It is not uncommon for pastors to be distressed over a discussion that suggests worship attendance is the key reflector of church health (see my post of April 17, 2012). They may respond with something like: “We are not an old-fashioned 'attractional' church, and don't define success on how many people come to us. We are a 'missional' church, and define our success on how many people we go to.”
While there is certainly nothing wrong with going to people in the community, it is often a smoke screen to create a dichotomy between “attractional” and “missional,” and this contrived dichotomy is typically raised by those in churches that are not growing. Pastors of growing churches know quite well that a church can be missional as defined by its focus, and attractive as shown by its growth.
Worship attendance is the heartbeat of a healthy church. Like a human body, there are indicators of health other than a heartbeat. But in the absence of this critical measure, the others are rather meaningless. I believe that most churches in America have the potential to grow by at least 4% per year in worship attendance. A church of 100 would need a net of only five worshippers each year for five years to average a 4% annual growth rate! If a church of 100 worshipers added just 10 new disciples per year for ten years, it would average 7% growth per year.
Congregations that wish to be healthy should “check their pulse” at least once a year. Here is how to get started. First, look thorough your church's records and calculate the average weekly worship attendance for each of the last ten years. Once you have the yearly averages, calculate the average percentage of growth or decline from the first year to the second year, the second year to the third year, and so on. [Note that yourcalculation may result in a negative number.]
Next, plot your ten yearly averages on a piece of graph paper or design a graph from your computer's spreadsheet program. Add the annual growth rates for each of the ten years together and then divide by ten to get an average annual growth rate for that decade.
Once you have determined your average annual growth rate for the last ten years, think deeply about what the information is telling you about the health of your church. What are your thoughts on this situation? What do you think God's thoughts are?
Developing a 10-year chart for your church gives a helpful perspective on your situation. It will stimulate a productive conversation among your church leaders about where you are, where you have come, and where you are going. Keep this chart current from one year to the next. In so doing you will be better able to track your pulse rate and monitor the results of your intervention strategy.