2. Attendance Grows Out of Engagement Anyway
As the Christian movement grew and it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, mere church ‘attendance’ became an option.
Fast forward to our lifetime, and even in growing, effective churches, attendance had become an established path to engagement.
The big idea was this: Come, and eventually you’ll get engaged.
That worked (quite effectively, actually) when people used to flock to church.
But in an era when the number of unchurched is constantly on the rise and even Christians don’t attend church as often anymore (here are 10 reasons for that), that strategy is becoming less and less effective.
Yet, many churches (even growing churches) are still counting on getting people to attend, hoping it drives engagement.
The shelf life of that strategy is limited because the number of people who want to attend church drops every year.
To say it clearly one more time, in the future church attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance.
The new goal is to get people engaged faster and to engage people more deeply in the true mission of the church.
In the future, the engaged will attend because, in large measure, only the engaged will remain.
3. Trying to Attract People in a Post-Christian Culture Can Work Against the Mission
I am all for making church as attractive and accessible as possible.
But in the future if that’s your only approach (better lights, cooler vibe, hoping people will come), you will get diminishing results. (I wrote on the death and rebirth of cool church here.)
Why is that?
Well, as outlined above, when attendance was more normative and in some senses ‘automatic’ in our culture, attraction was a decent strategy.
Because people would go to church, creating a better church was a good approach.
But (and here’s the underbelly), it also fed into consumerism.
Consumerism has defined the last century of North American and Western culture.
To some extent, the attractional church has played into consumerism. Build something attractive and people will come.
Again, that strategy was very effective when people instinctively flocked to churches, not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of baptisms and authentic faith-building. And you shouldn’t make your church inaccessible or unattractive on purpose. That’s just…weird.
But in the process, building attractive, relevant churches has had an unintended side-effect: People have come to evaluate church by what they get out of it, not by what they put into it.
That’s a mistake.
Along the way, discipleship has even been redefined in many circles to mean consumption of knowledge. The more you know, the more mature you are. I believe that’s a flawed approach (here’s why).
Authentic discipleship has always been about dying to self. It’s about giving far more than it is about getting.
Again, I’m not slamming the attractional church. I’m all for building bridges to the culture, not erecting barriers.
Anyone who knows church knows that at the heart of every attractional church is a core of Christians who sacrifice—who give, who serve and who invite.
What’s exciting is that selflessness will move to the forefront in the future church because those who remain will be engaged in the mission.