NASHVILLE — If you want to be considered a regular at a local church by those behind the pulpit and in the pews, you’ll probably need to show up in person at least a couple times a month.
A study from Lifeway Research finds a majority of both U.S. Protestant pastors and churchgoers consider someone to be a regular church attender if they attend twice a month or more. Most also say that’s based on how often they attend a worship service, not other church activities.
“There has likely never been unanimity on what qualifies someone as a regular churchgoer,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “But the question piqued our interest recently as we have heard church leaders speculating that churchgoers are attending less often and that their mindset of who is a regular attender may be changing.”
Church attendance has decreased in the U.S., according to studies from multiple research organizations. Those trends were already pointing downward prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which only accelerated the churchgoing declines for many. Last fall, Lifeway Research found the average church is currently at 85 percent of their pre-pandemic attendance levels.
Emerging from a period when most U.S. Protestant churches paused physical worship services for a time, pastors and church attendees are now considering what it means to be a regular churchgoer.
For U.S. Protestant pastors to consider someone in their congregation a regular churchgoer, three in five expect attendance at least twice a month, while one in 10 include those who attend less than monthly.
Pastors who define regular attendance as less than monthly include those who attend at least once a year (two percent), two or three times a year (two percent), four or five times a year (two percent) or six to 10 times a year (four percent). Around a quarter (24 percent) see those who attend once a month as regular, while a plurality (30 percent) places the threshold at twice a month.
Others have a higher standard for a regular churchgoer. Around one in seven (15 percent) say three times a month, and 13 percent say weekly.
For three percent of pastors, only those who attend more than once a week qualify as a regular attender at their church. Another three percent aren’t sure.
“There are practical implications to how often someone attends church,” said McConnell. “Those attending a few times a year are there enough to be known. Whereas those attending weekly likely have deeper relationships and can be counted on to serve. Those at church half the time can only serve if some rotation system is in place.”
When thinking about what exactly someone must attend to be considered an attender, most pastors look to church services rather than other activities. Six in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors (61 percent) say they base their idea of a regular churchgoer on how often someone attends a church service.
Less than two in five pastors (37 percent) consider strictly in-person attendance, while around one in four (24 percent) also factor in online attendance. A third (33 percent) look at how often they attend any church activity, with 9 percent pointing to in-person attendance and 24 percent basing it on physical or online involvement. Few (6 percent) say they aren’t sure.
View from the pews
Churchgoers themselves are likely to place the standard of regular church attendance near their own frequency. In a study of those who attend church at least once a month, 86 percent say a regular churchgoer is someone who attends once a month or more.
Specifically, 60 percent of respondents attend weekly or more, and 68 percent of those who attend weekly or more consider someone to be a regular churchgoer if they attend with the same regularity.
The more frequently a churchgoer attends services the more likely they are to place a higher threshold for being considered a regular church attender. Yet, even among those who attend less than weekly, a large portion identify weekly or more as the standard for a regular attendee. More than two in five of those who attend one time a month (47 percent), two times a month (41 percent) or three times a month (48 percent) point to the weekly or more standard.
“The study of churchgoers only provides insights from those attending each month, but there seems to be a consensus among that group that a regular churchgoer should be involved in the life of a congregation more often than not,” said McConnell.
“Pastors’ perceptions of a regular churchgoer often appear broader, while those in the pew lean closer to a weekly standard,” he said.
Similarly to pastors, churchgoers are more likely to connect being a regular church attender with attending church services rather than other activities.
Most (57 percent) use the church service as their basis, including 29 percent who focus exclusively on in-person attendance and 28 percent who include attending services online. Around a third (34 percent) focus on any type of church activity, with 14 percent pointing to only in-person attendance and 20 percent including online attendance. Around one in 10 (nine percent) aren’t sure.
For more information view the pastor report and churchgoer report and visit LifewayResearch.com. B&R