At our last church board meeting Dale Rice gave the board a quiz on church attendance facts in America. I shared that quiz with the staff and have thought about the topic often. Over the next several months, we will look at some statistical facts that are relevant for us at New Guilford. I will use excerpts from an article called, “7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America” by Outreach Magazine from April 10, 2018. You will find the website at the end of the article. As we look at these facts, our first reaction might be to get discouraged, but there is no need to go there. Each of these facts will give us opportunities for growth and to reach people for Christ. Feel free to contact me with any feedback or thoughts you might have. I would love to have a dialogue about this topic. Here is the first fact:
1. Less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church—half of what the pollsters report.
While Gallup polls and other statisticians have turned in the same percentage—about 40 percent of the population—of average weekend church attendees for the past 70 years, a different sort of research paints quite a disparate picture of how many Christians in America attend a local church on any given Sunday.
Initially prompted to discover how church plants in America were really doing, Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church (covchurch.org), began collecting data in the late ’80s, gradually expanding his research to encompass overall attendance trends in the church. In his study, he tracked the annual church attendance of more than 200,000 individual Orthodox Christian churches (the accepted U.S. church universe is 330,000). To determine church attendance at the remaining 100,000-plus Orthodox Christian churches, he used statistical models, which included multiplying a church’s membership number by the denomination’s membership-to-attendance ratio.
His findings reveal that the actual rate of church attendance from head counts is less than half of the 40 percent the pollsters report. Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7 percent of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.
Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler—known for their scholarly research on the church—backs up his findings. Their report reveals that the actual number of people worshiping each week is closer to Olson’s 17.7 percent figure—52 million people instead of the pollster-reported 132 million (40 percent).
These studies revealed that less people attend church than we may have realized. What that means for us is that there are more people to be reached, even in Franklin County. While I would be surprised if the percentage of those who attend church is as low as the national average, it is probably lower than what it used to be. If we have hesitated to invite others because we assumed they already attend somewhere else, the opposite is likely true. Take a risk and invite someone to church!