Church Attendance in Rome is on a Steady Decline
By: Matt Zimmerman
Rome, Georgia is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and is the essence of the term. Despite a population of a little over 36,000, Rome is home to 118 churches according to Church Finder.
With numbers like these, one may think that there is a high demand for churches in Rome by the general population, and basic economic principles would suggest that this must be true for 118 independent churches to stay financially afloat, but a steady decline in church attendance looms over the leaders in these churches.
Sonny Walker, director of student ministries at First Presbyterian Church (FPC), claims to have 165 middle school and high school students on their roster, making FPC the largest student ministry in Rome.
Walker said that there is a weekly average of 50 students every Sunday morning for church, and about 70 every Wednesday night for youth group. These numbers have remained relatively consistent in his tenure at FPC, but that he has seen a slight decline in attendance in the past two years.
Walker and his staff maintain that they are not worried about this decline, but have decided to remain steadfast in their ministry to their youth. The youth staff at FPC is consciously intentional with their students, being sure to know things like students’ names and birthdays. Little things like these show that they care about their students.
“Students are coming back because of the quality of our ministry,” Walker said. “We believe quality is more important than the quantity of students.”
From both a financial and business perspective, a decline in church attendance would be detrimental to its sustainability, but like Walker, Abraham Carrillo thinks there are more important things to worry about than church sustainability.
Student Ministries Director at Liberty Hill United Methodist Church Abraham Carrillo said he firmly believes in quality over quantity.
“Attendance has been on the decline for several years now for whatever reason, but we [Carrillo and his staff] ain’t worried,” Carrillo said. “We believe in what we are doing here, and as long as we are bringing kids face to face with Christ, we’re doing our job as well as we can.”
The student ministry directors make a valid point, as their definition of success may differ from those on the outside of the ministry; however, if this issue with attendance persists, their argument for success dies and so do their respective churches. For the time being though, neither director is worried about the attendance issue at hand.
Sonny Walker and his staff at FPC have taken proactive steps to mitigate the issue of attendance. Every week, these staff members can be found at high schools and middle schools to watch their students play sports, sing in choirs, act in shows, or really whatever they can do to show their students that they are supported and cared about. Every Friday night in the fall, the FPC youth staff will convene at a high school to tailgate football games and give out free food to students attending.
These acts of reaching out into the community can be linked back to what Sonny Walker described as the goal of the youth ministry: to reach students in the Rome community, while maintaining quality ministry for their regularly attending students.
Susi Manning, a mother of three, has a son in the FPC youth ministry and has already two children graduate through the ministry. Frank, a sophomore student at Darlington School, regularly attends Sunday morning services and Wednesday night Bible studies.
As a self- proclaimed “connected parent to the church,” Manning has a vested interest in the quality of ministry her son is receiving at FPC.
“First Pres. [Presbyterian] has made a huge impact on our family and we owe so much of who our kids have become to the staff there,” Manning said. “He [Frank] is at such an important stage of his life, and we trust that Sonny will lead him in the right direction.”
According to Walker and Carrillo, what Manning said is exactly what they are striving for, making both First Presbyterian and Liberty Hill United Methodist Church successful ministries in the eyes of the youth directors.