Generations of worshippers have donned their “Sunday best” to go to church. But what if we told you that yoga pants are now perfectly acceptable worship-wear? But don’t slide yours on and head for the door just yet. We’re talking about the increasing intersection of church and technology resulting in a growing number of congregants attending services and engaging with the church and its ministry from the comfort of their own homes. Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon, along with how it’s giving new meaning to the phrase, “Come as you are.”
The 411 on Church Attendance
According to data shared by ChurchLeaders.com, less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church—a percentage which is consistently on the decline. Figures from the Barna Group provide additional evidence of this downward trend: more than 50 percent of Americans have not been to church in the past six months. The picture grows even bleaker when you zero in on the massive Millennial market, where non-attendance spikes higher. In fact, of Millennials who have grown up in the church, 59 percent have since dropped out.
While the reason for the drop-off in church attendance is both complex and manifold, Barna’s findings reveal that there are two primary reasons why “unchurched Americans” don’t attend: they “find God elsewhere,” and they don’t see church as relevant to them personally. Meanwhile, the majority of churchgoers—including Millennials—agree that they attend church for one overarching reason: to be closer to God.
Making Church Matter
All of these statistics beg the question: Is there anything which could make church more relevant while fostering feelings of closeness to God? The solution may lie in one word: Technology.
The meeting of church and technology is not an entirely new occurrence. After all, church services have been televised for years. There’s even a Church Channel entirely devoted to broadcasting church services and ministry programs! But technology’s reach has gone far beyond television over the past decade or so. As it turns out, from reading scripture on their devices to watching online videos on spirituality and faith, millions of people are still connecting with the church—just in a different way.
These new ways to worship are so popular that some experts suggest there may be an ambiguous “which came first” cause and effect scenario akin to the eternal question of the chicken or the egg: Is the rise in availability of church programming at least in part to blame for putting fewer bodies in pews? In other words, in finding the spiritual fulfillment they seek from church through the media and online, are people turning away from conventional church? Or are the many new, emerging and diverse digital worship options an attempt to subvert an already-underway trend?
It’s certainly true that offering people the means to worship in the way that best meets their individual needs—such as in a yoga pants-friendly setting, for example—has many advantages. However, it’s also true that the lack of opportunities for face-to-face interaction can also lead to a loss of the feeling of community.
Luckily, there is one thing modern churches can do to foster a sense of community—both with those who choose to worship in person and those who choose to find God elsewhere. Communicate. Getting the message out everything from changes in the mass schedule to upcoming ministry events don’t just help retain parishioners, but also serve as invaluable outreach to potential church members who are just waiting for the incentive to walk back in the door.