One disheartening trend is that people attend worship less often. In today’s world, worship can be one of Sunday’s many opportunities. As life has become busier, as people are caring for children and parents, as children’s sports become a regular part of Sunday and as people are just plan exhausted, they attend worship less often. Not everyone (in fact some trends show some attending more often) but many.
One example: Mike and Jennifer and their three boys did attend worship weekly till Jennifer’s Mom went to a nursing home in a neighboring community. Now, two Sunday a month the family drives to a town 30 miles away and spends the morning with her. This means that 10 fewer people attend each month.
If Mike and Jennifer’s church had 100 people (adults and children) each week, it would now have an average worship attendance of 97.5 (down from 100). It doesn’t sound like much of a difference but if 5 families of 5 did this, attendance would decrease by 50 people each month and worship attendance would move from a monthly average of 100 to 87.5. Remember, no one left the church – they just attended less often, and worship went down 12%.
Today we continue our summer series where I’m sharing a list of 9 ideas for pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5
Today I want to talk about understanding worship attendance decline by doing the math (#1) and asking some questions (#2) & designing a strategy (#3).
So let’s start with the math. We first need to do some counting to see where we are with attendance. Don’t guess, gather data.
How do you get this information? Your church may already gather this information. But if not, here are two ways to get started.
1. Train the ushers to do a weekly count which includes:
- Number of adults
- Number of youth and children
- Number of visitors
2. Invite people to sign a book (or a card) to register their weekly attendance.
- One best practices in churches under 200 is to have a 2 people sit in the back with a sheet listing everyone who is a church regular. As each person arrives they are silently checked off. Note: two people do this so no one is overlooked (churches often have 2 doors and distractions happen). This works best in churches where people won’t register their attendance.
Start with gathering data. Guesswork or speculation is often inaccurate.
Second, learn why attendance had declined. Is Sunday attendance down because of folks like Mike and Jennifer or is it down because 10 families have moved over to another church? Is it down because you no longer invite others to worship or because the saints of the church have gone to their eternal reward? The why matters because it will help you know how to respond.
Do your data gathering for several months (September-mid December). Then sit down and ask:
- How often do people attend? Weekly? Or less than weekly? Chart it out.
- Do we know why people who attend less than weekly do so? Have we asked?
- What tools might we give people who attend less than weekly to keep them growing spiritually? (For example, could we send an email to Mike and Jennifer with a link to the sermon and a connection to both what happened in Sunday School and an invite to place Mom on the prayer chain?)
- Consider how many visitors you are seeing. Figures differ across the country, but many churches see 1-5 new people at each worship service each week. One rule of thumb is: your average worship attendance will equal the number of first time visitors you will see in a year (so if your average is 100 in worship, you will see 100 visitors over the year).
- Ask, What is our WEEKLY plan to follow-up with visitors, those attending less than weekly, and those who were weekly but have had a change of attendance? (More on this in my next post.)
Third, what is your plan? Your plan will be specific to your church but here are some articles to help:
Action – Put together a team of 3 people to do research on attendance.
Action – Put together a plan for growth. Make sure it is grounded in prayer.
Sign up for The Creative Worship Conference – $25 for a day of ideas you can use in your local church (West District) – Registration closes soon.