A decade and change ago, I found myself laboring away on a pair of fronts; leading a growing church seeking to find a new identity and vitality, and the looming challenge of a doctoral dissertation. Something had to live at the intersection of the two, if not for the sake of the ministry, at least for my sanity and need to multi-task.
I found that sweet spot in the oddest of places – The Gallup Organization. Yes, that Gallup. With trips to their office in D.C. and the headquarters in cold and windy Omaha, I began to ingest all the data I could from their research on church engagement. Little did I know that it would profoundly affect my philosophy of ministry and put us ahead of a coming curve in the way congregations measure and strategize for what passes for success.
By surveying hundreds of thousands of congregants in thousands of churches, a pattern seemed to emerge. Basically, the best way to do impactful ministry and grow the church was to help those present to become more “actively engaged.” That’s a worthy challenge given that on the average, only 26% of congregants fell into that category. Those who were “actively disengaged”, meaning either non-present or vocally unhappy, came in at 18%. That leaves a whopping 56% of congregants in the average church as simply “not engaged.” They are here, more or less, and not unhappy, but participation starts and essentially stops at church attendance. That’s playing the game with three-fourths of the team on the sidelines or worse. Sound familiar?
Not surprisingly, those who graded out as engaged had significantly higher levels of serving, inviting, giving, and overall life satisfaction. Simply put, attendance alone does not produce these Christian life essentials. Yet it has been the metric we have used, and continue to use to measure a pilgrim’s progress and congregational success.
I’ll be writing more about that in upcoming blogs. While we wait for those to take shape, gander at this post by Carey Neiuwhof on the relationship between attendance and engagement and its impact on the local church. Happy pondering and I look forward to seeing all of you Sunday. Oops! I mean I really do want you to be here. But read Brother Carey and begin to understand how making invitations that begin and often end there is a hard, but necessary habit to break.