A study just released by Duke University revealed a concerning weakness in big churches. The larger a church becomes the more sporadic its members are when it comes to church attendance and less likely they are to volunteer.
The study was conducted by David Eagle, who teaches at Duke’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities. Eagle formerly pastored a church in Canada and it was this experience that led to his interest in conducting the study.
In an interview with the Christian Post, he said while in Canada there was a major push by his denomination on church growth. He was told larger churches would result in more non-Christians attending.
“I was skeptical of this approach, and began to think that an emphasis on growth could lead to unintended consequences — things like creating a less involved membership.”
For his study he analyzed data from the National Congregations Study and the General Social Survey in the US. He compared church attendance among four major church groups — Conservative Churches, Roman Catholic, Black Protestant and Mainline Protestant.
Though it showed up in all four groups, the problem of consistent church attendance among larger congregations was most noticeable in Black Protestant and Mainline Protestant churches and least noticeable in Conservative Evangelical churches.
According to the study, the problem of inconsistent attendance started showing up when weekly attendance reached 500.
Eagle found in small Black congregations of 50 or less, on average people consistently attended weekly services 50% of the time. However in churches of 10,000 or more it dropped to 40%. In mainline protestant churches regular attendance dropped from 40% in smaller churches to 25% in large.
Eagle speculated this happened for a number of reasons:
- Large churches probably attracted people who do not want to attend regularly. This is happening more often in two income families who are experiencing time stress.
- In larger churches, people find it more difficult to make “personal connections” and as a result are less attached to the church itself.
- Larger churches also have more professional staff and in the minds of attendees reduced need for volunteering.
- In larger churches, pastoral staff would not notice if a person was attending regularly or not.
- Large churches also tend to use home groups to provide a more personal touch and at times people may substitute this for weekly Sunday church attendance.
With a less committed congregation, in the long-term this may negatively affect attendance in mega churches.
Though a church is becoming larger, this does not automatically mean it is growing spiritually, and it is something that church leaders with larger congregations need to address.