(This article is cross-posted with permission from our colleagues at the Center for Church Renewal)
NEW DATA FOR RENEWAL CHURCHES by Pastor Bill Whitt
Doctors take measurements over time to gauge your health. Tracking blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels makes it easier to spot problems before they become severe.
Churches can also benefit from collecting and analyzing more debtobjective data over time. Is attendance up or down? How many people are coming to faith for the first time? What percentage of people are active in groups? How many people regularly give financially?
Each quarter, Tony Morgan and The Unstuck Group release a report filled with this kind of data. Here are a few of the most important pieces of data from the most recent report, along with my analysis of why it is relevant to our work in church renewal.
FIVE DATA POINTS FROM THE UNSTUCK CHURCH REPORT
Data Point 1: CHURCH ATTENDANCE IS UP 22% OVER THIS TIME LAST YEAR
In Context: We would expect that attendance would be up from 12 months ago, when many areas of the country were still struggling with Covid. Comparing this year to last year has only limited usefulness (similar to comparing a Sunday with warm weather to a Sunday during a blizzard -- of course you will see dramatic increase in attendance!).
Going Deeper: The more interesting statistic is that about 80% of churches reported attendance growth. That means roughly 20% of churches have seen even more decline since the worst of Covid. There are a number of churches that are still struggling to right the ship.
Data Point 2: ONLINE SERVICE VIEWS ARE DOWN 11%
In Context: As people began attending physical worship gatherings again, they stopped watching the livestream. For this reason, the inverse correlation makes sense. However, current members are not the only ones watching the livestream. Potential first-time guests are also a key audience.
Going Deeper: The new front door to the church is your online presence, especially your livestream. Investments there will pay huge dividends. The survey confirmed this theory, showing that growing churches had a higher percentage of people engaging with online services (2 views for every 5 people attending physical gatherings, on average).
Data Point 3: DECISIONS TO FOLLOW JESUS ARE UP 9%
In Context: Among their survey group, churches averaged 13.8 decisions to follow Jesus per 100 attendees within the last year. Even though we seem to be entering largely post-Christian environment, it is encouraging to see that Christians are still taking the Great Commission seriously and that people are still open to the Gospel.
Going Deeper: Declining churches reported fewer people making decisions to follow Jesus or getting baptized. This will be one of the most important areas to address in church revitalization efforts.
Data Point 4: GROUP ENGAGEMENT AND VOLUNTEERISM HAS DECLINED
In Context: About 51% of people in the churches surveyed participated in a group, which is down from 55% last year. Similarly, only 36% of people are serving now, which is down from pre-pandemic levels of almost 50%.
Going Deeper: Finding a way to get people connected and serving is more important than ever, but it is also more difficult than ever. The survey showed that growing churches have 30% more volunteer leaders and have more people connected to groups. Engagement level is one of the most important metrics you can track and work to improve.
Data Point 5: ANNUAL GENERAL FUND GIVING IS UP
In Context: Giving was up 5.4% over last year among churches surveyed. Cash reserves are high (five months on average), and debt load is low (0.8 x total annual giving).
Going Deeper: It is good to have low debt and high cash reserves. However, did you know that growing churches tend to have more debt, on average, than declining churches? Taking on debt is clearly not what causes growth, but having a larger vision that requires investment for the future does correlate with growth. By contrast, plateaued and declining churches often amass and protect resources rather than deploy them.
These are just a few of many interesting data points in the report, which you can find at theunstuckgroup.com. If nothing else, this report proves we are not alone, and we are all experiencing the same ups and downs of ministry!
What did you find most interesting or helpful in the report? Does it reflect the reality you are experiencing?