Karl Vaters’ point #3 may seem disheartening to those of us who labour in the church. But there may be a silver lining to this cloud. But, first we must take the cloud seriously.

  1. The Way People Attend Church Is Changing

A generation ago, a strongly-committed church attender went to church three times a week. Today it’s closer to three times a month.

This is happening for many reasons, including changing work patterns (see above), blended family schedules and more.


Vaters is right. There are real reasons that explain why church attendance has become more sporadic than it was in the past. I do not believe this is a sign that people take their faith less seriously. I know people who are deeply committed to living authentic lives of deep faith and yet the circumstances of their lives make weekly Sunday church attendance almost impossible.

Church is not intended to be merely one more heavy burden to load on the shoulders of people who are already overwhelmed by their lives.

Often I look out at the congregation in which I serve and find myself deeply moved by the fact that people show up as regularly as they do. I know the pressures they are under. I know the competition they face for the Sunday morning hours. And I am deeply touched by the fact that they have been able to carve out any Sunday for this strange activity of gathering to open our hearts to the numinous presence of God.

The good news Vaters points out is that

People used to attend out of duty. Not any more. And they shouldn’t. If church attendance doesn’t help them grow as believers, they need to find something that does. And, to a large degree, people are discovering that this is unfortunately true for them.

Great churches are doing fewer services, but getting more out of them.

Churches are in the strange business of encouraging people to open their hearts to the deep mystery and beauty of life and to live in response to the gentle inner guiding of God’s Spirit.

The church will fail in this aim if it depends on obligation, duty, or social expectation. The door to our heart slams tight shut when we are subjected to guilt, manipulation, or the pressure of convention.The fact that people are increasingly unlikely to show up in a pew on Sunday simply because they have inherited a pattern of church attendance as the thing to do, is good news for the church. It provides an abundant opportunity for the church to reconnect with its true purpose for being.

Only those who attend worship because they feel led by the inner workings of God in their lives will be able to join with others in seeking to support the corporate heart-opening that is the main reason we gather as church. Church is a faith enterprise. We draw together around the hidden presence of Christ seeking to open more deeply to that work of God’s Spirit that is the first reason for the church’s existence.

Opening to God’s Spirit may or may not cause people to show up more regularly on a Sunday morning. It might equally set them free to recognize that on some Sunday mornings the well-being of their inner life requires that they go for a long solitary walk on the beach. We who are in leadership need to decide if we can be ok with the Spirit leading people in a direction that might not be our first choice for their lives. We need to be brutally honest about the real reasons for our reluctance to support people in doing what they may genuinely feel is best for their lives.