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Most church leaders if they are honest put a lot of weight on counting the number of people who attend their services. There is something about a full room that scratches the itch of leaders who spend the majority of their time communicating. Gathering people is one of the goals for church leaders right?
Measuring things is important, measuring the right things is even more important. Whilst tracking attendance can be a useful piece of information there are perhaps more important measurements that should be given more focus, particularly in this next church season.
The Attachment To Attendance
Church attendance is the main metric being recorded weekly for most churches I know. Sometimes great effort is taken to count the people in the room. Conversations happen around whether to count the band twice if they played in two services. Did a section not get counted last week? The number says 100 but it definitely felt like more.
For many the Sunday attendance is seen as the equivalent of the size of your church. So when pastors and leaders get together and introduce themselves one of the first things that rolls of the tongue is where your church is and how many show up on a Sunday.
When Church Attendance Declines
In recent decades trends have revealed that a significant percentage of church attenders no longer attend every week. Even the most die-hard members are often only there 3 out of 4 weeks.
We could spend a lot of time trying to understand why this is but at its simplest I would suggest that culture has changed. The middle classes now have significantly more disposable income than a few decades ago (particularly those boomers) and with such income comes choices. Choices for extra sports or outdoor activities or day trips. Choices to go away for the weekend with friends. Choices.
In our on-demand culture it is easy to say that we will catch up later on what we missed at church, and for the most part we can.
Personally I’m not saying whether this is a good or bad thing. For me it’s just a thing. Certainly I think it is misplaced effort to try and guilt people back to church.
If church is genuinely what it is meant to be, people will prioritise it. If our Sunday experiences can be replicated 100% online then maybe we need to look at them again?
Post-Pandemic Church Attendance
This past year, with a global pandemic shutting church doors worldwide, another challenge has come for those who want to track church statistics.
Attendance on a Sunday does not equal views on YouTube/Facebook/Instagram. Views are a much more ethereal thing. What does it mean if there are 100 people in the room and you have 500 views. It is not a simple addition. Yet we also recognise, at least now, thanks to the pandemic, that behind those 500 screens are 500 people (at least) and for at least a percentage of them they engaged in church. Perhaps even for the first time.
So we can’t disregard views by any means. They may include the housebound person, the lady travelling for work, the family on holiday who still want to connect with their home church, the atheist who is secretly intrigued by faith. These are real people.
So becoming a Hybrid church, both online and in-person (I explain this idea here), is a good thing. But it sure does mess up any idea of measuring attendance.
So what should we measure?
Measuring Church Engagement
I have heard a number of church commentators talk about a shift from measuring attendance to measuring engagement. Carey Nieuwhof is one of those voices who have written and spoken about this at length.
This shift is exciting and important in my mind. As a church leader I personally want my focus to be on engagement not attendance. Perhaps that’s only because I lead a small church though!
Now engagement and attendance are not mutually exclusive. Engaged people do attend. However I feel this puts the emphasis in the right place.
It is a well known phrase, that what we measure will grow.
If we start to measure engagement, we will see engagement.
Engagement is a great word because it fits with both an online and in person model.
People engage by attending events, they also engage by liking your video. They also engage when they watch more than 30 seconds of your content. They engage when they give, they engage when they share your post on social media.
So in a hybrid church, engagement feels like an important measurement.
Each churches ideal engagement will look different and it is not a one size fits all approach.
But for me some of the primary metrics I will be looking at will be where people take a step that moves them forward in their faith journey.
It could be that they comment on our church online stream for the first time. It could be that they attend an Alpha course, online or in-person. It could be that they sign up for a small group (again online or in-person).
All of those examples show that a real person has taken a step forward in engagement.
It’s messier and certainly not as simple as bums on seats, but for me it feels like a healthier measurement for this season.
What do you think?
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