Why Your Church Is Larger Than You Realize (And Pastors Are Busier Than Ever)

How big is your church?

It’s a common question. The top metric of success in a church is worship attendance. Maybe it shouldn’t be. But average weekly worship attendance is the most common and most touted church health metric. This figure includes children, assumes each person is counted only once, and includes all worship services during the week but excludes traditional Wednesday night and Sunday night activities.

Your church is likely much larger than your worship attendance average.

Let’s use the example of 400 people. If you average 400 in attendance, your church is larger, potentially much larger. To understand the actual size of your church, you must consider membership and attendance frequency along with the average weekly attendance.

Membership. For some churches, membership is defined as who is on the church roll. I’ve worked with churches that had 2,000 on the roll and only a couple hundred in average attendance. For other churches, membership is those who have committed to meaningful participation in the body. And some churches even push back on the term “membership,” but most keep a database of people associated with the church. Unfortunately, in many churches, membership figures are inflated, inaccurate, and less meaningful.

Attendance Frequency. This figure measures how often a person comes to church. For example, an “active” member was once considered someone who came twice, or even three times a week. Today an active member is considered someone who comes twice a month.

How big is my church? Your congregation is most likely smaller than your membership roll or database. Most church leaders cite average weekly attendance as the metric of size. And your church is likely to be larger than your average weekly attendance. When you reply to the person asking, “What ya runnin’ these days?,” your church is actually larger than your answer, unless everyone in your church is there every week.

Consider the church of 400 in average weekly attendance. Let’s assume this church is relatively healthy, and people—on average—attend three out of four weeks. This church actually has 533 active people. Below is a simple way to do the math.

(400 * 4/3) = 533

If your church is less healthy, and people—on average—attend two out of four weeks, then a church of 400 is even larger in total size:

(400 * 4/2) = 800

The point of this exercise is to understand how many people church leaders are shepherding. Church leaders are accountable to God for knowing (and guiding) those under their leadership. Additionally, church leaders should attempt to understand how frequently people are attending. In many cases, people don’t suddenly leave a church. They fade. A person who once attended four out of five weeks, but is now attending two out of five weeks, is in the process of fading from the church.

Ministry is busier than ever.

Your church’s demands are more than your weekend worship attendance reflects. Most church leaders feel this reality even as they look around on Sunday mornings and see fewer people. So what’s going on? Why is ministry busier than ever?

Attendance numbers are not a good gauge of church size like in the past. The ratio of church attendance to actual church size has changed because people are not coming as frequently to worship services. Historically, active church members attended three times a week—Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. Now, people are considered active if they attend every other week. Many others attend once a month. This change in attendance frequency means churches appear smaller today than they really are.

    • A church in the past: 400 people in worship meant a church size of about 500 to 600 people.
    • A church today: 400 people in worship means a church size of about 1,000 to 1,200 people.

This trend of decreasing attendance frequency means your long-time members are asking, “Where is everyone?” While at the same time, you’re feeling swamped with ministry. Fewer people in the seats does not mean less work for pastors and church leaders.

Fewer people attend worship, but there is more ministry to do. The people who come once every four or five weeks still consider you their pastor. They ask you to do counseling sessions and will text prayer requests. They call as much as the person who attends every week. Even though they attend less frequently, many of them still require the same amount of attention.

Posted on August 9, 2023

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
More from Sam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *