I recently had the opportunity to dialogue with a few pastors about the importance of tracking weekend worship service attendance numbers.
In our conversation, it seemed everyone agreed that weekend attendance:
- Is the most obvious measure of success.
- Is fairly easy to track.
- Is easily understood by most church leaders.
However, as we were moving on to the topic of excellence, one pastor, who may have been playing Devil’s advocate (not literally), asked the following question:
How can we justify counting people in our worship services when King David got into so much trouble with the Lord when he conducted a census?
He was referring to a story in 2 Samuel 24. The scripture indicates that the Lord was angry with Israel and caused the king to want to count the people of Israel and Judah. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21 actually reports that it was Satan who caused David to take a census. However it took place, it’s possible that David’s sin was not the counting, but pride associated with the numbers. Joab even tries to stop David from ordering the census by saying:
May the Lord your God let you live to see a hundred times as many people as there are now! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this? 2 Samuel 24:3 NLT
After reading both accounts, it seems that King David might have been:
- Putting his trust in the numbers of his people rather than in the Lord.
- Taking his eyes off of the Lord when earthly success seemed evident to all.
- Stealing the glory of what the Lord had done for himself.
Whatever the reason, before the Lord’s punishment of David for the census was completed, a 3 day plague swept through Israel killing 70,000 people. (One could easily wonder how they knew the number of people who perished without enduring more punishment for counting). I’ve made lots of mistakes about lots of things in church work, but never anything that’s caused even one death (that I know of), much less 70,000.
So is it wrong to keep track of your worship service attendances?
Interestingly enough, until that pastor asked that question, I had never compared knowing the attendance in a worship service with King David taking a census of Israel. It could be because many of the churches I attended while growing up posted the weekend attendance in the worship center for everyone to see. Another reason may be because the Bible is filled with examples of people counting.
Here are a few examples:
- The total number of Jacob’s descendants moving to Egypt was 70 (Exodus 1:5).
- The Levites killed about 3,000 of the Israelite brothers after the incident with the golden calf (Exodus 32:28).
- On the day the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, about 40,000 were equipped for war and crossed to the plains of Jericho (Joshua 4:13).
- The 4th book of the Bible is titled Numbers.
- The Lord limited Gideon’s Army to 300 when he attacked the Midianite camp (Judges 7:1-8).
- Solomon accumulated 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen (1 Kings 10:26).
- Jesus broke bread and fed 5,000 men plus women and children (Mark 6:44) and then later fed about 4,000 men plus women and children (Mark 8:8).
- On the day of Pentecost, 3000 were added to the number of believers in one day (Acts 2:41).
How did Jacob know he had 70 family members with him when he moved to Egypt? You can bet with a family that large they stopped to count everyone before journeying forward each day.
How did Gideon know the Lord had left him with only 300 men to help in attacking the Midianite camp? Someone must have counted.
How did Jesus and the disciples know that there were 5,000 men present when Jesus broke the bread and fish? One of the disciples must have counted. They would want to know because that’s a whole lot of people to serve even if the food is being miraculously multiplied.
Still not convinced?
I asked my social media friends why it would be important to count worship service attendees each week. Here are a few answers I received.
– Counting your weekly attendance helps you celebrate what the Lord has done and also helps keep you accountable for pastoring the people with whom God has blessed you.
– You count your offering, right? Why wouldn’t you be as faithful with the people resources God has entrusted you with?
– Tracking and then studying the numbers can help you spot trends and know your congregation… It can also help you see decline before it is full-blown. Numbers in organizations are like numbers on a growth chart for a child in development. They’re indicators of what’s working and what isn’t.
– It can be used for message traction. One church I was in before learned that too much effort went into teaching series openers. There was a large (15%) spike in attendance for the first message compared to the others. It helped us re-tool how the series were put together.
– I’m responsible for the team setting up for communion each month and let me tell you, counting is important. Our church attendance kept rising, but no one ever told me so I didn’t buy enough supplies. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have to tell congregation members they can’t participate in the Lord’s Supper because you’ve run out of juice?
– Being able to look at trends and seeing low attendance periods helps church leadership know when they need to step up marketing, promotions, etc… It also helps to know that sometimes a slump is just prime vacation time.
While being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses to the benefits of tracking attendance, I must say that keeping track of worship service attendance numbers is not only beneficial, but is an absolute must for any pastor desiring to serve and lead in a thriving, healthy ministry.
All this being said, here are some practical steps to remember when keeping track of attendance:
1. Tell the truth. If all of your attendance numbers begin with the phrase Evangelistically speaking we had… something needs to change. Lying about your attendance is like cheating on your eye exam. You’re only hurting yourself.
2. Count in the second half of the service. It’s my experience that the number of people you have in the building at the beginning of your service is no indication of how will be there by the end of the service. (This is a different problem for a different article). For accuracy, have someone count in the second half of the sermon. People are normally seated during this time and they’re easier to count anyway.
3. Create an easily accessible graph for your own reference. Doing so will allow you to compare attendances quickly and efficiently.
4. Compare attendances from season to season, year to year, and finally Sunday to Sunday. Consider the why’s regarding your trends.
Willie Nelson once said When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. It’s uncertain if keeping track of your ongoing weekend church attendance will turn your whole life around. However, it is certain that those you are counting are God’s blessings for you to evangelize, disciple, and lead. Keeping accurate, ongoing attendance records will help you achieve these goals.