“What ya runnin’ these days?”
It’s a common question asked of church leaders, and most who ask it refer to average weekly attendance. If the answer is “400,” then on an average weekend your church has 400 people on campus. This figure includes children, assumes each person is counted only once, and excludes the traditional Sunday evening service.
But if you average 400 in attendance, your church is larger, potentially much larger. In order to understand the true size of your church, you must take into account membership and attendance frequency along with the average weekly attendance.
Membership. For some churches, membership is defined as who is on the church roll. I’ve worked with churches that had 2,000 on the roll and only a couple hundred in average attendance. For other churches, membership is those who have committed to meaningful participation in the body. And some churches even push back on the term “membership,” but most still keep a database of people associated with the church. Unfortunately, in many churches, membership figures are inflated, inaccurate, and less meaningful.
Attendance Frequency. Too few attend church every week. In fact, I believe most pastors would be thrilled if the average churchgoer attended three out of four weeks. A reduction in frequent attendance is one of the biggest reasons why churches are declining today. A church with 400 people attending an average of 2 out of 4 weeks has a weekly average attendance of 200.
How big is my church? Your congregation is most likely smaller than your membership roll or database. There are a few egomaniac pastors roaming around quoting a church membership of thousands when attendance is in the hundreds. Most church leaders, however, cite average weekly attendance as the metric of size. And your church is likely to be larger than your average weekly attendance. When you answer the person asking, “What ya runnin’ these days?” your church is actually larger than your answer, unless everyone in your church is there every week.
Consider the church of 400 in average weekly attendance. Let’s assume this church is relatively healthy, and people — on average — attend three out of four weeks. This church actually has 533 active people. Below is a simple way to do the math.
(400 * 4/3) = 533
If your church is less healthy, and people — on average — attend two out of four weeks, then a church of 400 is even larger in total size:
(400 * 4/2) = 800
The point of this exercise is to understand how many people church leaders are shepherding. Church leaders are accountable to God for knowing (and guiding) those under their leadership. Additionally, church leaders should attempt to understand how frequently people are attending. In many cases, people don’t up and leave a church. They fade. A person who once attended four out of five weeks, but is now attending two out of five weeks, is in the process of leaving the church. So, your church is likely larger than you realize. And it could be that a church of 800 active people is less healthy than a church of 533 active people, as seen in the example above.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com.