For a long time, clergy have taken credit when attendance rose and felt guilty when it fell. Most people assume that the best measure of a congregation’s spiritual vitality is the headcount at weekly worship. But some congregations have begun to think beyond that metric and focus more broadly about how their ministry transforms lives. As a result, they’re finding new ways to think about worship, vitality and effectiveness.
Everywhere I go, I hear complaints from congregational staff and lay leaders that their programs are not well attended. These leaders seek input about the kinds of programs members want. But then, too often, when programs are offered, attendance ranges between disappointing and none.
by Dan Hotchkiss
It’s harder to size up a congregation than it used to be. It’s still worth trying, though, because no one fact says more about a group of human beings than its size. A group of 20 people behaves differently from a group of 200, or 400, or 800. The question is: which number tells what size a congregation is?
by Dan Hotchkiss
A church or synagogue always is two congregations at the same time. One is the formal institution, governed under bylaws by elected officers and ministers and staff. This congregation has procedures, rules of order (whether Roberts or some new alternative), and stated decision-making methods. Each newcomer who joins has the full rights and privileges of membership. If you want to know how this congregation runs, you read its bylaws, policies, and job descriptions.
The other congregation is more like a family. Its leaders are selected for charisma and respect, and remain indefinitely in office. Decisions are made informally, according to unwritten rules. Newcomers are accepted slowly, and until they are accepted have little or no voice in the deliberations of the group, even if they hold high office. Some things are “done” and others are “not done,” and there is no introductory brochure to clue the stranger into the folkways of the tribe. read more
by Sarai Schnucker Rice
Congregational life has very few reliable metrics, and when we think we’ve found one, we all seize upon it, grateful for some measure of certainty in an otherwise murky world.
For example, it seems as if we’ve been talking forever about family, pastor, and program. Even without any additional information, you’ve probably already recognized that these are categories of congregational size based on worship attendance. Family-sized congregations see an average of 1-50 in church, pastor-sized congregations see 50-150, and program-sized congregations see 150-250. Family-sized congregations are usually gathered around a matriarch, pastor-sized congregations around a pastor, and program-sized around a pastor plus a few very part-time staff plus a host of volunteers, all of whom are usually exhausted.