In a recent article, Carey Nieuwhof identified five different attendance statistics he felt church leaders needed to understand.  Those five statistics are as follows: 

  1. The Average Senior Pastor Is 60
  2. Boomers Are Dropping Out, and Millennials Are Stepping up on All Fronts
  3. 27% of Church Goers Now Rely on Church Online
  4. The “Stable” Church Is Disappearing. One-Third of Churches Report That They’re Growing, While 54% Are Declining
  5. Online Church Is Boosting Church Attendance, but It’s Still Half of What It Was in 2000
 

Be sure to reference the article to unpack and fully understand each statistic carefully.  I totally agree that these are important statistics for every church leader to understand. I agree with Carey’s take-aways and have some additional thoughts, take-aways, and more importantly how we could be responding to these statistics.

  • Typically churches look predominantly to judicatory leaders to send them pastoral leadership. Instead, how can we reimagine local church leadership in a new way?  Maybe find pathways that aren’t quite so cumbersome, expensive, time-consuming, complex, innovative, and maybe even open to being bi-vocationally intentional?
  • Yes, let’s quit picking on the Millennial generation!  Too often this generation has been unjustly referred to as entitled and lazy when statistically they are the most educated generation who value making a positive difference in the world more than career advancement. They are more confident, flexible, innovative, creative, and far-thinking than earlier generations. With Millennials being the largest percentage of the population and a growing percentage of the workforce, we need to ensure their voices are heard or they will exit.  The same is true for the generation behind them, Gen Z.
  • We live in an on-demand culture. Most anything from toothpaste to food to caskets can be delivered to your door in a matter of minutes to days by ordering from an App on your smartphone. People have become accustomed to options. The church is not exempt from these expectations. We not only need to offer options, but we also need to remember to offer online ministry, not just online worship.  We need to offer bite-size digestible nuggets (think reels – instead of hour-long recordings).  We need to offer resources to help people engage in community outside of Sunday mornings and outside the building that are meaningful to them to explore authentic, spiritual conversations and experiences without judgment.
  • For at least the past ten years, I’ve been sounding the whistle that we are ignoring the fragile mid-sized churches. They are the most vulnerable. Once a church falls below full time pastoral ministry and/or beyond the empty nest stage on the life cycle, it becomes increasingly difficult with each passing day to revitalize. Rather than waiting until there is a crisis (i.e., can no longer pay the bills, can’t afford the full-time appointment, the boiler/roof was the final straw), judicatory leaders must identify these strategic churches (i.e., county seats, growing areas, strategic locations), and invest in leadership and congregational development before the church is in crisis.  Sadly, too often, congregational and leadership development is the first budget line item to be cut at the judicatory level.
  • There’s no doubt the online church is here to stay. Yet, not all churches have the equipment, expertise, or even the local infrastructure to support online ministries.  For connectional churches, this is where you can shine.  Rather than every church creating an online presence each week, why not collaborate and share resources?  For example, maybe several churches can go in together to hire/contract someone (or staff person from a larger church) with the expertise to care for this ministry and/or share equipment.  Maybe one church with the expertise and equipment can record and livestream their service.  Other churches could record their pastor’s sermon on a smartphone or tablet, submit the sermon to the first church to replace the other church pastor’s sermon, and the service is then posted on other churches’ websites.
 

It is one thing to understand statistics, but it is also important to know how to respond to them.  Just like I think it’s great attending workshops, it’s even better to implement something you learned at the workshop. This way you are reaping dividends from the investment of time you made at the initial workshop worth it by positively impacting your work long-term. How will understanding these statistics help positively impact your ministry in the upcoming year?