Many churches invest a great deal of time and money into special holiday events that are designed to draw people into their services, but statistics show that Father's Day is one holiday in which church attendance is typically less than impressive. So is it a waste of time, money and energy for churches to host big Father's Day events?
In the week leading up to Mother's Day, Lifeway Research released the results of a survey in which they asked 1,000 Protestant pastors across the U.S. to indicate which three Sundays their church attendance is highest each year.
While Mother's Day (59 percent) ranked third on the list behind only Christmas (84 percent) and Easter (93 percent), Father's Day was ranked last. With just four percent of pastors saying it was one of their highest attendance Sundays, Father's Day was ranked below the Fourth of July (four percent), Friend Day (14 percent), Homecoming (16 percent) and "Other" (26 percent).
"The attendance difference between Mother's Day and Father's Day is telling. Either churches are less effective in affirming fathers, or families believe Christian fathers don't value their participation in worship services," Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement.
Many pastors believe there is a natural ebb and flow to church attendance throughout the year, and there are seasons in which growth and decline have become somewhat predictable. Naturally these pastors try to gather people during the peak seasons – like Easter, Christmas and during back to school time in the fall – but what about the off-seasons when no one seems to want to go to church?
Rich Barrett, lead pastor of Access Church in Jacksonville, Fla., says June is typically his church's lowest attendance month, but he isn't about to let Father's Day pass by without trying to reach out to men.
"We just want men in general and fathers in particular to feel like church is a fun place to be, so we're always going to do some fun stuff and put some resources into making Father's Day fun," Barrett told The Christian Post on Thursday.
The month of June can be a struggle, he says, because most schools have just let their students out for the summer and families are away on vacation. He also suggested that if churches looked at the numbers for the weeks before and after Father's Day, those services would probably be low in attendance as well.
Barrett says he isn't sure how effective special promotions and giveaways are during the holidays, but he tries to make sure his church is fun year-round.
"What's going to draw people into your church is having a year round mood that people find refreshing, engaging and hopeful. And it's fun, so they want to invite their friends, so they want their friends to experience what they're experiencing," said Barrett.
He also said the church in general has failed to really connect with men over the last few generations, and many other pastors seem to agree. According to a study released by The Barna Group last August, 39 percent of men have not attended church in the last six months, a number that increased nine percentage points since 1991.
And when they are present at church, many men aren't helping out. Only 18 percent of men volunteer at church during a typical week, which is a decline from the 24 percent of men who did so in 1991.
Abbeylyn Constance, children's pastor at River of Life Church in Doylestown, Pa., says it is important for churches to reach out to fathers, in part, because they play such a key role in their own families.
"In my point of view I think that it's very important to minister to the family in general, [but] the father especially because it says in the Bible that the father is the head of the household and the spiritual leader of his family," Constance told CP.
On Father's Day, former New York Giants running back and two-time Super Bowl winner Lee Rouson will be serving as a guest speaker at River of Life Church. Constance says her church has held "packed out" services on Father's Day in the last few years, in part because of the guest speakers they've brought in.
Many fathers, she says, are looking for something special to do on Father's Day, and are less likely to attend a normal church service. Having a special event, however, gives them a break from the routine and can be a great way to draw them in.
"We do draw in a lot of visitors, especially men that sort of go to church on a somewhat regular basis," she said. "But certainly when we have these special events, they come for it. So it gets them reconnected."