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3 Moves To Make The Most Of Attendance Trends In Youth Ministry

Joseph Fowler
April 16th, 2020

It’s no secret that church attendance has begun to trend downward over the last decade. Twenty years ago, faithful churchgoers attended an average of 3 out of 4 Sundays per month, with consistent attendance for other activities, such as Wednesday night services. Five years ago that average had dropped to 2 out of 4 Sundays, and now the general consensus is that the average churchgoer attends 1.7 times per month.

For students, that number seems to be high. 

There are a number of reasons that we are seeing a decline, at least in the consistency, of church attendance.

  1. Greater affluence in the general community. The economy has been strong, and people have more disposable income in order that they can do more activities, even traveling at a higher rate than before.
  2. There has been a rise in activities available for students. In a context such as the one I minister in, there are all the sports from football to hockey, but also robotics club, band, theater groups, and a seemingly endless list of others. Some of those activities are through the school, but many are through community organizations.
  3. More and more families are becoming “blended” where students are with a different parent every other week.
  4. There has simply been a cultural shift away from any feeling of guilt for missing church. As Carey Nieuwhof states, “the number of people who feel guilty about not being in church shrinks daily.”

However, you can make the best of these trends. On the other side of decline there is potential.

Love the Ones You’re With

I will never forget a piece of advice that an older, wiser student pastor gave to me early in my ministry. He said, “Never ask the students who showed up, ‘Where is everybody?’ You will cause those who chose to show up to feel worthless.” From then on, I have been the same pastor to the few as I have to the many.

You might have seen a decline in your attendance numbers, and you pastor might be breathing down you neck, but ministry is not about numbers, it’s about souls. If we are more focused on numbers than we are on people, then we have a pride issue. That issue will be revealed when it seems like students stop showing up for us. We will end up lashing out at the regulars who might miss once or twice a year, and bad mouthing those who never show. Keep your focus on soul care, and minister to those that are right in front of you.

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

Read the trends. Behind every number is a name, and every name has a story. Why have people begun to slow down in coming to church? Perhaps it is a reason listed above, or one of a litany of other reasons (some real and some not) that keep them from making the decision to participate in their local church community. Chances are, your context is a little unique, and you will need to understand the reason for any decline in your specific context if you are going to lead in any progress or growth.

Currently, I’m writing this article during the quarantine era, in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

We are in historical moments as a Church. Every church is being forced to innovate, and it is the youth pastors who are taking the lead. This is a moment that you might never get again. Let us lead the church well while we have an open door of opportunity. The Church needs to find ways of connecting that only youth pastors have the experience in doing, or the creativity to accomplish. The post-pandemic church might just reverse some of these trends, and it would be in large part thanks to the innovations of student pastors.

Engagement Over Attendance

Youth pastors are often given attendance goals, which become the benchmarks for their status on staff. That can often lead to a couple of problems: Either we become angry and resentful at students who don’t show up, OR we create a really fun atmosphere for students in order to increase attendance, but lower our biblical standards or become afraid to challenge them, fearful that they will leave.

Make a shift in your thinking. Rather than thinking about how to get students (or people in general) to attend a gathering, emphasize engagement. Studies show that the most consistent attenders in church have found ways to engage outside of mere attendance. These individuals are serving, attending a small group or engaging in a plethora of other ways. Students are the same way. Engagement means they are finding a deeper ownership. Teach them that it is also their ministry. If they own it, they will care for it. If they care for it, they will invite people into it.

As a note to the state of the church during this pandemic: This could very well be the catalyst for another Great Awakening. The whispers of revival were stirring around the country even before this happened.

Lean into everything that is going on, connect and lead. God has called us for such as a time as this!

Joseph Fowler

Joseph has served in ministry for 14+ years. His passion is to reach the next generation and equip them to be fully functioning followers of Christ. He currently serves as the Pastor of Student Ministries at at CrossPointe Church, having lived and served all around Alabama, as well as speaking around the U.S. and the world. He graduated from the University of Alabama, and he went on to complete his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. He and his wife, Kinsley, have two little boys named Camden and Cohen. He is an avid outdoorsman, sports fanatic and pop culture connoisseur.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.