Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Why I Stopped Taking Church Attendance

Why I Stopped Taking Church Attendance

Numbers matter. Because people matter.

If we keep track of them correctly, the right numbers can give us a lot of helpful information about a church and its ministries.

For many years, I kept track of church attendance numbers very carefully. As the church grew, I calculated growth patterns, percentages, demographics, you name it. I found that counting wasn’t just important and helpful, it was fun. When we were growing.

Then we stopped growing.

Soon we started shrinking.

And we kept shrinking, no matter what we did to correct the downward slide.

Eventually we lost over half, maybe two-thirds of the congregation from its peak size. I don’t know the exact numbers, because I stopped counting. But we ended up smaller than when the growth spurt had started.

I felt guilty about the decline. And I felt guilty that I didn’t keep attendance records any more. But I just couldn’t take it.

When Knowing the Numbers Doesn’t Fix the Problems

I didn’t need attendance records to tell me what my eyes could see. 

I knew what some of the problems were, including demographic shifts, inadequate facilities and my own underdeveloped management system. So we worked to correct what we could. But many of the problems remained a mystery.

I know that keeping accurate records can help you see problems early and tweak issues before they get out of hand. Sometimes. But when the whole thing is going up in flames, knowing the precise temperature of the fire doesn’t help put it out. That was the case at our church. Getting more precise numbers wasn’t going to fix the obvious problems or identify the undiscovered ones.

So we stopped counting and did what we could to douse the fire before we lost everything.

And we didn’t start counting again for a long time after we corrected the slide and got things stabilized. By then, I was just grateful to be balanced and healthy. The numbers didn’t matter any more.

Have you ever been there? Maybe you and your church are there now?

Maybe you’ve lost some people. Maybe you’ve never had a growth spurt to lose. Either way, the numbers aren’t increasing the way you think they should. And they haven’t been for quite a while. So you’ve stopped counting. Or someone still counts, but you don’t look at the numbers. And you feel guilty about it.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.