By Cynthia Woolever
Fewer worshipers today say they attend worship services on a weekly basis than did just a decade ago. In our 2001 research of worshipers attending congregations in a national random sample, we found that 83% came to worship services “usually every week” or “more than once a week.” That number dropped to 76% in our most recent national study.[i] Much of that decline is among Catholic worshipers. However, these percentages reflect people who were attending a worship service on the day of the survey. In reality, less than 22% of the U.S. population report attending worship services any given week.[ii]
Over the course of an average month, the percentage of worshipers in attendance at all weekend services is less than the percentage a decade ago. The average church in the United States now has fewer than 100 people attending worship services.
So, how can pastors and members address this trend in declining church attendance? One answer comes from information about how people find a new congregation. The U.S. Congregational Life Survey asked worshipers who began attending their congregation in the past five years how they first found out about the church before they visited. The biggest draw? A personal invitation! Almost half of visitors came for the first time because someone invited them.
One way your congregation can be effective in inviting others is by participating in National Back to Church Sunday. National Back to Church Sunday is a tool your congregation can use to join with thousands of other churches across the country to invite visitors to church on September 16, 2012. The Back to Church website provides numerous resources and tools to help you get started. Over 14,000 congregations are expected to participate!
How many visitors will your congregation have that day? That depends. Look at ways of using Facebook, Twitter, your website, sending news releases to your local paper, posting announcements in local grocery stores and hair salons. You might even issue an old-fashioned printed invitation – unless that’s too retro for your church. Of course, as our research shows, the best way of is all—invite a friend!
National Back to Church Sunday is sponsored by LifeWay Research.
[i] Mark Chaves, “The Decline of American Religion?” Guiding Paper Series, Association of Religion Data Archives (http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers/Chaves.asp). Also, see Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations (second edition; Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press), 115.
[ii] C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, “How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44, no. 3 (2005): 307-22.