Thom S. Rainer on Seven Reasons Your Online Church Attendance is Declining

I remember clearly that first conversation with a pastor whose church started offering streaming worship services for the first time. The quarantine had just begun. With a bit of trepidation, he decided to lead his church into the digital world.

The pastor was amazed. “Our attendance went from 140 to 650!” he exclaimed in his email. Of course, he was referring to the shift in attendance from in-person to digital. He was wondering if a strategy of “digital first” or even “digital only” would be his church’s future.

Six months later, he wrote me another email. His excitement was obviously missing this time. “Help me to understand what happened,” he wrote. “We had 650 viewing our first online service. Now we typically have 10 to 15. What are we doing wrong?”

Thom S. Rainer

His situation was not an anomaly. We’ve heard from hundreds of church leaders. Most of them have similar stories. The burst of online attendance is waning, usually significantly. Our team at Church Answers has been researching this phenomenon. Though our work is far from complete, we see at least seven key reasons most churches are experiencing a dramatic decline in online viewing of worship services.

  1. The curiosity factor has ended. When churches began offering streaming services, a lot of people viewed them out of curiosity. We found that a number of viewers were unchurched or nominally churched. They had no plans to stick around long-term. Of course, because so many churches began offering streaming services, the event moved from a phenomenon to just another item on the internet.
  2. Church leaders have begun to focus their energies on regathering in-person. As churches have reopened for in-person services, the focus and energy have been invested back into these services. Church leaders simply can’t do everything, so the early efforts to improve and promote quality digital services have waned. This reality leads to our third point.
  3. Many churches don’t have the resources to do both digital and in-person services well. During the quarantine, church leaders were able to focus much of their attention on streaming worship services. It was, after all, the only option. Now that a number of churchgoers have ended their quarantine and started attending in-person services, church leaders are putting their efforts into those gathered services.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Thom S. Rainer

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