Seriously. Stop Counting Attendance on the Weekends.

… as your primary indicator of church health.

For years, Many churches have used ‘butts and bucks’ as they’re leading spiritual indicators.

It’s just not true anymore. (And probably, these were the best indicators to begin…But they were measurable.)

David Odom has put into words what many of us have been thinking: measuring weekend attendance isn’t all that it used to be.

David says:

Average worship attendance was once such an important number. With it, I could predict the size of the church staff, the informal patterns of decision-making, most of the stresses on the pastor’s time, the leadership required for small groups, and more.

Back in the day, church consultant Lyle Schaller was quoted as saying that average worship attendance was a better indicator of congregational behavior than denomination, geography or neighborhood.

Today that number means much less because the definition of an active member has shifted.

At one time, “active” meant attending services three or four times a month. Today people feel active when they enter the church building once or twice a month. Some people engage worship more regularly online than from the pew. Others prioritize participation in a small group over worship attendance. Congregations have multiple services and, increasingly, multiple campuses.

It is more and more difficult to determine what “attending” means, much less judge someone as “active.”

I’m not sure that any of us would disagree. If nothing else, attendance patterns have shifted. In the past, regular church attendance meant people came at least three weekends a month. The new norm for regular attender? It’s probably more like one or two weekend a month.

David continues:

Church attendance was once a key indicator of a virtuous cycle. If the church could get a new person in the pew regularly, offerings would go up, involvement in small groups and missions would climb, and the church would be healthy. If attendance was declining then everything else would eventually decline.

The growing lack of dependability on attendance is a sign that the virtuous cycles that have sustained congregations since the end of World War II are collapsing. In order to sustain congregations over the long haul, new cycles need to be developed. Once that begins to happen, new measures can be identified.

One place to start is to map all the ways that a person engages a congregation — joining a small group, attending group meetings and social functions, contributing to special causes and to the church’s general budget, reading sermons or other resources on-line, volunteering in a missions project, teaching a class and more.

What patterns of engagement emerge? Which activities encourage participation in other activities? What practices are most likely to lead to spiritual growth? These are the building blocks of virtuous cycles.

This whole attendance conundrum is something that is baffling many church leaders. How can we change what we see is happening? Why is it happening? This is only happening to us or is it happening everywhere?

From my discussions with many church leaders, it’s a cultural transit seems to be happening everywhere. So at least you can take heart that it’s not just happening in your church.

But what David says is true.

The days of measuring attendance (butts) and offering (bucks) are over.

Your church needs to find new ways to measure peoples’ involvement.

And that has to do with engagement.

How are your people engaging these days outside of the weekly worship service?

How are you reaching new people?

And one of the most important questions we need to ask is: how are people coming to Christ in our context?

These are the things we should be measuring!

So… what are you measuring these days? Are you seeing evidence of what David is saying, where attendance can be down and offerings can be up? That there’s really no correlation between the two anymore?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below telling your thoughts on this.


Read more here…


  • pietrosquared August 26, 2014 Reply

    The REVEAL study “revealed” much about what we do or don’t that creates disciples, too… but… I don’t think you have to stop measuring attendance to meaningfully consider other important markers.

    • Wes August 27, 2014 Reply

      piertrosquared, It seems the author agrees with you. Note his first line in the article, “…as your primary indicator of church health.” So his point is to not let it be the primary way your evaluate church health. Not to stop all together.

  • dcsj September 25, 2014 Reply

    Ahh… I don’t think so. Your questions about engagement are fine. How do you measure the answers? I don’t think there is an objective way to do that.

    I agree that church attendance alone is not a measure of “success”, but those who are so inconsistent as to only attend once or twice a month have a problem we need to address. That includes those who have to work due to the culture we are in. We have a man in our church who took a job recently that requires him to work almost every Sunday. We meet with him almost every Monday to fellowship and review the Sunday messages. He tells me over and over how much he appreciates it.

    Others who are inconsistent are just inconsistent because they are spiritually immature. That also needs to be addressed.

    So it sounds learned to say “we can’t measure anything by this metric anymore” but the reality is that attendance patterns (especially inconsistent attendance) tell us a lot about where people are at spiritually.

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