On any given Sunday, even the smallest, simplest church service juggles an amazing array of complex issues.
- Set-up to tear-down
- Relationships to administration
- Spiritual to emotional
- Planned events to unplanned interruptions
- and more.
But too often we reduce the value of this beautiful, multi-layered gathering of believers, seekers, skeptics and hypocrites to one overly-simplistic metric. Namely, how many people showed up?
More Than Numbers
Certainly, almost every pastor and church is grateful when church attendance is on the rise – myself included. And appropriately so.
It’s not that attendance figures don’t matter, it’s that too many of us have made those numbers the primary, sometimes exclusive focus of our attention.
This is misguided at best, idolatrous at worst.
We’re Not Selling Widgets
It reminds me of a complaint I often hear from fellow authors and artists about their publisher or promoter. Sometimes they feel like no one who works with them is concerned about the quality of their work, just how many units they’re selling.
Certainly authors, musicians and other artists care about reaching a bigger audience, too. But the size of the audience doesn’t matter if the work is shabby.
Unfortunately, a lot of church leaders are guilty of falling into the same trap – expressing more concern about the numbers than about the quality of the experience.
10 Better Questions
So how can we gauge the value of a church service? If we pay less attention to attendance, what should we pay more attention to?
My answer to that is “almost everything.” Yes, almost everything else happening in a worship service is more important than how many people are in the room.
For now, here’s a quick list of 10 questions that are always better to ask than “what was attendance last weekend?”
- Was Jesus the focus of our attention?
- Was the Bible taught well?
- Was hope offered to hurting people?
- Did anyone come to faith in Christ?
- Did church members love, serve and encourage each other?
- Were guests made to feel welcome?
- Is there more excitement about the future than longing for the past?
- Were any broken relationships healed?
- Are people more prepared to live for Jesus after having been here?
- Do people want to come back?
A Matter Of Priorities
Certainly, nothing on that list is new.
Many of you have several points you could add. So do I. But I had to stop somewhere.
So why take the time to mention what everyone already knows?
Because when we don’t pause to remember what really matters, it's too easy for the lure of attendance numbers (both up and down) to become more important than they deserve to be.
Again, it’s not that attendance doesn’t matter, it’s that numbers are easier to see than changed lives, saved marriages and spiritual growth, so they have a way of creeping higher on the priority list than they should.
Maintaining Our Focus
Keep counting attendance.
But never let the excitement of higher attendance or the discouragement of lower attendance divert you from your church’s primary goal.
Love God, love others and make disciples. No number will ever replace the value of that.
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