There are two times of year when churches can expect pews to be packed to capacity: Christmas and Easter.
But what if we told you there was a way to put more bodies in pews throughout the year? It all comes down to human behavior — more specifically, to the fact that people are more likely to participate in something about which they’re passionate. Which begs the question: Are your communications strategies adequately informing and engaging your congregation? Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with tips for reaching out and reeling them in.
Understanding Churchgoing Behavior
In order to understand how best to promote regular church attendance, we must first understand what calls people to church, as well as what keeps them away.
In a Gallup survey of regular churchgoers, 23 percent of those polled cited “for spiritual growth and guidance” as their primary motivation for going to church. “Keeps me grounded/inspired” and “It’s my faith,” trailed with 20 and 15 percent, respectively, to round out the top three motivators for church attendance, while “To worship God” (15 percent), “The fellowship of other members/The community” (13 percent), “Believe in God/Believe in religion” (12 percent), and “Brought up that way/A family value/Tradition” (12 percent) also factored in.
What keeps adults who seldom or never attend services from attending, meanwhile? In addition to “rational” reasons, such as not believing in God or in going to church, the poll revealed several practical or “default” reasons, including lack of time (21 percent); lack of a church to connect with (9 percent); laziness (6 percent); poor health/disability (2 percent); and family members with different religions (1 percent).
The implicit objective for churches looking to boost regular attendance at services? Bridging the gap between the former and the latter. In other words, how can you help parishioners overcome the perceived obstacles of attendance in order to reap the benefits of becoming regular, active churchgoers?
The Engagement Imperative
Indeed, the benefits of belonging to a church community are profound. Offers Gallup, “Researchers have spent a good deal of time over the years investigating American churchgoing behavior, developing theories that range from the sociological benefit of religious ritual in promoting group solidarity to the practical benefits derived from participation in community social gatherings. And, of course, there are those who argue that the reason for church attendance is quite simple: It is the rational response of humans who feel the need to worship a real and powerful God.”
But why wait (and wait, and wait) for your congregants to come to these conclusions on their own when you can help them get there? Enter communications. When Easter and Christmas churchgoers walk out the door after attending holiday services, are you sending them off with the mindset to return? Not only that, but in the spirit of “out of sight, out of mind,” are you also prepared to continue to deliver messages aimed at keeping them connected throughout the year?
Of course, crafting clear, consistent and compelling messages designed to add value to the lives of your congregants by aligning with their motivations for going to church (and/or speaking to their reasons for opting out) is only part of the “big picture.” Also essential? Making sure your messages reach their intended recipients in the most effective and efficient way. It is essential to acknowledge that this differs from person to person. For example, while an older congregant may prefer a phone call or email, a millennial member may find a text to be most appropriate and agreeable. Other variables, including everything from the language of the message to the time of delivery, can further help or hinder your outreach efforts. What, specifically, does this mean for you as a church leader? At the end of the day, if you’re not employing a multichannel approach, your efforts are likely falling short.
One last thing to keep in mind when devising a church communication plan? Don’t underestimate the value of an invitation. Research indicates that a staggering 82 percent of non-churchgoers would be open to visit a church — if they were invited. The takeaway? Routinely filled pews may be just an invitation away. So, what are you waiting for?