Increasing (in-Person) Worship Attendance: “One Sunday at a Time”

From a Washington Post article on March 29, 2021: “Church membership in the United States has fallen below the majority [of the population] for the first time in nearly a century … First time this has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73%.”

Some caveats here: Gallup uses a “scientific” yet relatively small number of respondents for their surveys.  However, Pew Research uses a far larger number of respondents.  And Pew has been seeing a similar, dramatic decline when it comes to not only whether people are formally affiliated with religious institutions (i.e., membership), but also a significant decline in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Christian.  Second caveat: This Gallup survey was focused on formal institutional affiliation, and Americans have become increasingly cynical about almost all institutions, not just religious ones.  But again, I would refer you to multiple Pew Religious Survey results which have been revealing significant declines not just in formal church membership, but in people self-identifying as Christians by faith.

Now back to this very recent Gallup survey.  From a long-term historical perspective — something Gallup provides — this current survey should be something of a “wake-up call” for church leaders.  One more quote from the Washington Post article: “In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque.”  This Gallup survey “also found that the number of people who also said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48%, a new low point in their polling” going all the way back to 1937.

Not surprisingly, the Gallup and Pew Research findings are being reflected in decreasing worship attendance.  And this worship attendance decline was painfully evident in a majority of Lutheran congregations long before the current pandemic.

In the last issue of this newsletter I wrote of ways to improve what your congregation offers to online worshipers.  And I do consider online worship as a needed outreach strategy in the years to come.  However, do not think you can afford to give up on offering quality in-person worship.  Those who already are — and soon will be — worshiping in person deserve your congregation’s best efforts.  Below are some specific, practical suggestions regarding how you can incrementally increase in-person worship attendance: “One Sunday at a Time.

As mentioned, a majority of Lutheran congregations were already dealing with decreasing worship attendance even before COVID.  Needless to say, this can be demoralizing for faithful members on a “number” of levels.  First of all, for them this is about more than numbers, because this decreasing attendance represents friends who are “missing in action”; whether due to inactivity, their having moved, or illness.  Whatever the factors involved, low worship attendance is perhaps the single clearest indication — to members and visitors alike — of a congregation in decline.  Given this fact, anything that pastors and lay leaders can do to noticeably increase attendance will most likely improve congregational morale and bring added energy and enthusiasm to worship services.

Perhaps the best, initial strategy would be having the pastor and a few congregational leaders commit to meeting monthly to coordinate the implementation — one Sunday at a time — to the following, multiple strategies.  (Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I realize your congregation might already be employing some of these ideas.)  I encourage you to utilize at least one of these ideas on any given Sunday.

1. Special Music – This could be a solo, a duet, a vocal ensemble, or an instrumental performance. Offering this not only improves the quality of your worship celebration, but it also requires the presence of the above musicians; many of whom bring one or more guests to hear them perform.

2. Congregational Sermon Survey – In preparation for the next Sunday’s sermon these very short surveys can be filled out by worshipers during the previous Sunday’s worship service.  Tell them not to sign.  Mention that you will be using some of their comments and opinions in the pastor’s next sermon (or sermon series).  Odds are this will be an encouragement for some otherwise infrequent worshipers to definitely show up the following Sunday.

3. Drama Skits – There are excellent Christian drama skits available.  One example: Drama Ministry at  This Christian ministry offers over 750 small-cast scripts for performance. Obviously, a short (usually under 10 minute) drama means the guaranteed presence of not just cast members, but probably their families, and maybe some friends.  Note: Many of these scripts are quite humorous.

4.  Refreshments Following the Service –  Provide a light “brunch”; if not weekly, then perhaps monthly.

5.  Involve Children and/or Teens in Some Part of the Service (They typically come with parents!) – This could be a musical performance, or as Scripture readers, or ushers and greeters.

6.  Celebrate and Honor People from Your Community – Do this as part of your worship service and invite not just members who qualify but non-members from the community as guests on this Sunday.  Some examples include schoolteachers, first-responders, veterans, fire fighters, police officers and especially in this time of COVID, health care workers.

7.  Enlist Additional Volunteers to Celebrate Church Year Festival Sundays – Maybe enlist members who are infrequent worshipers to help out on these Sundays.  In addition to Christmas and Easter, do not forget the first Sunday in Advent, Epiphany Sunday, Palm Sunday, All Saints Sunday, and Pentecost.  Plan for creative ways to utilize these volunteers.

8.  Use Special Video Resources – While this strategy does not increase attendance on a given Sunday, it can improve the overall quality of your worship celebration.  And that will most likely improve attendance over time.  Free resources on the internet include live performance music videos from Mercy Me (“Even If”) and Chris Tomlin (“Is He Worthy”); and many more.  Obviously, you need to be sure that showing any given video does not violate any copyright laws.  There are also short sermonettes online that could emphasize the pastor’s theme for a given Sunday.  Additional video resources that involve a reasonable fee include drama skits from “The Skitguys” at, and video messages available from the ministry Sermonspice at

Obviously, this is only a partial list.  And you can no doubt come up with more and better ideas for your congregation.  But remember the principal that underlies all of the above: Working on the quality of your worship celebration not just for your faithful worshipers, but in the hope of connecting with new people over time.  So why not organize that small team, involving the pastor and a few lay leaders, to strategize and plan for worship attendance growth: “One Sunday at a Time.”

Note: In the next CORE newsletter issue I will cover the theme of “How to Disciple Online Worshipers.”

Devotion for Monday, October 8, 2018

“Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled.” (Psalm 97:3-4)


Moderns discount the Lord as if He were a play toy. The Lord is the One who made everything and the earth listens to His voice. Come into His presence and know the One who was before all things. Fear the Lord but do not be frightened. Know that the God of all creation has called you into His loving presence. He desires that you be with Him now and always, and know His goodness.

Lord, help me through the malaise of this world which is forever shouting all kinds of contradictory things. Lead me to humbly hold fast to the goodness You have made possible that I would now and always live into the life to which You have called me through Your Word. Guide me, O Lord, in the way I should live that I may not be as those in this age who scoff at You.

Lord Jesus, apart from Your grace it would not be possible. You have come into the world to lead the way for as many as would believe that together we can stand in Your presence eternally. Lift me up and teach me respect, honor and humility that I may learn to become as You are. Guide me through Your Word that I would learn each day things that are useful in this walk. Amen.

Devotion for Thursday, September 6th, 2018

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. “With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.” (Psalm 91:15-16)


The salvation of the Lord is promised to those who turn to Him and accept the invitation to walk in His ways. Come into the Lord’s presence and walk with the One who made you. Know the goodness which He created from the beginning and see how life is to be lived. In Him alone will you find satisfaction, purpose, and the hope which is in your heart. He is the source of life.

Lord, I have wrestled all the days of my life seeking meaning and hope. Guide me, O Lord, in Your ways, for You are the creator of all things. Guide me along the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake; that I may live into the life to which You have called me. Keep me close to You that I may walk with You all the days of my life and see the salvation You have prepared for those who believe.

Lord Jesus, You are the Savior who has come into the world. You have invited all who hear to come and walk with You along the journey which leads to salvation. Guide me, O Lord, that I may walk in Your ways and know the goodness that has been prepared from the beginning. Abide with me that I may be taught by You this day the way of life which is forever. Amen.

Devotion for Friday, January 5th, 2018

Friday January 5, 2018 Devotion

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.  Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!  Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You.”  (Psalm 66:1-2)

The Creator of all things is the One through whom all things have their being.  To give thanks and praise to the One who made you should be a natural and good thing.  Alas, in a world of rebellion, the creatures glorify themselves and ignore the One who made them.  The Lord will not force any to praise Him but looks for those who will because He is good.

Lord I understand the principle but find myself in the struggle where I see You not as the One to be praised but as an object outside of myself.  Lead me, O Lord, that I may be led by Your goodness and walk in Your ways which are right.  Help me see through the cloud of sin in this world to do that which is natural; that is, to praise You in all circumstances and sing Your glory.

To You, Lord Jesus , is all honor and praise due.  You have come not only to lead the way, but to provide the very things that are needed to bridge the gap between what is and what will be.  Lead me now and always to seek through You the glory of the Father in the grace You provide which enables me to do all things.  To You be praise and glory and honor and dominion now and forever.  Amen.


Devotion for Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens and Your truth to the clouds.  Be exalted above the heavens, O God; let Your glory be above all the earth.”  (Psalm 57:10-11)

Wherever you look you see the truth of the Lord.  His creation is evident in all of His works.  The detail and intricacy are there.  Deny some will, but the works of God’s creation speak of His goodness and the order He has set into place.  Magnify the Lord and see that He is worthy of all honor and praise.  Know the Lord who makes Himself known and see His goodness always.

Lord, I get caught up in the difficulties of this life and forget to simply step back and see the creation You have made.  Guide my heart to never forget that You are God and so far above my ways that I can only begin to comprehend.  Lead me, O Lord, to walk humbly before You, seeing all that You would have me see and walking according to Your never-changing will which You established in the beginning.

Lord Jesus, come down, You who became one of us, guide me in what You have taught the disciples throughout the ages.  Help me learn from You how best to walk each day through this world, filled both with the creation which You have made and the wickedness that has come because of sin.  Grant that I would have a discerning heart to walk humbly and trust in all of Your provisions.  Amen.