It’s always worth celebrating when people show up for church, but you need to look at attendance booms alongside other key vital signs.
If you’ve followed my writing through the years, you know I’m a strong advocate of more people showing up for church when churches are committed to sharing the Good News and encouraging people to become fully-devoted followers of Jesus.
It’s always worth celebrating when people show up for church on Sunday and experience corporate worship and biblical teaching and the opportunity to take their next step toward Christ.
What I’ve learned, though, is that just because more people show up than last Sunday or last month doesn’t necessary mean a church is experiencing growth.
Those of you who have read my book The Unstuck Church know that I describe two phases of church growth that precede sustained health. Those two phases are momentum growth and strategic growth.
I’ll let you and your team either read the book or take the free Unstuck Church Assessment to learn more about the distinctions between those two phases. In either case, though, the health of the ministry and the number of people the church is reaching is on the increase. The momentum toward sustained health is real.
Real vs. False Momentum
Real momentum is different than the false momentum I see some church leaders claiming.
There are at least four moments for churches where it would be common for more people to show up on Sunday:
After a crisis that impacts the community.
Just because more people show up in these moments doesn’t mean the church is experiencing real momentum.
In any of these moments, attendance increases, but, unless the church is doing something intentionally to reach people outside the faith and outside the church, the increase is commonly from people who were already connected to the church.
In other words, everyone just showed up at the same time and, therefore, attendance increased.
That’s why it’s so important to look back to previous years to the cycle of attendance fluctuations to know whether or not the church is actually experiencing real momentum and real growth.
Easter is the most obvious example. It’s false momentum if you have more people on Easter Sunday than any given Sunday in the previous month. It could be real momentum if you have more people than the previous one or more Easter Sundays.
And I say “could be” because one Sunday doesn’t make a trend. It’s a series of Sundays that are above the trend line that would indicate this isn’t a case of false momentum.
More than Just Attendance
While attendance is one data point that church leaders point to when they’re claiming health and momentum, that’s not the only one.
Sometimes church leaders will explain away attendance declines by talking about the increase in engagement. In other words, attendance is down but connections to serving are up. People participating in small groups are up. Giving is up.
Again, these can all be positive signs, but they can also be indications of false momentum.
If engagement is up, but the church is seeing fewer first-time guests, lower attendance and lower numbers of salvations and baptisms then the church could be experiencing false momentum. In that scenario, Christians are becoming…well…more like Jesus. Again, that’s a good thing because people are taking their next steps toward Christ. However, it’s not a good thing when we aren’t making new disciples.
The lack of new disciples is a sign that the church is not healthy and whatever momentum the ministry team may be feeling is actually false momentum.The lack of new disciples is a sign that the church is not healthy and whatever momentum the ministry team may be feeling is actually false momentum. Click To Tweet
That’s why it’s so important for churches to monitor a combination of key metrics to determine whether or not the church is actually healthy and, with that, experiencing healthy growth. That’s why we advocate for churches to determine their “vital signs” to monitor true health.