15 Proven Ideas to Increase Church Attendance

St. Charles Church crowd from overhead
St. Charles Church, Arlington (by Mark Alves)

I was itching to share these ideas with a blogger who sent out a pitch on Help A Reporter Out asking for ways to increase church attendance. So many ideas came to mind that I recited them into my phone and hoped for the best with Siri’s voice recognition and the Notes app. The reporter wanted only a maximum of two per submission and I had already come up with fourteen off the top of my head.

After picking two interesting ones, I emailed them to the writer with an offer to provide more.

Later that day came the HARO rejection message. The author wasn’t interested, but thanks for playing.

I was briefly crestfallen, but then decided to turn this list into a blog post. Let me know what you think.

How to Increase Church Membership Ideas

1. By far the best way to get more people to attend church is to get existing churchgoers to invite friends and neighbors.
You can support this by producing a little card or magnet with your church time etc. and address on it, and to give instructions and guidance to equip your members on how to invite new members.

2. Offer an additional, more convenient time.
My former parish added a Sunday evening service with the intention of freeing up parking spaces during Sunday mornings. What happened instead was that the Sunday evening time slot attracted a new group of attendees, especially young adults, who weren’t previously attending that church. When trying to increase your church attendance, sometimes more is more.

3. Sponsor cultural events such as movies, discussions, dances and concerts.
Attract the neighborhood to participate in non-threatening, fun events at your church, such as the Arlington Forum sponsored by St. Charles Catholic Church in Arlington, Va. Your neighbors will come for the entertainment and some will come back on Sundays.

4. Offer a music-free option Mass or service to attract a different crowd that might be interested in a more contemplative atmosphere.

5. Advertise on Facebook, particularly events related to the holidays such as Advent, Christmas and Easter. Also consider Ash Wednesday, which is usually the busiest day traffic-wise for church websites. (And a personal favorite of mine)

6. Create a what-to-expect video so newcomers know what they’re getting into.
This might include a few shots of the inside of the church, how the entrance procession works, how the service looks, and how newcomers are treated (are they singled out and made to stand at the end?) so people know what to expect. You don’t want the fear of the unknown to keep them from coming.

7. Be visible in the neighborhood.
This could be an outdoor Marian procession in May or sponsoring a booth at the neighborhood fair. Get noticed and then get attention.

Palm Sunday procession, Clarendon to St. Charles Church (by Mark Alves)
Palm Sunday procession, Clarendon to St. Charles Church (by Mark Alves)

8. Offer babysitting or childcare.
My first two boys are 18 months apart so when they were babies, sometimes Sundays meant my wife and I played divide and conquer. We’d go to Mass in solo shifts while the other watched the kids at home and then we’d swap. That’s not a great long-term solution and it doesn’t work for single parents. Offer a hand and let those young parents know they are welcome.

9. Better homilies and sermons.
You might think worshiping the Creator of the Universe is enough of a draw, but a personalized message explaining how the Gospel applies to our lives today will get people to return.

10. Better music.
Singing is praying twice. Good music is welcoming thrice.

11. Train your ushers to offer an appropriate welcome.
For more guidance, see Don’t Act Like a New York Waiter and 21 Other Things Church Ushers Should Never Do.

12. A small-group program to gently welcome back fallen-away churchgoers, such as Landings.
Give those who have had a poor experience in the past opportunity to be heard and to have sympathetic companions on the journey back home.

13. Newcomer dinners.
These monthly or so gatherings are an opportunity for guests to meet other established parishioners and fellow newcomers in a relaxed setting. Building this fellowship makes it easier for newcomers to return next Sunday knowing they’ll see some familiar faces.

14. Establish affinity groups such as for young adults, new moms, or even different sports.
Give people a way to feel like they can connect with a particular group and they will come back.

15. Transform your ministries fair into a community expo for volunteers.

Examples of Ministry Fairs
Examples of Ministry Fairs

Many churches sponsor a ministries fair, which is an open house for their current members to learn about volunteer opportunities at the church. (Ministry fair booth ideas) That’s great if you want your current attendees to participate more, but what if you want to increase church attendance? You need to introduce more people to your church. Transforming your ministries fair into a community volunteer fair for the whole neighborhood can attract newcomers who might be turned off by the term ministry, but are interested in getting involved locally. In addition to sponsoring booths for volunteer opportunities directly relate to your church, also include information about volunteer opportunities in the community, such as homeless shelters, food assistance centers and tutoring. Invite outside groups that are looking for volunteers to participate. You’ll attract a larger pool of volunteers and some of those committed visitors will turn into regular attendees. (See also The Ministry Fair Alternative)


Looking back, many of these suggestions involve attracting newcomers. It turns out increasing attendance is often a function of attracting new comers. And many of these ideas will help you increase community in a way that attracts newcomers and inspires your current membership.

Have you tried any of these techniques at your church? Share what you might think could work or drop in a new suggestion below.





Should Churches Participate in April Fool’s Day?

Toyota, in the guise of a baptismal font recall, was the target of my church’s annual April Fool’s Day stunts. (I’ve covered some of these parodies before.) April Fool’s Day usually falls during Lent and in 2010 it was on Holy Thursday. Is it appropriate for a church to celebrate April Fool’s Day during Lent?

Baptismal Font with Unintended Acceleration from StCharlesChurch.org
Baptismal Font with Unintended Acceleration from StCharlesChurch.org


Our goals:

  • Increase traffic to the site.
  • Show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
  • Give members of the community a reason to share the church’s web address with others. It’s difficult for some to overtly evangelize, but sharing a link to a funny site makes it a lot easier.

We’ve met all of those goals the past several years.

At the same time, we’ve focused on spoofs and parodies rather than outright tricks that could legitimately fool someone. You don’t want newcomers showing up for a non-existent event because they weren’t in on the joke, especially during Lent. It’s a balancing act, but based on the traffic and feedback it’s been worth it for us.

Would your church consider putting on a stunt for April Fool’s Day?

Should You Have a Second Collection for Religious Education?

By jmacphoto.com on Flickr
By jmacphoto.com on Flickr

My church has a second collection this time of year. It’s for the religious education Sunday school program.  And it bugs me:

  • I already gladly pay a fee for each of my kids to participate in religious education classes after Mass.
  • Not all are served by the current education program. If you don’t sign up right away, you are relegated to the “study at home” program, also known as Here’s The Book And Good Luck.
  • Isn’t religious education an essential, baseline service that should come out of the first collection?

When something irks me like this, sometimes it helps to have a different perspective so help me out. How does it work at your church? Do you think the arrangement is fair?

What To Do When Your Priest Doesn’t Show Up For Mass

My church canceled 6 PM Mass the other night because the designated priest didn’t show up. Could that ever happen at your church? Probably not, but just in case here are some tips on handling an MIA priest.

  1. Establish a cut-off time for going to Plan B. If your priest isn’t there 10 minutes (or whatever window you set) before Mass, start looking at alternatives. In my situation, the scheduled priest was typically late so no one suspected a problem until it was, well, too late.
  2. Know where to look. The contact numbers for the priests should be available in the sacristy. If the priests live nearby, those addresses should be on hand, too. If substitute priests from another parish or mission are potentially available, add them to the list.
  3. Spell out the steps needed to perform a Communion service without Liturgy of the Eucharist. Your sacristan can provide this information. If you can’t have a full Mass, use the lectors and eucharistic ministers on hand to conduct a prayer service.
  4. Know where to find a copy of the bishop’s homily. If you go forward without a priest, you can still have a homily read. In my parish, the bishop’s weekly homily appears in the local diocesan newspaper and online.
  5. Identify the Mass times of other local churches. If you can’t offer your own Mass, let your parishioners know about alternatives.
  6. If a decision is made to cancel Mass before it’s started, send out a message to your Twitter account for quick notification. Consider sending a message to your emergency list as well.
  7. Apologize. A discussion on Facebook was how I found out that the last Mass of the day was canceled at my church. The next day on the subway, I ran into more people who were talking about the situation. Armed with these anecdotes, I encouraged my pastor to issue a statement about the situation. Don’t way until people are talking about the situation—because you know they will—to address the problem.

Has anything like this ever happened at your church? How did you respond?