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Measuring Church Vitality: Beyond the Attendance Dance

“How are these programs enriching people’s lives and helping them build relationships? What education, formation, and leadership development are you offering that move people into a fuller Christian life?”

 

Two Different Narratives 
“I am just amazed at how much is happening here now, and how many people are involved, why there is something going on all the time,” says parishioner #1.

“Where is everyone? The pews used to be filled every Sunday, and now this place is half empty,” says parishioner #2.

You may be hearing comments like these at your church. Which one is right? Probably both. When you’re trying to assess your church’s health and vitality, don’t just focus on one side of the coin, but instead look at them both: together they point to the changing landscape in churches. Measuring a church’s health and vitality, even its growth, is no longer tied to the number of people in worship on Sunday. We need to look at the entire landscape and both sides of the coin.

This is the second article in a two-part series on how churches measure health, vitality, and growth. The first article noted that in the past measuring church health and growth was tied to membership, then later to Sunday attendance. The first article also listed four of the most commonly cited reasons for why Sunday attendance has changed so much in the past 50 years. Don’t lament. Let these questions lead you to ask deeper questions about your church’s vitality and health.

Church Health and Vitality: Looking Deeper
If relying on membership and attendance numbers alone is not enough, where do we look to gather information? Consider gaining perspective in these two ways:

1. Look at your overall picture of all that is happening at your church. How does your church touch members’ (or participants’) lives in addition to Sunday worship? How does your church touch the lives of those in your community who may not worship with you? How well is your church integrated into your community? Asked in another way, if you church closed tomorrow…would your community notice?

2. Look at individuals and the people in your faith community. How are you bringing people to a fuller life in Christ? How are you strengthening their spiritual journey?

Think about it this way: people are interested in new ways of intersecting with the church. The church now has many doors. Many may not even be on Sunday morning. How does your church touch people through social media, your website, podcasts/videos, small groups in homes or restaurants? Do you serve a special population during the week: maybe a feeding ministry, college programs, outreach in the community, a school or day-care, concerts, or lectures?

As you consider these ‘non-Sunday’ offerings, you can ask how such programs contribute to church vitality. How are these programs enriching people’s lives and helping them build relationships? What education, formation, and leadership development are you offering that move people into a fuller Christian life? How are your ministry volunteers growing and forming?  How are you saying thank you to your hard-working volunteers?

Two Sides of a Coin 
Let’s go back to the two quotes at the start of this article. Imagine a church considers both questions, realizing that both sides of the coin can help them understand their health and vitality. Perhaps this church does some investigating and finds that membership is holding fairly steady, but that worship attendance has dropped about 5%. Turn the coin over, and they start to see something different. The ‘Parent’s Morning Out’ program that they started last year is growing; there is a new Bible study group meeting at the local pub; there is talk of starting a small clothes closet; and the Boomer-age crowd is now meeting for lunch once a month. Oh, and with the warmer weather, after-church coffee hour will be outside so that others in their town can see that they’re not just “open for business” but having fun!

These factors all contribute to the vitality of this hypothetical church. When church leadership look at these and other factors, they can see their assets, and see where the Holy Spirit is leading them. By knowing their assets, how can they build on them? How might they use these assets to strengthen attendance?

As you look at the doors that your church has open – the opportunities you are offering or want to offer – begin to recognize them as measurements for health and vitality. Let these doors lead you into deeper questions of how to touch the lives of people in your community.

 


Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. You can follow her on Twitter @episcoevangel and Facebook as EpiscopalEvangelist. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.

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