Friday, June 8, 2012
I think I should be even if I do not realize I'm not...
Our attendance is lower not because there are fewer names of people attending but because there is a decided shift among younger folks to attend less often and, as retirement offers more diversions, the same can also be said to the folks who were once every Sunday folk. I was and still am disconcerted by this but someone has found a silver lining to these otherwise disappointing statistics.
There have also been scientific, that is, professional sociological surveys of worship attendance and analytical crunching of the numbers. R. Stephen Warner, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of Immanuel Lutheran, Evanston, Illinois, analyzes the sociological surveys and analyses. He notes the tendency of people to self-report that they attend worship weekly when, in fact, they aren’t in church every week. But he also sees something positive about this in terms of people’s self-perception: they think they are at worship every week because they believe they should be.
He suggests that the inability of people to recognize that they are attending less frequently is colored by their belief that the goal of every Sunday attendance is and should remain the norm. I suppose he is right. It is not that they have given up the idea that they should be there weekly but that they fail to see how often they fail to meet this self-appointed expectation (as well as the expectation of the Church and the Lord).
I wonder why this is? We have had members afflicted with some sort of memory disorder that often comes with age and they, too, think they have been in Church when they have not been there. Is this a failure of memory or is it a failure to realize how easy our crowded schedules push off worship in favor of other urgencies? I wish I knew.
If we could succeed in getting those who think they are attending weekly to actually attend that often, our attendance numbers might improve 15-20%. This is the fallacy of basing all estimations of church health simply on the numbers. You have to unpack those numbers. There is both some comfort in the bad news as well as enough bad news to keep us preoccupied for some time.
This phenomenon is also at work in the Sunday school attendance numbers -- those complicated by the number of single parents or children of divorced parents where custody or visitation issues often are moved to the weekend.
It was interesting to hear what four congregations found were the reasons why people were not more regular in their attendance. The most cited regular weekend commitment was “home chores” with 34% of the respondents listing such tasks as shopping, gardening, laundry, cleaning, home maintenance projects, and cooking meals for the rest of the week. Family and children responsibilities came in second at 21%. One respondent took the time to list each child’s weekend commitments: first child — music lessons, chores, swim team, youth group, homework; second child — sports, scouts, youth group, school activities; third child — dance, tumbling, swim team, soccer, Sunday school, sleepovers. An added note on the side underscored the frenetic amount of activity involved — “All Current!” 15% of respondents noted work obligations are a regular part of weekend commitments. Recreation (15%) and exercise (11%) also are routinized for a significant portion of survey participants.
What is YOUR experience?