Why don’t people go to church anymore?
Wouldn’t I like a dollar for that question being asked at the moment? Even better would be the solution to the trend of dwindling church attendance. In my anecdotal observations of church life in Brisbane there is a disturbing trend of not just dwindling church attendance but regular church attendees are actually attending less services each month.
Currently people who would call themselves regular church attendees are now currently attending twice a month and that is trending down to once a month. That is a disturbing trend that creates a whole lot of problems for church ministers. Why it is that even our loyal people are now becoming infrequent when attending church. Is it a reflection of their personal faith commitment? Is it because church is boring, or are people becoming busier?
Personally I don’t think it is the first answer. I think people are just as committed to Jesus as ever. I think it is a bit of reasons two and three. However I am beginning to think it is more about the way people interact and consume their ‘entertainment’ or information.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s people would make a point of being home in time to see a particular TV show. In the morning we would tune into our favourite radio station to hear a particular show that would happen in breakfast at the same time each day. We would go and see a movie at the cinema on Saturday nights or even Saturday afternoon because that was the only time it was on.
Then something happened.
In the late 80’s early 90’s the VCR started arriving in people’s homes. Suddenly people could tape the news, TV show and watch when it suited them. Instead of going to the movies people could hire the movie from the video shop and watch at home when it suited the consumer. Suddenly we started seeing the death of appointment viewing as people now had the opportunity of missing it ‘live’ and still being able to watch or listen to it later.
Even now we see TV stations showing some of their shows on their website, radio stations podcast their programs so people who missed what happened earlier can now listen at a time that suits them.
Where does this leave the church? We are still stuck in the model that church is on at 9am Sunday; come along then or miss out for another week. Why are we surprised that more and more people are missing out. We are conditioned to get our information/entertainment on line via podcasts, iview, online newspapers or even via DVDs. Churches still exist in the old model of expecting them to come when the Senior Minister thinks it is the best time to have Church. Often it is the best time in his frame of reference not necessarily the best time for his congregation or for that matter the community of unbelievers. They are living in the model of a consumer who consumes at a time that suits them not that of the content provider.
So what is the solution? That is the million dollar question. I wonder if the answer to dwindling church attendance lies in not upping the ante of making church services more attractive rather in creating more opportunities for people to attend church. By pod casting the service they know they can skip church because they will hear the sermon on line and certainly they can sing the songs on their ipod or CD player too. But in missing church they miss the opportunity of human connection in their faith journey. But if they can’t make Sunday we need to give them other opportunities for this connection. Maybe those opportunities are Saturday night, Wednesday morning, and Tuesday evening.
Most churches have their own building lying idle Monday to Saturday. Let’s think about using them outside of Sunday. Retailers along time ago learnt the lesson of 7 day week trading. They don’t expect people to consume every day but at least once that week and at a time that suits them the consumer. Church trades once a week and expects everyone to drop everything to attend then.
I know there are other issues that contribute to dwindling church attendance like perceived relevancy of church. But as I talk to more and more people who are unchurched I find that many of them believe there is a God and see church attendance as not important to their life.
Keen to hear your thoughts.