Here is some musing about some congregational dynamics I've seen this year. For those of you who dig this kind of stuff, I welcome your feedback. For those of you who don't, you can probably skip this post altogether - but give it a chance because I really do want to hear from people to get responses and reactions!
So far in 2010, there have been 65 new members of Campbell United Methodist Church. 26 of those have been profession of faith, meaning people who were not members of a church anywhere and so were not simply transferring their membership from one congregation to another. 13 of those 26 were in this year's confirmation class.
I am so happy to be able to share that. To me that says that 65 people felt a deep enough connection with God at Campbell UMC to want to become a part of this phenomenal community. To me it says that 26 people who had no spiritual home found one. (And when you think that some of those who transferred membership may not have been active in the congregation in which they were members, that's an even higher number.)
At the same time, this year's average worship attendance is probably going to end up being 25-30 or so lower than last year's, barring an unprecedented December turnout. Our average attendance was 535 per week last year, and may end up being somewhere just above 500 this year.
I've been puzzling over these numbers for days. I try not to focus exclusively on head counts when discerning congregational health, but this time they have kind of caught my attention, and I'm wondering what, if anything, they reveal about the congregation.
A big number of new members, a big number of people who made profession of faith, mixed with a lower average worship attendance - what does it indicate?
1) People are joining but then not coming to worship.
2) The number of people who stopped coming to worship this year is approximately 90, accounting for 60ish new folks plus 30ish lower average attendance.
There may be a few people for whom the first option is descriptive, but not very many. So in general, number one is not the case, which means something like option two must be taking place. Then the question is "Why."
People who have moved away or died this year account for some of those 90. I don't know exactly how many that is, but it is not 90. (In fact I just sent an email to our Membership Coordinator asking her for that number, so I'll know soon!) Accounting for those people, that still leaves a significant group who have simply stopped coming to worship.
Here are my thoughts so far...
Melissa and I have been serving as the pastors here for two and a half years now. Average worship attendance was 510 in 2008, then 535 in 2009. Is it as simple as "The honeymoon is over?" There is no longer any buzz about "the new pastors," which has led to the disappearance of 90ish people from worship?
We have been consistently preaching the need to be outwardly focused this year, affirming repeatedly that being the church is about more than just caring for our own needs and wants. We have been exhorting people to give, reach out, serve, take risks, be disciples. Could it be that this message has "turned off" a group of people who would rather not disrupt their own comfort levels? Or maybe have we couched this message in too harsh a tone, such that it came across as scolding rather than encouragement?
This year, we have decided that we can no longer be financially faithful if we carry a huge debt and an impending facility burden, so we launched a major capital campaign called "Imagine" to address these issues. Are people exhausted by the thought of the effort it will take to get back on top of our financial situation and would just rather not deal with it?
We have tried to affirm a distinctly Methodist identity, partly by nurturing our connectional relationships, including increasing the priority of our apportionment. Is the United Methodist apportionment too deeply misunderstood, so that this emphasis has been resented? Is it just hard to really be truly Methodist in the religious ethos created by the presence of the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, and the heavy influence of the Southern Baptist church in this area?
There are a number of gigantic churches in Springfield that put on excellent worship services that look a lot like performances of professional rock bands with a full compliment of technical gadgets and gimmicks and draw huge numbers of people every single week. We don't do that at Campbell. We have intentionally tried to emphasize that worship is not a performance for an audience, but a participatory encounter with God. Is it because we don't advertise "face melting lasers" in our worship services that people have stopped coming?
I don't know about any of these possibilities; they represent a few areas of pondering that have been rattling around in my head as I've thought about these numbers. They are just honest speculations about possibilities with no clarity or direction. I don't know if a clear answer will ever fully emerge, either. It may just be what it is.
If you are a part of Campbell, I would love to hear your feedback to these numbers, and your thoughts about why.
If you are not a part of Campbell, I would love to hear if this experience resonates with your own in any way.
Thanks for helping me think through this stuff!