Home Christian News Lifeway Research: Most Pastors, Churchgoers See More Than Monthly Attendance as Standard

Lifeway Research: Most Pastors, Churchgoers See More Than Monthly Attendance as Standard

defining regular church attender
Photo by NATHAN MULLET (via Unsplash)

If you want to be considered a regular at a local church by those behind the pulpit and in the pews, you’ll probably need to show up in person at least a couple times a month.

A study from Lifeway Research finds a majority of both U.S. Protestant pastors and churchgoers consider someone to be a regular church attender if they attend twice a month or more. Most also say that’s based on how often they attend a worship service, not other church activities.

“There has likely never been unanimity on what qualifies someone as a regular churchgoer,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “But the question piqued our interest recently as we have heard church leaders speculating that churchgoers are attending less often and that their mindset of who is a regular attender may be changing.”

Church attendance has decreased in the U.S., according to studies from multiple research organizations. Those trends were already pointing downward prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which only accelerated the churchgoing declines for many. Last fall, Lifeway Research found the average church is currently at 85% of their pre-pandemic attendance levels.

Emerging from a period when most U.S. Protestant churches paused physical worship services for a time, pastors and church attendees are now considering what it means to be a regular churchgoer.

Pastoral Perspectives

For U.S. Protestant pastors to consider someone in their congregation a regular churchgoer, 3 in 5 expect attendance at least twice a month, while 1 in 10 include those who attend less than monthly.

Pastors who define regular attendance as less than monthly include those who attend at least once a year (2%), two or three times a year (2%), four or five times a year (2%) or six to 10 times a year (4%). Around a quarter (24%) see those who attend once a month as regular, while a plurality (30%) places the threshold at twice a month.

Others have a higher standard for a regular churchgoer. Around 1 in 7 (15%) say three times a month, and 13% say weekly. For 3% of pastors, only those who attend more than once a week qualify as a regular attender at their church. Another 3% aren’t sure.

“There are practical implications to how often someone attends church,” said McConnell. “Those attending a few times a year are there enough to be known. Whereas those attending weekly likely have deeper relationships and can be counted on to serve. Those at church half the time can only serve if some rotation system is in place.”

The oldest pastors are most likely to have the highest threshold, as 22% of pastors 65 and older say a regular churchgoer attends weekly or more. African American (36%) and Hispanic pastors (25%) are more likely than white pastors (14%) to say at least weekly attendance is the standard for a regular church attender.

Those in the South (20%) are more likely than pastors in the Northeast (12%) or Midwest (11%) to say only those who attend weekly or more are regular churchgoers.

Denominationally, Pentecostal (26%), Restorationist Movement (26%) and Baptist pastors (23%) are more likely than Methodist (11%), Lutheran (4%) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (4%) to consider only those who attend weekly or more as a regular attender in their congregation.