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Church DNA/Culture

If you're still counting 'butts in seats', you better change your metric...

For the past 30 years the primary indicator of health in churches is weekend attendance. The challenge is that healthy things aren’t the only things that grow.

A full year before the pandemic, my friend Geoff Surratt wrote a great piece that seems now somewhat prophetic.

(I guess I'll add 'prophet' to the vast list of skills and abilities that Geoff has).

But as I re-read this (written in July, 2019), I thought it was a great reminder of what our churches should look like regardless of what pandemic, plague, or other uncertainty hits the church.

We need to be about connection, engagement, and making disciples. Always.

Geoff writes:

"For the past 30 years the primary indicator of health in churches is weekend attendance. We know that “healthy things grow”, so obviously the faster our church grows the healthier it is. We celebrate the largest and fastest growing churches as the models we all want to emulate. When a new church plant explodes in growth we crowd around the pastor to learn his secrets. 

The challenge is that healthy things aren’t the only things that grow. Weeds grow faster than healthy plants, and cancer cells kill the body by growing faster than other, healthier cells. By focusing on numerical growth in the church we may inadvertently feed the very thing that could choke out true health. 

Another challenge with tracking attendance is it doesn’t always measure what we think it does. I remember talking to another pastor in our community a few years ago. He was excited about the sudden growth he’d seen over the past few months. I wanted to be excited for him, but the church I served had recently gone through a moral failure by a key leader and our attendance was shrinking at the exact time his was growing. Attendance growth isn’t always as it appears.

Finally, measuring weekend attendance is becoming irrelevant. In a culture of online church, sermon podcasts and declining frequency of attendance even among committed members, the number of people sitting in pews or stack chairs from week to week no longer reflects the true size of a congregation. It is time to abandon the attendance spreadsheet as a good measure of health; we need to move beyond butts in seats as a primary measure of the health of a congregation."

So what should you be measuring?

According to Geoff, consider measuring these two things:

1. Followers: the number of people that consider your church their church.

"The bigger your church grows the more followers you attract. Conservatively your church has twice as many followers as average weekend attenders. A church of 300 on Sunday has 600 followers, a church of 3000 has 6,000 followers, and a church of 30,000 on a weekend carries the weight of 60,000 people. That is larger than the town I live in. We love to attract huge crowds, but if we are faithful to Jesus’ example we have to also provide for the needs of the ever growing circle of followers."

2. Disciples: who they are and how you're helping them grow.

"This is the commitment we are called to as leaders in the church. We are never told we will give an account for the number of people we can convince to sit in an auditorium on a Sunday and listen to us talk and sing. We will, however, be held accountable for the disciples who follow us as we follow Christ. How are we loving them and helping them grow?"

The church of 2019 is not like the church of 2000 (or even 2015). Just counting butts in seats is NOT (and we could argue, has never been) a sign of real growth or health.

As church leaders, our role is really about influence: how many people we influence and how we lead them to be closer to Christ.

That's what it's all about.

If their butt shows up in one of our seats on Sunday morning, it's great. If not, maybe (just maybe) we're still being effective if we're moving them closer in their relationship to Jesus.

Read more from Geoff Surratt in this excellent post here...



PS - Need help with your church's online strategy?  Let's grab coffee over zoom to discuss!

Todd Rhoades

Todd Rhoades

Todd has invested over 30 years in serving churches, having served as a worship pastor for over 15 years, a church elder for more than a decade, and in various ministry leadership roles in both the business and non-profit sectors. As the original founder and developer of ChurchStaffing.com, Todd fundamentally changed the way thousands of churches search for pastors and staff on the internet. Todd is a graduate of Cedarville University, and lives in Bryan, OH with his wife, Dawn.

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