How to Deal with Discouragement When Church Attendance is Low
As a pastor’s wife, I am at church with our four kids almost every time the doors are open.
If there’s an event, we’re there.
So, it’s always a little bit surprising to me when our attendance numbers drop because people spend their weekends at the lake or relaxing.
And this isn’t me judging them.
Trust me, there are plenty of Sundays I’d love to just sleep in and relax rather than going through the whole rigamarole of dressing four
feral cats precious children in church clothes and trying to not be late but still showing up late because Murphy’s Law reigns at my house on Sundays.
Related Post: The Real Reason I Make My Kids Dress Up for Church
Me: “Kids, are y’all all dressed?”
Kid One: “Yes, but Kid Four put all of his right shoes in the shower and turned on the water.”
Cool, Sunday school starts in 38 seconds.
And I have worked really hard on my heart to get it to a place where I truly don’t judge people who choose to skip church in favor of fun.
There was a time in my life where I was pretty Pharisaical about all that.
But then, I decided to work on the log in my own eye and not worry about the speck in theirs, and life is much better.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3-4
But the one thing that I can’t stop, is how discouraged I feel on Sundays when it seems like half the congregation decided to stay home and watch the church service in their PJs.
See, I am a pastor’s wife.
And I am up well past midnight most Saturday nights listening to my husband preach his sermon for the next morning. He doesn’t work any less hard on his sermon series during seasons that are known for having low attendance, and it is discouraging to look around the sanctuary and see lots of people missing. And even though this is a cycle in all churches, it can still feel very disheartening.
So how can you deal with discouragement when church attendance is low?
1. Remember your purpose
It’s easy to stand up in front of a sanctuary that’s missing 1/3 of its members because they’re out relaxing and feel really bitter.
It’s easy to think that if people don’t care enough to even show up why should your husband care enough to write a sermon?
Well for one, that’s his job.
Part of what he was hired to do was to preach the word diligently and faithfully whether every single member shows up or just three people.
And while there’s a huge emphasis on growing the church, the whole purpose in that is to reach more people with the gospel. It’s not just to fill up the sanctuary. So if he’s preaching and reaching people with the good news of Jesus, he’s doing his job well.
But your husband has to preach (even when attendance is down) because it’s his calling.
He answered a call from God to preach so your husband has to preach.
And if he can remember that he is working for God and not men, then it will help him to not feel so discouraged about some missing men in the congregation.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23
And I know that’s way easier said than done.
There have been many, many times I’ve been very bitter and discouraged. But our God is God – creator of the whole universe. If you ask Him to help you to not be bitter and discouraged, He will.
Related Post: How to Not Be Bitter in Bi-Vocational Ministry
2. Take a Break Too
No, I don’t mean head to the lake next Sunday.
I mean encourage your husband to use the times that attendance is down to preach a series that is easier for him. My husband is a movie buff and he preaches a series called God on Film every summer where he compares the current movies in the theater to a story in the Bible. This series is enjoyable, relatable, and easy for him to write.
By doing something easier in the summer (or whatever season attendance is down in your church), your husband is helping to prevent bitterness and burnout.
Help your husband to look at all the things he has to do during the summer and evaluate which things could be pared down or put off for summer/Christmas/winter break/whenever.
For example, can the deacons meet every other month instead of every month?
Can the Wednesday night children’s program take a break?
Can Sunday night church be canceled until fall?
Obviously, he needs to assess which of these ministries are making an impact for the kingdom over the summer (or whenever) and which are not.
Here’s an example from our own church:
During the school year, our Wednesday nights are very full.
We have a meal from 4:45-5:45 and then classes from 6-7.
We have children, youth, women’s, and men’s Bible studies, and prayer meeting.
And then there are some activities like basketball and praise practice after that.
But during the summer only the youth and prayer meeting happen on Wednesday nights.
This is because the other groups decided breaks would be best. It gives our workers time to rest and keeps the people who would show up from being discouraged by low attendance.
After discussions with all the involved parties, it was decided that it was a good fit for our church.
It makes summers much less stressful and gives my husband a chance to spend time doing things he doesn’t normally get to do during the school year.
3. Take a Trip
I will preach this until the day I die.
You need vacations.
It’s easy to work and work and not go on a trip, but it’s not what’s best.
God rested. You should be resting. Give yourself a chance to relax at least once a year with your family.
If finances are tight, start selling stuff on eBay now so that you can save up.
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If time is tight, talk with the church now to make sure they know your husband will be taking off a week during whatever time your church attendance is traditionally low.
If your husband resists, be adamant. This is important. Remind him how many more years he has with kids in his home. Remind him how many summers he has left in this life. Remind him of how much you love to spend the night in a hotel with him.
Sure, the work that you’re taking a break from is a ministry for God so it’s important, but if you don’t give yourself a break you will wear yourself out.
Make the time to spend time together as a family disconnected from work.
Your marriage, your kids, and your sanity will be better for the break.
Related Post: Take the Trip Because Your Excuses Are Junk
Ultimately it is in the best interest of your church for you and your husband to be gone for a while.
Eventually, every pastor leaves. Whether it is to a new church or to eternity, every pastor leaves. If the church can’t operate for a few days or weeks in his absence, what does that say about the future of the church? What does it say about the legacy that you are creating in the church?
Jesus trained His disciples to work in His absence. Our churches should certainly be able to function for a week while your family gets to enjoy the pastor as a husband and a father.
How do you deal with discouragement when church attendance is low? Tell us in the comments!
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Donnell Holly says
this post was so timely and encouraging to me. I have been discouraged for a few weeks about low attendance and your words really helped shift my focus. Thank you for using your space on the web to encourage others. What a blessing you are.