Youth Culture Window

Is Church Attendance A Big Deal?

Ahhh…Easter. Passion Plays, egg hunts, and sunrise services. It’s a lot of effort, but at least we can count on big crowds Easter Sunday to take advantage of all our hard work. Right?

Not so fast.

The demands of Easter usually leave church staff members working incredibly long hours to ensure that parishioners, and especially visitors, get the best from their church attendance. And historically, churches swell with people this weekend. But some new research from The Barna Group and The Pew Forum, both leading researchers on all-things-faith in America, suggests that church attendance is dropping sharply.

At the heart of this Barna report is the belief by a majority of adults that biblically legitimate alternatives exist for conventional church attendance. Of those polled, 89% claimed that faith-based activities with family members constituted a completely valid alternative to church attendance.


  • 75% justified home churches as a viable option
  • 69% said turning on religious television counts
  • 68% claimed religious radio was an equal choice

Herein lies the significant shift in American’s religious thinking. Adults who’ve adopted this blasé attitude contribute to rising numbers of unchurched people in America. According to Barna, “An estimated 73 million adults are presently unchurched. When teens and children are added, the total swells to roughly 100 million Americans.” Brace yourself. Within that number is 13-15 million adults and children who qualify as genuine “born again” believers.

Downward-spiraling religious shifts are not just restricted to Christians, though. The Pew Forum report, which some of you may recognize from Jonathan’s recent blog on the subject, indicates a downhill slide across all religious fronts.

In an in-depth interview of 35,000 Americans 18 and older, The Pew Forum found that 28% of adults had left the faith of their childhood in favor of another religion, or no religion at all. While this number includes former Buddhists, former Mormons, etc., sadly, a vast amount of these are former Christians. In other words, youth workers’ struggles are not just in trying to reach unchurched teens, but unchurched teens that come from unchurched families.

The Pew report also found that:

  • The number of adults with no religious affiliation – currently 16% of Americans – has MORE THAN DOUBLED since this same groups’ childhood.
  • Although 31% of American adults were raised under Catholicism, today, only 24% claim to be Catholic.
  • 37% of married people who consider themselves religious are married to someone of another religion or faith.

These numbers begin to tell us a lot about the changing religious landscape in America. In addition to the dismal decline of active participants within the Christian faith, it appears as though the growing number of religious options is being given more credence by the masses than ever before.

So, what does this mean for us this Easter? We need to take full advantage of our time with the “new faces” we’ll see this week. Chances are good that if they are “C&E Christians” (Christmas and Easter Christians), their thinking is fairly congruent with the patterns Barna and Pew have reported. Do your best to deeply impact and engage them during this important season of the Christian faith.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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