Why Pastors Should Keep Track of Weekend Worship Attendances

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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.

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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.

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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.


Happy counting!  

I Hate This Part of the Service

I Hate This Part Of the Service:  How to Improve Your Offering Introductions

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Pastor Bob smiled awkwardly at his people.  “All right, folk! It’s time for the offering. So, let’s all give the kind of money that folds instead of jingles.”

Polite smiles appeared across the congregation at Pastor Bob’s slight attempt at humor. Mistaking their facial expressions for complete agreement, he continued. “While our ushers are preparing to collect, let’s pray.”

While Pastor Bob is praying, thanking God for “both the gift and the giver,” inwardly he was thinking, “I hate this part of the service.”

Pastor Bob may not aware that many of his congregation members also cringe at his offering humor and wonder why they should give after his lame appeal for funds. And while he’s inwardly praying for God to multiple the meager giving of those in the seats, his people are ironically thinking, “I hate this part of the service.”

Every weekend, pastors around the world ask their people to give to the Lord through their church. Often, those times are awkward for everyone involved. The pastor comes across, to both the congregation and himself, as a slick car salesman instead of a holy man of God. As a result, the people fumble with their phones as he fumbles with his words.

But what if it could be different? What if the offering introduction could become an engaging, vision-casting, worshipful part of the service?  offering-plate

Realistically, in many (if not most) churches, the offering introduction is terrible. And there’s a simple explanation. In churches around the planet, pastors and worship leaders spend hours and hours preparing their sermons, worship music and illustrations. Those same well meaning leaders spend minutes and minutes (if not seconds and seconds) preparing their offering introduction. Honestly, most leaders who introduce the offering simply wing it with no preparation at all.

That’s why it’s so terrible.

Three years ago, the pastors on staff where I serve set out to make it better. We decided to be more intentional about what we said before the offering. We decided to stop shooting from the hip.

Here are a few lessons we’ve learned:

  1. It works best if we script out the offering introduction from start to finish. In other words, we plan ahead for everything that is said.
  2. We attempt to tie some of the offering introductions to vision. We try to help people understand how people’s lives will be impacted because of their giving.
  3. We often turn the offering introduction into a story. Whether it’s personal or biblical, it often helps to present it in story form, which most often increases engagement.
  4. We often try to connect the offering introduction to a holiday or current event. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, the Superbowl, or the Sunday after a natural disaster, use what people are thinking about anyway.
  5. Sometimes, we use an object lesson for the offering introduction. Unique physical objects really capture people’s attention because they’re different.
  6. As often as possible, we try to illustrate the purpose of giving with video testimonies from missionaries helped supported financially by the church.
  7. Whenever possible, we frame the offering introduction with pictures. A picture really can be worth a thousand words. Sometimes, if presented well, they can also be worth thousands of dollars.

Here’s an example of a good offering introduction:

We’re about to collect our offering. While our ushers are preparing to collect, I’d like to show you a picture of wind farm. (Show picture on screen)

Wind farms like these now produce almost 3% of the world’s energy usage. Many of you may have seen farms like these in your travels.

Have you ever wondered how these windmills are able to capture the wind’s energy? Here’s a brief explanation: A wind turbine blade works like an airplane wing. When air passes around both sides of the uniquely shaped blade, the uneven pressure causes it to spin. Those blades are attached to a shaft, which turns about 18 revolutions per minute, which doesn’t seem like much at first. However, the shaft is connected to a series of gears, which increases the movement to about 1800 revolutions per minute. At that speed, a generator can produce a lot of electricity as long as the wind is consistent.

You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with the offering?” I’m glad you asked. Sometimes people think the small amount of money they give doesn’t matter. Like the large shaft that only turns 18 times a minute, they think their gift is not making much of a difference. Fortunately, God blesses the offerings given by individuals and allows the church to connect it with the gifts of others, multiplying it in various ways producing amazing results.

The secret is faithful and consistent giving.

Let’s pray.

Conclusion

This type of offering introduction won’t work in every context, but it will work perfectly in others. Some pastors love to write their own “giving talks” while others find them online. The secret is finding the style(s) that works best in your respective church and spending the necessary time perfecting it in both content and delivery.

If you have other suggestions about how to improve offering introductions, please share in the comments section.

So what about Pastor Bob?

Because it concerns money, some of his people may always feel uncomfortable during the offering (especially those who never give). But if he spends time developing his offering introduction, it’s possible that both Pastor Bob and his congregation may finally stop hating that part of the service.

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Stop the Worship! Let’s Pray…

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How to More Effectively Connect Musical Worship and Prayer

It may sound like a silly question, but have you ever found it distracting when someone stands up to pray in the middle of a worship song set?  I have.

Think about it.  Your morning’s already been a hassle, you’re walking into the church building much later than you intended, you get your kids situated for children’s ministry, and you finally find a seat in the worship center in the during the first song (at least you think it’s the first song).  It takes you a song or two to stop thinking about the pressures of your life, and then, just when you get into a spirit of worship, some staff member comes out, stops everything, and says “Let’s pray.”

Someone’s probably asking right now, “What’s the problem?  Isn’t prayer a part of worship?”

Absolutely.

Too often the worship music and prayer are totally disconnected from one another.  As church leaders, pastors, worship leaders, and pray-ers, we must take time to connect the musical worship and the prayer taking place within the worship set without destroying to the flow of worship.

To take it further, both singing and prayer are worship.  Both can lead us to the throne of God.  Both allow us to exalt and petition the Lord.  Both are important.  That being said, how much better would the entire time of corporate worship be if they didn’t function independently of one another.

That’s why worship leaders, pastors, and prayers need to take appropriate time making the spoken prayer during a worship set fit into the flow of the musical worship.  If this doesn’t happen, there is a disconnect between the two.

It’s like we’re screaming out, “Stop the Worship!  Let’s pray.”  

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I don’t want that to happen in the worship services where I’m leading, producing, or participating.

Do you?

So what are some ways we can more effectively transition from worship music into prayer?

  1.  Micro-Testimony – Before the prayer leader prays, making a 30 second connection between the theme of the song or the service and the prayer can be most helpful.  This allows the prayer person to seamlessly personalize the worship, connect or reconnect disengaged people to what is happening while adding purpose to the prayer.

Here’s an example sent to me by a friend of mine:

“I had a tough week emotionally.  However, God reminded me through my Bible reading this morning that “His grace is sufficient for me.”  You see, not only does God’s Word sustain us, but it proves that He knows exactly where we are and what we are feeling.  Let’s pray.”

  1.  Scripture – Before the actual prayer, quoting or reading scripture that relates to both the musical worship and the prayer brings both connection and spiritual validity to both song and prayer.  We are blessed to have the Word of God.  We should use it, not only in our preaching, but in our prayer leading as well.

In Isaiah 55:11 (NLT), we read the following words of God:

It is the same with My Word.  I send it out, and it always produces fruit.  It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

If sharing God’s Word always produces fruit and will accomplish all God wants it to in a given moment, it only makes sense to use it wisely in times of corporate worship.

A great scripture to use before praying in worship is Psalm 97:1-6 (seen below in the NLT), especially if you’re focusing on the greatness or holiness of the Lord.

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.  Clouds and thick darkness surround Him;  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.  Fire goes before Him and consumes His foes on every side.  His lightning lights up the world;  the earth sees and trembles.  The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.  The heavens proclaim His righteousness and all peoples will see His glory!

  1.  Praying within a song.  To some worshipers, it may sometimes seem as if prayer breaks up the flow of worship because it always takes place between two songs.  If this is where the prayer always takes place within the worship set, the prayer person and worship leader should work together to find the perfect place within a worship song where the prayer can happen with the instrumental music playing in the background.  Then, following the prayer, the worship leader can move right back into the worship song seamlessly.  Even though this takes more coordination, it can certainly be worth the effort.
  2.  Music intensity.  The musical worship leader and prayer person should coordinate with each other to ensure that the music flows with the prayer.  If the prayer person builds in volume and intensity, the music should build in volume and intensity to create a dynamic, electric atmosphere.  If the prayer becomes more reflective and intimate, the music should diminish in volume and intensity to create a more intimate setting.  The more this becomes the practice with the prayer person, the worship leader and the worship team, the more the worship team will be able to follow the prayer person naturally if the Holy Spirit leads them in different ways during the prayer.

So what’s the secret?

  1.  Preparation.

The person praying must prepare ahead of time.  Preparing to pray something meaningful for 30-90 seconds usually takes longer than most people are willing to spend.  An unprepared prayer spoken on the fly can ruin hours of preparation from the worship and technology teams.  However, a well planned prayer creates a launching pad for a great God moment in our services.

The worship leader and team must be prepared for what is going to happen in the prayer time.  If the music and prayer emphasis doesn’t work together, everyone in the worship center can tell.  However, if the worship team knows what is going to happen, it can help build a spirit of anticipation throughout the worship center that is contagious.

Take the time to prepare your prayer and you will see results.

  1.  Prayer.  

It may seem silly to hear that you need to pray about how you are going to pray.  Isn’t prayer simply “talking with God?”

Yes, it is.  But praying during a worship set is also a powerful tool God has given us to lead people deeper into His presence.  He wants us to “dialogue” with Him about the best way to do this for a particular worship moment.

Besides, if a prayer is important enough to pray before tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people, isn’t it important enough to pray about?

In case anyone’s wondering, the answer is “yes.”

If you have further thoughts about how to more effectively connect musical worship and prayer, I’d love to hear your comments.  

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Nuestras rojas elefantes beben fresa leche

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I’ve been trying to learn Spanish for a few weeks now. Instead of paying for the Rosetta Stone materials, which I understand is extremely helpful; I opted for the free language-learning app called Duolingo. On this app, a happy owl leads you through lessons titled basics, phrases, food, plurals, animals, possessives, etc… and allows you to learn in a game like setting on your phone, varying the questions to keep it interesting.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned while trying to learn Spanish with the Duolingo app:

  1. Yo is more than a statement yelled out by Rocky.
  2. It’s surprising to me that almost anything can drink milk (bebe leche).
  3. Yo no hablo espanol
  4. Very rarely does an English word translate into a Spanish word by adding the letter o to the end.
  5. This would have been a lot easier 20 years ago.

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However, through the tenacity of the owl, I’ve made it to level 5 on Duolingo. If any of you have any tips on the Duolingo app or in learning Spanish altogether, please share.

Adios. Nuestras rojas elefantes beben fresa leche. Lo siento.

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The more I drink, the more I drink…

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There’s a Blake Shelton country song with the line: The more I drink, the more I drink. I know Blake is singing about alcoholic beverages and that’s never really been a problem for me. But my problem comes in a much tamer form of poison, soda, or more specifically Coca-Cola.

I’ve officially been “off” of soda for 3 days.

I wish I could say that it’s been easy to walk away from them, because that would be a terrible, bald-faced lie.

The truth is, I think about drinking a Coke at least 3 or 4 times an hour, especially if I’m out and about, stopping to get gas or at a fast food joint.

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Someone told me the other day that I should just start drinking coffee and I would have no problem at all. The problem with me doing that is that switching to coffee would mean that I would have to drink it. Ugh. Don’t get me wrong, I love the smell of coffee in the morning, but once I put it to my mouth, I want to gag. Diet soda, even Coke Zero repulses me as well. I like tea, but only Texas/Arkansas sweet tea, which is way too much sugar for me.

The only alternative I could see was to drop caffeine altogether, so that’s what I did.

The headaches and shaking are gone, but it still feels like something’s missing. I suppose the next few days will tell.

We shall see.

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