it.

    • Sam Inman

      Great response

  • Lawrence Ferrier

    Micah 4:1-2, 5… 1 In the final part of the days, The mountain of the house of Jehovah

    Will become firmly established above the top of the mountains,

    And it will be raised up above the hills,

    And to it peoples will stream.

    2 And many nations will go and say:

    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah

    And to the house of the God of Jacob.

    He will instruct us about his ways,

    And we will walk in his paths.”

    For law will go out of Zion,

    And the word of Jehovah out of Jerusalem.

    5 For all the peoples will walk, each in the name of its god,

    But we will walk in the name of Jehovah our God forever and ever.


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