By Nate Berneking
The Missouri Conference has worked hard over the last several years to monitor and improve upon the attendance in our local churches. The number of people worshipping in a local congregation is a clear indicator of that congregation's health and vitality. Conference leadership asks pastors to make a concerted effort to increase those attending worship. More generally, our Conference values pastors who are always mindful of the fruit their ministries are bearing. Fruitfulness has been one of our key values for several years, especially as expressed in the number of lives touched by weekly worship.
Between 2003 and 2012, the Conference experienced five years of increases in average attendance and four years of decreases. With the final reports made in January, the Conference has added one more year of decreases. In 2013 the total of every congregation’s weekly worship attendance was down by approximately 1,400 as compared to 2012. In the last ten years, we now have an equal number of increases and decreases.
When examining our congregations more specifically, our data indicates that the Missouri Annual Conference remains stable. While all leaders would prefer robust growth, Missouri remains much healthier when compared to many other conferences in the greater connection. While leaders are mindful of our denomination's downward trends, the decline in 2013 can be partially attributed to a difficult weather year. Because of heavy snow over a large part of the state, many of our churches experienced their lowest attendance on Palm Sunday. Not only does a very low number impact a church's average, but low attendance on a day that typically sees above average attendance can be especially detrimental to the average.
Conference leadership is also aware of the confusion and disparity that exists in how a pastor and congregation are to report and account for Sundays effected by inclement weather. For this reason, the Mission Council has begun to explore suggested guidelines to better facilitate the collection of data. That conversation is further exploring how we begin to account for new phenomena such as online listeners.
Conference leadership remains committed to fruitfulness, excellence and accountability as three of our “Five Expectations.” Many of our churches had significant increases in attendance despite a difficult weather year. Still more would have experienced decline regardless of the weather. For these reasons, congregations and pastors are always encouraged to explore ways that promote outreach and growth. Pastors should be mindful of several indicators that point to the health of the churches they serve. Some of those indicators would include not just the average worship attendance, but also a five week rolling average, the median (i.e. middle amount) represented in a year's attendance, weekly/monthly offerings, small group participation and the number of individuals participating in mission and service at any given time. Pastors should probably account for the number of weekly visitors and how contact is made with those visitors. And everyone could think of the number of people with whom they share their Christian identity and faith in a given week.
Missouri remains healthy and stable, yet God calls all of our churches and leaders to so much more. To explore how to better track your church's data, questions about end of year reports, conference data or other statistics do not hesitate to contact Rev. Nate Berneking at the conference office.