Should Churches Compare Attendance Numbers?

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by gb93433, Mar 7, 2011.

  1. gb93433

    gb93433
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  2. annsni

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    My only thought is that oftentimes, a larger church can do more than a smaller church so if you're speaking to a pastor talking about something he's doing in his church and it sound intriguing, it would make a difference if he had a congregation of 700 and you had 50. Other than that, I don't think it makes as much of a difference.
     
  3. freeatlast

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    It should never come up between churches. Such a thing would be done out of nothing but pride and sin.
    Some plant, some water, and God gives the increase. If He decides to fill one with greater numbers the pastor with the less number should be glad he does not have the headaches the other Pastor has.
     
  4. abcgrad94

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    Wrong. Small churches have just as many problems as larger churches. In fact, it's been our experience that smaller churches have MORE problems. Larger churches have more staff and are better organized in many ways.
     
  5. freeatlast

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    Can you supply some qualified stats with that to back up your absolute stance?
     
  6. abcgrad94

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    Just my observations based on many churches. (Edited to add, many conversations with other ministry couples have shown us this to be true.)

    Can you provide stats for your claim?
     
  7. gb93433

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    A good book to read on the subject is The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues by Dennis Bickers

    The author works with small churches to become healthy.
     
  8. rbell

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    My experience, having served a small church that has become comparatively larger:

    • Small churches have less "pressure to perform." Doing ministry, events, sermons, whatever--there are "higher expectations for excellence" in a larger setting.
    • Larger churches have more resources to make things happen, meet more needs, serve more folks, etc. Doesn't mean they all do...but they can.
    • Smaller churches can serve more personally. This is why we are big proponents of Sunday School. It is the "first line of defense" in ministering to the flock. It's the only way for a larger church to keep that critical personal touch.
    • In a smaller church, when you have a bad apple, they cause more trouble. It's easier to deal with bad apples in a larger church. The flip side...if someone in leadership causes a problem, the consequences are often farther reaching.
    • As a church gets larger, many business-type decisions (hiring and dismissing, spending money, etc.,) become more "cerebral" and less "emotional." Smaller churches have stronger interconnections--and thus letting Sally go as church secretary, even though she cannot do the job--is so much harder.
    • IMHO, you can only invest in a certain number of people anyhow. So in a smaller setting, it could be everyone. In a larger setting, it might be your leadership you team up with. Either way, you're investing and equipping the saints...it's just that in a larger church, you're doing so in order that your leadership team may then further equip those whom they serve.
    Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited. E pluribus unum.
     
  9. freeatlast

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    You first. I am sure you have the data since I know you being spiritual would not just make an absolute statement thta something is wrong without it. :smilewinkgrin:
     
  10. preachinjesus

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    I absolutely think churches should be open about sharing their data. They should also be open to talking about what is and is not working within their ministry contexts.

    Right now I'm part of a group of ministers who serve at contextually similar churches that meets twice a year and has an ongoing web discussion about where we're at, best practices, and challenges. This interaction is so huge for each of us as we're learning from each other and being challenged to think bigger, reach farther, and grow deeper disciples.

    From what I've seen in younger generations numbers are pretty meaningless other than being respective of the health and situation of groups and programs. Some churches serve larger crowds, others smaller ones but the size doesn't matter. What matters is how you're growing, organically by conversion or just transfer. We want to see lives changed by Christ.

    When we collaborate for the Kingdom of God we see great things happen. Do some people occasionally get a hitch in their giddy-up over something? Sure but that is a moment for grace. If it is on going that is a moment for challenging them.

    The numbers conversation should be about what is effective in reaching unchurched and dechurched people. We should rejoice when a church is being effective and provide support when they need some assistance. This is a big picture Kingdom discussion.

    One final thought, I don't care for the Outreach Magazine annual giga-church fair that exalts the biggest ministries out there. I think its foolishness and have written letters to the editors for the past several years. It is a bad idea to publicize it like that. That's not what I'm talking about.
     
  11. StefanM

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    It's a qualitative question, primarily. It's difficult to quantify something like the relative presence of "problems."
     
  12. abcgrad94

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    I just think it's wrong to automatically assume small churches don't have problems like the bigger churches do, ok? I know for a fact that in my circle of ministry friends, those with the larger churches are amazed at what the smaller churches face. It could be they (the bigger churches) have as many problems but aren't aware of them as they have more staff to take care of all the little details. In a small church with only one staff person (the pastor) the problems seem overwhelming because he's the only one dealing with everything.

    Assuming pastors of small churches have it easy, so to speak, is to do them an injustice.

    As for sharing numbers, I see no command against that in scripture. We are to share what edifies. If the info can be used to help, I say go for it.
     
  13. freeatlast

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    No one mentioned that pastoring a small church was easy, just not as difficult as a large one. It could also be that some of the larger ones are doing a better job of training their flock. However just by common sense and shear numbers the larger churches would bring greater difficulties. As for sharing numbers, Pride is always sin.
     
  14. nodak

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    I cringe whenever numbers are used to suggest something "works" or "is successful."

    All you can really know is that it brings in the numbers.

    Not the same thing as seeing folks saved and lives changed at all.

    Focus on being faithful to the Word and the Lord and let Him worry about the numbers :)
     
  15. rbell

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    You also have another entirely different question:


    "What attendance numbers do you share?"

    I usually don't talk about numbers. If pressed, I don't share my largest youth attendance numbers...many of them are visitors. Many are very part-time. Many have yet to accept Christ (but oh, are we working on that! :D)

    Generally, our youth Sunday School numbers most accurately reflect what I would consider to be "our size." They are the ones that are committed and involved.

    Your church may be quite different, as to when your biggest and when your most "accurate" numbers occur. And IMHO, the divergence between your "sideline folks" (largest numbers) and your more accurate "These are our folks" numbers gets greater the larger the church.


    I think numbers can help us spot trends as to what might be working in our own church...but I'm not so sure how helpful it is (and frankly, I think it's often problematic) when we begin to comare our numbers to other churches' numbers.
     
  16. preachinjesus

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    One of the things that has been huge for our ministry team is the recognition that we can't understand faithful church attendance as an every week thing. Our week-to-week numbers have given way to a metric that views church attendance by number of unique individuals showing up in a given month. That has been a more effective means of tracking and validating what has been working and what isn't.

    It changes the conversation and recognizes that in the current social context there is a lot to celebrate so long as we understand how people are tracking in their patterns. Connection beyond Sunday is more significant.

    Our "week-to-week" numbers are only about 3/5s of our monthly attendance picture, most individuals visit 2 times a month. We have a great ministry, and one that meets people where they are at and motivates them to get more involved in God's work in our community. :)
     
  17. rbell

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    "Shear numbers"--is that some sort of "cut-down?"

    (rim shot)


    I think that there are some contexts in which sharing numbers is not a pride issue.

    Here's a real example: A few years ago, several of us youth ministers were discussing the difficulties of doing ministry on Sunday evening. Many of us were experiencing similar difficulties. Numbers, in the context of comparing Sunday PM to other avenues of worship/teaching/fellowship/ministry, were brought out.

    One of our gang was having better success than others. He shared some of the things they were doing, and how their attendance had rebounded. Furthermore, his attitude was one of thankfulness.

    But here is why, in this case, it worked:

    • We were friends...folks who talked with each other (versus about each other), and folks who genuinely wanted the others to do well.
    • The numbers were not an end unto themselves...they were one possible means of evaluation.
    • We all realized that there are a multiplicity of factors that can affect numbers.
    • When we finished the conversation, the numbers conversation was also finished. We did not let it turn into a spitting contest.
    • Amidst the whole time we had together, much of it was spent praying for one another--both personally, as well as "ministerially." Sadly, it seems that what I'm describing is not as common as it used to be (or as it should be :( ).
    Maybe you'll agree with me. Maybe you won't. But hopefully, what I said will make at lesat a small amount of sense.
     
  18. Tom Bryant

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    What you say makes sense and is a good use of numbers.

    Personally, the only time I share numbers with anyone is when I know that I had more than the person I am talking to had. :tonofbricks:
    The problem with numbers is that it really doesn't show spiritual growth. Maybe if there is a higher percentage of people attending Bible study or going on mission trips than last year, you might be able get a sense of a place.
     
  19. glfredrick

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    I'd say the first incorrect assumption is that no church knows the numbers that another church runs. While one might not know the actual exact number, it will be very clear whether a church is running 50, 500, or 5000.

    Second, large churches can and do provide more services, more ministry opportunities, more programs, more everything (virtually) than do small churches. Duh... Unless a congregation of 50 is "superchurch" they simply cannot do what a church of 500 or 5000 can do.

    Third, I've never noticed that the level of "spirituality" is greater or lesser in small or large churches. That is mostly dependent on each individual and their walk with Christ. I've seen dead large churches and dead small churches, and vice-versa.

    Fourth, "comparing" apples to oranges isn't really all that helpful in ministry, so comparing a church of 50 to a church of 500 really isn't all that helpful. Each will have its own dynamic, its own ministry niche, and its own cu lure. So be it, and God bless!

    And, finally, "healthy things grow." Small churches, unless "land-locked" in some sense that limits growth (no available population base, no available building space, lack of resources needed for growth, etc.) will grow. So will large churches. Just the way it works, and something that we see illustrated in Scripture.

    The presumption that one ought "limit" growth because it is more scripturally healthy to remain small has to originate from the pits of hell! That is not a slam against small churches, merely against the failed concept of remaining small ON PURPOSE when God is in the business of expanding His kingdom through the saving of souls, of which there are generally plenty available around most churches that are growing or not growing.

    There ought not be a time-frame wrapped around the growth period of a church. That depends a lot on available resources and population numbers, but some growth should be evident unlike the current statistic in the greater Evangelical world that over half of all Evangelical churches added one or zero new members in the past year. Can't convince me that God is satisfied with that level of inactivity!

    A good test may be to compare actual membership numbers to attenders, and also the number of conversions (baptisms, typically, in Baptist circles) compared to members or attenders. I am most familiar with SBC numbers here, and have watched the ratios drop over the decades. In the 1950s, there was an average under 30:1, with it taking around 30 members or less to baptize one new member per church. That number is now in the neighborhood of 80:1 -- one new member for every 80 members of an existing church. That number is worse when one gets outside of Baptist circles!

    A healthy ratio would be in the 10:1 range. At least one new member should be reached for every 10 members in any given church. Those are the churches, whether large or small, that show the true signs of growth. Others loose as many (or more!) members as they gain, so net growth is static at best.

    So, should we compare? We already do... But what should we do with the numbers? I'd suggest, "Encourage each other in the gospel to do the work the Lord has set before us."
     
  20. rbell

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    I'm so thankful that we have a women's fitness & aerobics group that uses our church fellowship hall once a week to exercise.

    One, because they've really used it as an outreach--in fact, two ladies have accepted Christ, and their first exposure to church was in this group!

    Secondly...and it is more helpful than you think...when the nosy minister who wants to have a "spitting contest" and compare numbers asks you, "So...how many do you guys run?" I can simply tell him the number in the aerobics group. They run. Weekly. At our church.

    (not to mention...they get jealous since I'm full-time, yet we "run" 25-30)

    It's fun being truthful, yet devious... :eek: :D :D
     

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