Friday, June 8, 2012

I think I should be even if I do not realize I'm not...

You do not have to be rocket scientist to know that the attendance declines are less the result of fewer people attending than they are people attending less frequently.  We have certainly noticed this in the parish I serve and on several Pastor forums it is a common complaint.  Once about 2 of every 3 people in the pews on Sunday morning were there every Sunday -- come hell or high water.  Now about 4 of 10 are there every Sunday and 2 of 10 are there occasionally.  (The balance are made up of new folks there for the first time or two and the folks who show up one in the blue moon -- say ever 6-8 weeks without being able to predict their schedule).

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?


Kurt Onken said...

Exactly the same here. Our numbers have actually been fairly steady over the last few years, but with the number of new members we have received, our attendance should actually be considerably higher.

Anonymous said...

The study says, "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."

I wonder, people REALLY believe that they should be in church every Sunday, or are they afraid of what others might think if they were to admit, publicly, that going to church isn't more important to them than, say, getting their gardening done?

Anonymous said...

Less frequent communion on Sunday is a reason that I would not attend as often.

Pastor K.C. Dehning said...

This is something I share with my Elders and the "Doom & Gloom" members. In the past year (2011), our average worship attendance was 86. This includes visitors, and we have visitors every week. The number of members who attended at least once and "signed the attendance pad" in 2011 was 168. And the number of members who attended at least 5 times and "signed in" was 129. Additionally, the number of our members that are a part of families with children high school age or younger is 86 (which equals our average attendance). We don't have a congregation that is dying. We have a congregation made up of members who do not attend often.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, fewer people had to work on Sunday.

Also, no one calls them when they don't come, so they don't have to think about what they are doing. If someone gets a call like, "Hi Tom, I was going to tell you "XYZ" yesterday at church, but you weren't there." Then Tom has to think about the fact that he missed at least hearing something from his friend even if he doesn't hold the thought long enough to consider what he really missed. Also, Tom may say why he wasn't there and that also makes him think.

Memory Disorder Clinic said...

Memory loss may be due to many conditions such as small strokes in the brain, diabetes, high blood pressure, nutritional deficiencies, reactions to medications and alcoholism. Even depression can cause symptoms similar to dementia. For much complete details you can visit my site below.

Memory Disorder Clinic