Sunday used to be a day reserved by many Christians for attending worship services, but new research indicates the extent to which American churches today are competing against myriad other activities.
The biggest competition? Children's sports.
According to a new study published in the Review of Religious Research, an examination of declining attendance at 16 congregations revealed that many pastors place the most blame on children's sports activities, since both practices and competitions are increasingly "scheduled on Sunday mornings at the very time when many churches traditionally have provided religious education."
But that doesn't mean that families whose kids are highly involved in athletics will stop attending church (though that does seem to be the case among churches that stigmatize parents who miss church for sports, as the Association of Religion Data Archives's David Briggs points out).
Instead, more Protestant churches are offering alternate service times to accommodate members with Sunday morning commitments. They're also increasing their emphasis on physical fitness programs or sports ministries.
According to Briggs (whose ARDA research roundup is worth reading), "More than two-thirds of congregations who said sports and fitness programs were a specialty of the congregation reported more than a 10 percent growth in attendance from 2000 to 2010. In contrast, only a third of churches with no athletic programs reported such growth."