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The Decline of American Church Attendance

Posted by Brian Berg Google+

Understanding how to market to a religious group comes from understanding the current state of religion in the United States.  BB Direct works with businesses looking to market their goods or services to religious institutions, but also works directly with churches through consumer mailing list marketing campaigns to locate ideal prospects to increase attendance at their services.  This week’s BB Direct blog post takes a deep look at the current state of church attendance in the United States and teaches marketers how to better reach out to existing churches as well as properly target new potential members for your church organization.

The State of the American Church concerns many religious leaders, politicians and government leaders to name a few.  80-85% of churches in America are experiencing a plateau or decline in church attendance and the size of their parish.   In the mid-1960’s church leaders began to notice a disturbing trend in the state of the American Church.  Something previously unnoticed in America: many major denominations had ceased growing.  Win Arn, church growth pioneer, shocked the American church world with the following statement; “Today, of the approximately 350,000 churches in America, four out of five are either plateaued or declining.  Many churches begin a plateau or slow decline about their fifteenth to eighteenth year. 80-85 [percent] are on the down-side of this cycle.”  After the shock wore off, Christian leaders began to examine more closely the state of the American Church.  Arn’s statement proved to be disturbingly accurate!

Troubling signs appear at every juncture when it comes to the state of the American Church.  Church researchers pulled information from 200,000 churches and found that “the conditions that produce growth are simply not present.  If present trends continue, the church will fall farther behind population growth.”  The researchers demonstrated that the percentage of the population attending a Christian church each weekend will decline from 20.4% in 1990 to 14.7% in 2020.  The same research concluded that eight out of ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States are declining or have plateaued.  84 percent are declining or experiencing a growth rate below the population growth rate for their communities. The latter is defined as a plateaued church.

Researchers noticed a discouraging trend while studying the Midwest.   In this district 97% of the churches are in decline with no churches growing at a minimum rate of 2.5 percent per year!

These examples reflect the realities that denominations, districts and churches face in present day America.  The need for revitalization is great.  Struggling churches, disillusioned pastors and disenchanted believers litter the church landscape.  Many of the survivors have no vision for the future! They are simply hanging on by their fingernails hoping for a better day.

After reading about the gloom and doom, church leaders could easily give up and quit.  However, there are at least three proper responses to the state of the American church.


1)  Revitalization:  With proper care, plateaued and declining churches can become healthy and improve the state of the American church.  Many times pastors find they need outside leadership coaching or a strategy consultant to come on-site to guide the church in the shifts needed in order to achieve vision clarity, a strategic plan and a leadership pipeline.

2)  Close Some Churches:  These churches have outlived any further usefulness, and need to die with dignity, investing their resources in healthy church plants and church renewal efforts.

3)  Church Planting:  Healthy churches are normally the incubators of church plants.  Vibrant, healthy churches produce healthy, vibrant offspring.  This will begin the reversal of the declining and plateauing patterns we see within the Church today.

Religious leaders need to work together with potential parishioners, local officials, marketers and business planners to change the state of the American Church.  Essentially, church organizations are complex business machines that require some sort of marketing.  Marketing your church through a consumer mailing list may be just what your parish needs to increase attendance and survive through the decline of religion in America.