What's in this session?

  • Current attendance trends (1:04)
  • Reason #1: Millennial drop off (2:01)
  • Reason #2: Affluence (2:38)
  • Reason #3: Communication shift (3:17)
  • Weight loss analogy (4:18)
  • Determine WHY we do church (6:52)
  • Next steps (8:05)

Show notes and resources

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The Transcript

Brady Shearer: Hey, we just launched a free, brand new resource for churches called The Nucleus Playbook. You can find it at playbook.church, and within The Nucleus Playbook, you’re gonna find a number of different step-by-step strategies for increasing next steps at your church. We think that next steps are the absolute best way to measure and improve church growth and church health, and so within The Nucleus Playbook, you’ll find plays like the new visitor freebie follow-up or the two part church announcements formula or the instant prayer request system and a ton of others, all geared to improving and increasing next steps at your church.

Again, it’s 100% free. We poured more than 200 hours into this resource. You can access it by going to www.playbook.church.

Alex Mills: Well hey there and welcome to Pro Church Daily, the show where in 10 minutes or less, you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years. I’m your host, Alex Mills, joined as always by the boss man, it’s Brady Shearer. And today we’re talking about the new rules for measuring church growth.

Brady Shearer: On episode 132 of Pro Church Daily, Alex, we shared nine sobering church attendance statistics and they painted a pretty grim picture of church attendance. And just to recap a couple of those statistics, one of those that really stood out to me, only two in ten millennials believe church attendance is important, and the biggest macro trend: If current trends continue, the percentage of the population in America that attends church in 2050 is estimated to be almost half of attendance in the 1990s, a drop from 20.4% to 11.7%. And that’s in America, where church attendance is the highest in the world, if not one of the highest. If you are in the UK, in Canada like we are, in Australia, those numbers are almost certainly lower.

Alex Mills: So what’s going on here? Why aren’t people going to church the way they used to?

Brady Shearer: Three reasons I think why church attendance is not the way that it used to be: Reason number one, that millennials statistic. Here’s another one: 59% of millennials who grew up in the church have dropped out at some point. This is from Barna. So two out of three millennials who were in church at some point are no longer in church.

Well, why do we care about young people? Well, just statistically, millennials are the largest group in the workforce; very soon, they’re going to be the largest generation in existence, and so the fact that so many have either left church or just simply don’t care about church whatsoever, that’s a huge contributing factor to statistics of church attendance going down as a whole.

But it’s just one thing. Another thing, this is reason number two, and a lot of these … And reason number two come directly from Carey Nieuwhof’s post on 10 Reasons Why Even Committed Church Attenders Are Attending Less. Go read that, we’ll have it linked in the show notes, plenty of good things. Some items that he mentions that stood out to me: Higher focus on kids’ activities; you know, they’ve got soccer on the weekend, and it’s okay if we miss church. Affluence, you know, the middle class is rising, more disposable income, and that also leads to more travel. We all see that thing, we’re in the summer right now, that summer dip where everyone’s away because we’re traveling. And then travel’s even happening now beyond summer, in the middle of the winter. We’re just more affluent, we’re able to travel more, more value is placed on travel. Church attendance is changing.

And then the final reason, hey, we’re living through the biggest communication shift in 500 years. People are watching church online. People’s lifestyles have changed completely thanks to the Internet, and thanks to Netflix, and Facebook, and social, and an entirely new world that we live in; all contributing factors to lower church attendance.

Alex Mills: So what’s the bottom line?

Brady Shearer: The bottom line is this: The way that I see it, attendance is not the most valuable metric that we have for tracking church health and church growth.

So if you’re watching this and you’re a pastor, a church, or a church leader that has been or is currently using attendance as that main metric … You talk about, “Hey, how’s your church doing?” and the first thing that comes to mind is, “Well, in the last year, we’ve gone from 150 to 200,” or if just internally you are obsessed every week, are we up, are we down, month by month, are we up or are we down, what I want to suggest to you is that this is not the best metric to track church health and church growth.

Here’s an analogy that I like to use. Let’s use a weight loss analogy, because church attendance to me is the type of metric that can be very vain, very deceiving, and very fluid in just up and down, up and down, and it’s just not a good indicator of the things that we’re trying to track, just like the number on the scale. You talk to most people and time or another someone will say, “Man, I’m just ready to lose weight. I think I really would like to lose some weight.” The thing is, that person doesn’t actually want to lose weight; what they want to do is lose fat. And that number on the scale, let’s say you’re starting at 150 pounds and then you get to 125, that is not necessarily indicative very much, very … It’s just not a good tracker of the progress that you’ve made or not made.

So for instance, you know, last year I did three months on keto, and the first week of keto, where you eat no carbs and all fat and all protein, I lost like seven pounds on the scale. Did I lose seven pounds of fat?

Alex Mills: No, of course not.

Brady Shearer: No. I lost, at most, one pound of fat and the other six pounds was just glycogen water weight stored in my muscles. Losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re eating better; losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re losing fat. It is not an indicator, not the best indicator anyway, of overall health.

And similarly, church attendance, like the scale every single day, up and down, can go up and down each week. And if all you’re doing is chasing church attendance, well there are plenty of things that we can do to boost church attendance that may not be actually health or helpful in the long term when it comes to our church’s vision and mission.

Alex Mills: Right, and so similar to the number on the scale, if your goal is butts in seats, then yeah, declining church attendance is concerning because that’s your goal. But if your goal is healthy, spiritual people who are taking next steps, that number can fluctuate down or even up and that’s not an accurate representation of how health the people are; that’s just how many people are in one room at one time. But I think there’s a better way to track the health of your church and the growth of your people than just counting how many people are in a building at the same time.

Brady Shearer: And here, it’s loud and clear here: We’re not saying that church attendance should not be tracked, and we’re not saying it’s not a metric that can be helpful.

Alex Mills: It’s a valuable one.

Brady Shearer: It’s not the metric. And we have, for too long, put it as the pinnacle, the be all and end all, of all church health and church growth metric and tracking.

So to find the best metric … Because of course that’s the question; you might be wondering okay, if not church attendance, then what? To get to that metric that we think is the most important for church health and growth, we first have to determine why we do church. What is the goal, what are we trying to accomplish, are we trying to get as many people in the building where we meet on Sunday morning for one hour? Is that the most important thing? Well of course we would say no, and yet I think our actions would demonstrate otherwise; we do think that that’s the most important thing.

Here’s the bottom line: Every church mission statement can be summed up by the great commission and the greatest commandments; the words of Jesus. And we may say it, we may phrase it differently, but at its core, every one of our churches is trying to accomplish three things: We want to help people love God, love others, and make disciples. And what I really want you to notice if you’re listening or watching this video podcast right now is that each of those stanzas, each of those phrases, begins with a verb. Love God, love others, make disciples; love, love, and make. And to go back to English class, third grade when I was taught this, a verb is an action word. You cannot love God passively, you can’t love others passively, you can’t make disciples passively. Each of these things requires action.

And so the point I’m trying to make is that I think the biggest indicator, the most helpful metric to tracking church growth and health, is next steps happening within your church. Because I don’t know about you, Alex, pastor at a church, I don’t want a church full of passive spectators, consumers sitting through a message and then leaving. I want a church full of active participants, churches taking next steps, filling out message notes, signing up for small groups, registering to be baptized, serving as volunteers on the weekend, submitting prayer requests, praying for others, giving, setting up recurring giving, attending church. That’s one next step; one of many.

Next steps point directly to growth of people already in your church and growth of people adding and joining your church. Are people submitting connect cards, are they being followed up with, are they attending a second time, are there first time visitors? Attendance is a part of it, but it’s just one small part in the overall whole of tracking next steps.

Alex Mills: That is so good. I think we should probably talk about this a little more.

Brady Shearer: That’s right. We’re gonna talk more about next steps and more about this being the best indicator for overall church growth and health in episode number 145, the next episode of Pro Church Daily.

The biggest takeaway from this episode of Pro Church Daily is this: Attendance is one metric, it’s not the metric. We’re gonna talk about more the metric in the next episode, but that’ll do it for this episode of Pro Church Daily. We’ll see you next time.



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