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Why your church has to replace 32% of its attendance every year

Protestant church
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Let’s start with a scenario that your church has an average worship attendance of 100. I use that number for simplicity. The median worship attendance is 65.

Now, let’s ask a simple question. How many attendees do you have to add to your attendance in a year to stay even?

The answer for a typical church is 32 with a worship attendance of 100. You can double the number to 64 if the church’s attendance is 200.

Did you get that? A church has to increase the number of attendees by 32 percent each year just to stay even.

In a church with 100 in attendance, an additional 32 attendees would have to be added to stay even, and they would have to attend every Sunday. If they attend every other Sunday, the church would need an additional 64 attendees.

Where have all the church attendees gone? Let’s look at four important components:

Component No. 1: Deaths

The death rate in the United States is 1.0 people per 100 population. The death rate is likely higher in churches since many congregations have an aging membership.

Component No. 2: Moving Out of the Community.

The mobility rate in the United States was 9.3 percent in 2020. The good news is that the rate of mobility is declining. It almost reached 20 percent in 1985. Many of the moves are considered local, but most of them still move out of the church’s community.

Component No. 3: Transfer to Another Church in the Community

This number is not as precise as the previous two because it is based on the churches where we have this information, typically churches we consult. We think our estimate of 7 percent is close. In other words, your church will lose 7 church members to another local church for every 100 in attendance.

Component No. 4: Declining Attendance Frequency

We estimate that the attendance frequency is down about 15 percent per year in U. S. churches. For example, if a church had 100 members who attended every Sunday, the average attendance would be 100. If all those members attended every other week, the average attendance would be 50, or a decline of 50 percent. Declining attendance frequency is the number one factor in church decline in the United States.

So, here is our summary. For every 100 persons in attendance in your church, you will lose each year:

  • 1 to death
  • 9 to moving
  • 7 to transfer to another church in the community
  • 15 to declining attendance frequency

Thus, if you add 32 attendees for every 100 you have in attendance now, the church will stay even. Anything less and the church will decline.

But there is hope.

More on the hope factor soon.

Originally published at Church Answers

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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