There’s probably nothing more confusing – and in some instances downright deceptive – than how some pastors and churches track and report their worship attendance.
I was getting a haircut at my local barbershop recently – because men go to barbers, not beauticians – when a gentleman asked me, “What do you all run now at Abilene? 1500?” I said, “No, we’ve averaged about 1201 total on campus for worship since the beginning of the year.” He cocked his head and said, “About 1201?” I just smiled.
Two things I took away from that conversation.
First, people commonly overestimate estimate how many people attend their church or another. Second, it’s helpful to know (as much as you’re able) how many people are attending your church on a weekly basis.
Sometimes I’m accused of being a “numbers” guy. I plead guilty. I have always sought to know how many people – and who those people are that attend the church I serve. I believe that I’m responsible for every single one of their spiritual development and one day will have to give an account for their spiritual growth.
So, how should you count attendance at the church you serve and lead?
Have a system to count every person on campus – either in worship or serving – one time. This is where I see most of the “fudging the numbers” in today’s church world. I know of churches that count everybody that comes Sunday morning, Sunday evening, to the Midweek service and any other event for a “Weekly number.” The problem here is that many of those are counted two, three or more times each week, significantly inflating the number to make the church appear larger than it is for ego sake. Others only count those in who are in the worship service without considering those serving in other areas during that time or the children. I think this does a disservice and is dismissive of the importance of those actively serving in other ministries. Enlist someone – a staff member or volunteer – to be responsible for correctly counting every single person on campus one time.
Don’t pad or add to the numbers. If you add one to the number this week that wasn’t there, you’ll have to do it again next week. We’ve all been there. You set a high attendance goal, and you’re seven short of your goal. You’ve counted every person possible and still can’t come up with a number that reaches the goal. You consider adding eight to the number so you can say you met the goal and encourage the church. You even rationalize that it is for the church. Don’t do it. Don’t add a number if there’s not a person behind it. Don’t pad the numbers during a slump. It’s not only dishonest; it doesn’t help you or the church. Know who you have and who you don’t and report it correctly.
Don’t do it one week and skip a month. Count completely and correctly every single Sunday. Oftentimes lay people and even some staff members won’t understand it’s importance, but if you’re going to be able to do the next thing on this list, you’ll have to have a number recorded for every Sunday of the year.
As I mentioned before, count with the intent of comparing this year to last year. Compare Sunday to Sunday, month to month and quarter to quarter. There is a great benefit in this. You’ll begin to see trends and ebbs and flows. You’ll be able to plan for this Sunday based on what you experienced on the same Sunday last year. You won’t be caught off guard and become discouraged on a low attendance day if you can look back and see something similar on the same day last year.
Dr. Adrian Rogers told me years ago ,
“Don’t get too excited in the days of harvest, and don’t get too discouraged in the days of drought.”
That’s great wisdom when tracking and recording and reflecting on your numbers. When the attendance numbers are up, be thankful for God’s blessing without becoming arrogant or complacent and if the numbers dip don’t become depressed or despondent. Understand where you were, where you are and use that information to help you as you plan for next year.