What These Scary Numbers Mean for Your Kidmin

Declining church attendance rates can be discouraging, but they can also point to opportunities!
4 min read

We asked pastors and ministry leaders about the programs they’re using to reach kids in their communities. Here’s the boots-on-the-ground insight they shared with us.

This report puts the research in context with current church attendance trends and a tool kit to help you plan your ministry calendar. You can use it to spark ideas for your kids’ ministry—especially outside the walls of your church.

We’ve summarized a portion of the research below. You can get the full guide here.

We hope that this research inspires you to look for the opportunities around you! Numbers can be scary, but the outcomes don’t have to be.

In order to get a full picture, we looked into church attendance trends, kids’ ministry research highlights, and what tools could help us each stay relevant.

Church Attendance Trends

Although the numbers don’t lie, there is hope.

When we look at the data, the downward trends in church attendance can be discouraging—particularly if those trends are mirrored in our local church experience.

But there is another more encouraging way to view these numbers—as new opportunities to find meaningful ways to minister to kids and families outside of our church buildings.

A Generational Perspective

About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.

A Behavioral Calculation

If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.

Did you catch that? No members left the church. Everyone is still relatively active in the church. But attendance declined over 12 percent because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.

—Thom S. Rainer
Researcher, Author and CEO of Church Answers
(Check out more on this here and here.)

According to Pew Research Center, the number one reason people regularly go to church is obvious: to feel closer to God.

Opportunity Arises

While we consider the decline in attendance trends, it’s worth considering how to retain and encourage the attendees we have. If people are coming for these reasons, how does the local church meet them where they are? … and then help them grow to love and follow Jesus?

Green arrow going up with red background
Image Credit: jayk7/Moment/Getty Images

The numbers don’t lie about declining attendance. But they’re not all downhill.

Remember the comment: Half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly?

Consider for a moment how local churches could creatively put themselves in the path of change. What if we changed our kids’ ministry programs slightly?

Despite not going to church services, unchurched families are open to participating in activities sponsored by a local church.

Kids’ Ministry Research Highlights

A survey of our Church Innovation Community gathered proven ministry ideas for engaging kids outside the walls of the local church. Within 9 key program areas, we all can find encouragement to continue what’s working well and to explore new opportunities.

Also in the full guide: A Case Story about VBS shows how this popular program can adapt to reach kids in your backyard—literally. Get free access here.

An Overview: 9 Programs Reaching Kids Outside Church Walls

A majority of churches in our survey—4 in 5—have at least one program for reaching out to kids in their communities. In addition, about half of churches have intentional ways of stepping outside the walls of their buildings to reach kids who aren’t already coming to church.

Father drawing with daughter
Image Credit: David Sacks/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Most of these kids’ ministry programs are run by a member of the church staff with a team of volunteers. In many smaller churches, the staff themselves tend to be volunteers.

Either way, our Church Innovation Community responded with a resounding yes to reaching kids outside church walls.

Senior Pastors most frequently mentioned the need to engage children in the community before inviting them to church events. In their view, if a church can bring in children, then their parents will follow.

Here’s a glimpse at the programs this research explores:

  • Vacation Bible School: Church VBS, Backyard VBS
  • Volunteering with other organizations: community programs, neighborhood clean-up, nonprofit and church partnerships
  • Partnering with local schools: family events, lunch buddies, maintenance projects, teacher appreciation, school supplies and backpacks
  • After-school programs: homework support, clubs and classes, tutoring
  • Sports activities: sports camps, nonprofit partnerships
  • And more!

Tools to Stay Relevant

Lastly, get free access to tools to stay relevant including a brainstorming and planning kit!

You can use or adapt the pages provided in any way that works for you—with your staff and your volunteer leaders. You can share this entire report with them too, either in advance of a meeting or as part of a meeting.

Get free access here!

In Conclusion

We hope that this research inspires you to look for the opportunities around you! Numbers can be scary, but the outcomes don’t have to be.

We pray that what you’ll learn will spark ideas for reaching kids and families outside the walls of your church.

Reaching Kids Outside the Church Walls​

Reaching Kids Outside the Church Walls

The tool kit you need this year! We asked pastors and ministry leaders about the programs they’re using to reach kids in their communities. Here’s the boots-on-the-ground insight they shared with us.
Free Guide
Reaching Kids Outside the Church Walls​

How to Guard Yourself from Ministry Burnout

The tool kit you need this year! We asked pastors and ministry leaders about the programs they’re using to reach kids in their communities. Here’s the boots-on-the-ground insight they shared with us.
Free Guide
Reaching Kids Outside the Church Walls​

How to Guard Yourself from Ministry Burnout

The tool kit you need this year! We asked pastors and ministry leaders about the programs they’re using to reach kids in their communities. Here’s the boots-on-the-ground insight they shared with us.
Free Guide
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  Updated on February 18, 2020

About the Author

  • Your Ministry Spark Team is made of ministry volunteers, leaders, and experts who work with David C Cook. We’re passionate about helping others know, love, and follow Jesus. And, we have a big heart for those who serve the kingdom—that’s you. Together, we can do this!

© 2020 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
© 2019 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
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