View Poll Results: Are Sunday Morning attendance trend numbers critical

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Thread: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

  1. #1
    Senior Member Gary Creely's Avatar

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    The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    I have been more and more hearing from various pastors promoting an idea found in the book "Kingdom Matrix" called the myth of church growth. Basically Sunday morning attendance numbers are not an accurate assessment of Kingdom impact and are primarily only usefull for bragging rights between pastors. (major paraphrase, but that is the main idea).

    I know many pastors who stress about that SMA (Sunday attendance number), push themselves to burn out, or become prideful. Admittedly that number does not tell the entire story. At times, it causes pastors to lie about their numbers for fear of shame. SMA numbers are problematic.

    But................... It does tell us something, particularly over longer spans of time. If that SMA gets to zero there will be not organization in place to go out and do all the truly Kingdom impactful activities. Perhaps I am cynical in my view, but it just sounds to me like a diversionary tactic to suggest that the SMA is a meaningless or low value number.

    Secondly, and maybe more importantly regularly attending a corporate worship service is a discipleship milestone. I think in today’s culture it would be fair to say the goal posts of that milestone have moved further down the field, however it is still a significant milestone. When I hear a church talk about a huge sphere of influence while at the same time SMA is declining in rings hollow to me. I think it is important to note that I am talking about looking at the trends in the SMA number over many years, not obsessing over quarterly gyrations. Continued decline in SMA will ultimately result in having Zero Kingdom influence when that local parish closes.

    I don't put this out there to be a jerk or cause pastors heart burn, but because I believe this line of thinking to be dangerous to the kingdom it purports to value. It would seem it is particularly a dangerous line of thinking among leadership in a nationally declining denomination.


    Full disclosure- My DA assembly report showed no increase in SMA #s, I will be working at ways to address that because I believe it matters. I do not believe I or my church have failed in having Kingdom influence because of it.
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Greg Gates's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Creely View Post
    Full disclosure- My DA assembly report showed no increase in SMA #s, I will be working at ways to address that because I believe it matters. I do not believe I or my church have failed in having Kingdom influence because of it.
    There isn't as much work to do as you might expect. Mostly because there aren't that many pastors and or congregations that will do whatever it takes to make it happen. And if you try to work/help pastors and or congregations that aren't willing to do what it takes... (action, not lip service) you're wasting your time and theirs.

    As for the pastors - the opposition from the members is too heavy for most of them to deal with and not have a heart attack.

    As for the members - those that want to change, end up changing to a church (not Nazarene) with less complaining and threats about all the changes.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Greg Gates's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Creely View Post
    I don't put this out there to be a jerk or cause pastors heart burn, but because I believe this line of thinking to be dangerous to the kingdom it purports to value. It would seem it is particularly a dangerous line of thinking among leadership in a nationally declining denomination.
    I don't think the Sunday Morning Attendance number is an important number to monitor for many reasons.

    To me, there are at least 2 better numbers to monitor...
    1. number of small groups and number of new small groups.
    2. number of volunteers serving on a Sunday morning.

    If we are going to have to report a number, then at least make it a number than can be helpful in sending the church in the right direction.

    If a church registers a decreasing SMA, that tells you nothing. It could be a million things that aren't necessarily good or bad.
    But if a church registers a decreasing number of small groups and volunteers, it at least tells you something vital about what is going wrong. And vice versa.

    Which church is likely to register a gain in numbers after 5 years?
    Church A- counts the number of new small groups each year and number of people serving on a Sunday.
    Church B- counts the number of people attending on a Sunday morning.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Gary Creely's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Gates View Post
    Which church is likely to register a gain in numbers after 5 years?
    Church A- counts the number of new small groups each year and number of people serving on a Sunday.
    Church B- counts the number of people attending on a Sunday morning.
    I would suggest A would effect B. B could also affect A.

    Small groups among other things are a discipeling tool which will generally have a positive affect SMA. Sunday morning worship is a discipleship milestone and effective small groups will move people toward that milestone.
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  5. #5
    Naznet Owner Dave McClung's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Most church's ministry is limited by finances. Church income is directly related to Sunday Morning Worship Attendance. For that reason, Sunday Morning Worship Attendance is a very important statistic.

    Study any church you want. If Sunday Morning Worship Attendance drops, church income drops.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Creely View Post
    I have been more and more hearing from various pastors promoting an idea found in the book "Kingdom Matrix" called the myth of church growth. Basically Sunday morning attendance numbers are not an accurate assessment of Kingdom impact and are primarily only usefull for bragging rights between pastors. (major paraphrase, but that is the main idea).

    I know many pastors who stress about that SMA (Sunday attendance number), push themselves to burn out, or become prideful. Admittedly that number does not tell the entire story. At times, it causes pastors to lie about their numbers for fear of shame. SMA numbers are problematic.

    But................... It does tell us something, particularly over longer spans of time. If that SMA gets to zero there will be not organization in place to go out and do all the truly Kingdom impactful activities. Perhaps I am cynical in my view, but it just sounds to me like a diversionary tactic to suggest that the SMA is a meaningless or low value number.

    Secondly, and maybe more importantly regularly attending a corporate worship service is a discipleship milestone. I think in today’s culture it would be fair to say the goal posts of that milestone have moved further down the field, however it is still a significant milestone. When I hear a church talk about a huge sphere of influence while at the same time SMA is declining in rings hollow to me. I think it is important to note that I am talking about looking at the trends in the SMA number over many years, not obsessing over quarterly gyrations. Continued decline in SMA will ultimately result in having Zero Kingdom influence when that local parish closes.

    I don't put this out there to be a jerk or cause pastors heart burn, but because I believe this line of thinking to be dangerous to the kingdom it purports to value. It would seem it is particularly a dangerous line of thinking among leadership in a nationally declining denomination.


    Full disclosure- My DA assembly report showed no increase in SMA #s, I will be working at ways to address that because I believe it matters. I do not believe I or my church have failed in having Kingdom influence because of it.
    There is a lot going on here. Organizationally speaking, what gets measured tends to improve, but then many churches measure their SMA year after year and it does not improve, but gives evidence of a slow leak.

    Some therefore conclude that SMA is the wrong metric - a classic example of perceiving facts and then forming the wrong conclusion.

    Instead we should seek to measure internal engagement and external impact across multiple dimensions. SMA is one dimension but is certainly not the only one.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Thanks Craig Laughlin, Gina Stevenson, Jim Chabot, Susan Unger - "thanks" for this post

  7. #7
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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave McClung View Post
    Most church's ministry is limited by finances. Church income is directly related to Sunday Morning Worship Attendance. For that reason, Sunday Morning Worship Attendance is a very important statistic.

    Study any church you want. If Sunday Morning Worship Attendance drops, church income drops.
    Butts and bucks tend to go hand in hand.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Marsha Lynn's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kennedy View Post
    Butts and bucks tend to go hand in hand.
    Didn't it used to be nickels and noses? I guess inflation has set in.
    Only the power of the Holy Spirit can get truth past the obvious.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave McClung View Post
    Most church's ministry is limited by finances. Church income is directly related to Sunday Morning Worship Attendance. For that reason, Sunday Morning Worship Attendance is a very important statistic.

    Study any church you want. If Sunday Morning Worship Attendance drops, church income drops.
    There is a percentage of a congregation who treat church attendance like a concert or a baseball game. They pay when they attend. They don't pay if they don't attend. Therefore, as people in this group attend less frequently, overall giving goes down.

    Most congregations therefore seek to promote more regular attendance instead of seeking to unlink giving patterns from attendance - by way of engagement, not behavior modification.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis

  10. #10
    Senior Member Dale Schaeffer's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    The connection between attendance and giving is not linear. It used to be, but with the development of digital and recurring options we're finding that the covariance is becoming less obvious.

  11. #11
    Host Book, Movie & GA forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    I'd say regular participation with the life and ministry of the congregation is pretty critical, but we're moving into a time when that doesn't always look like a traditional worship service.

    So I'd say maybe if a congregation is built around a Sunday Morning worship service, then participation in that service is probably critical; I'm just not sure a congregation has to be built that way, nor does corporate worship have to look that way.
    ...just my $.02.
    Thanks Lucas Finch, Benjamin Hobbs - "thanks" for this post

  12. #12
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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Interesting thread! I have no profound words of wisdom for anyone as to what metric, if any, to use to assess the health of a church.

    But I've been pondering it along with pondering the purpose of church services. Some see the purpose as administering the sacraments. Some see it as a time to equip the saints. Others see it as a time of evangelism. I suppose the metric will vary depending on one's beliefs as to the purpose?

    I did just hear of a metric that sat me back on my heels so to speak. One of those that is going to keep me up nights evaluating my faithfulness to Jesus personally, and that of my local church corporately, as well as my denomination.

    Know those signs in worksites saying something like "110 days worked without injury. 60 days worked without accident?" What if right up front in your sanctuary there was a sign for each of us saying something like "Sarah: 110 days serving without leading anyone to saving faith in Jesus. Local Church: 1 1/2 decades without a profession of faith. Denomination: xyz% fewer conversion than in the year ABCD."

    Ouch. I'm an evangelical, so I would not be impressed by numbers of how many homeless sheltered (though we should be doing that) or meals served the elderly (though we should be doing that too) or diapers bought for single moms (that needs doing too) or all the other million things we should be doing both in obedience to Christ AND as ways to make the vital connection that can lead someone to come to know Jesus.

    Ouch. Just ouch. Ya'll have a nice day, but I'm going to chew on some metrics while I clean house and may have to clean house spiritually also
    Thanks Susan Unger, Gina Stevenson - "thanks" for this post

  13. #13
    Senior Member Marsha Lynn's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Scott View Post
    I'd say regular participation with the life and ministry of the congregation is pretty critical, but we're moving into a time when that doesn't always look like a traditional worship service.

    So I'd say maybe if a congregation is built around a Sunday Morning worship service, then participation in that service is probably critical; I'm just not sure a congregation has to be built that way, nor does corporate worship have to look that way.
    Thanks, Ryan. I wanted to say something like this, but didn't have the words.

    As it turns out, Sunday morning worship can be rather boring. Must people be willing to endure a ho-hum traditional Sunday morning service once a week in order to be fully engaged with a faith community?
    Only the power of the Holy Spirit can get truth past the obvious.
    Thanks Gina Stevenson - "thanks" for this post

  14. #14
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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Marsha--sure wish you could come to our church Sunday! No ho hum boring service there! We were all socked in by a blizzard this week, but even the teens were vocally mourning missing Sunday morning worship.
    Thanks Gina Stevenson - "thanks" for this post

  15. #15
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Scott View Post
    I'd say regular participation with the life and ministry of the congregation is pretty critical, but we're moving into a time when that doesn't always look like a traditional worship service.

    So I'd say maybe if a congregation is built around a Sunday Morning worship service, then participation in that service is probably critical; I'm just not sure a congregation has to be built that way, nor does corporate worship have to look that way.
    Yes, I'm sure that if some non-conformist congregation decided to build itself around Tuesday night, Saturday afternoon or Friday at 2AM, it would be no different than going with the tried and true time slot of Sunday morning. Right?

    A worship service doesn't have to include music, prayer and preaching either, but almost all congregations include them in almost every service that they conduct.

    There is considerable tradition/inertia attached to Sunday morning worship services when it comes to American religious life. To say that a congregation doesn't *have* to build its main event around a Sunday morning service is kind of like saying that one doesn't *have* to lose money when purchasing lottery tickets.

    It's entirely possible that American congregations do certain things for reasons beyond tradition and mindless habit.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis

  16. #16
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Marsha Lynn View Post
    Thanks, Ryan. I wanted to say something like this, but didn't have the words.

    As it turns out, Sunday morning worship can be rather boring. Must people be willing to endure a ho-hum traditional Sunday morning service once a week in order to be fully engaged with a faith community?
    There is a song lyric suggesting that those who have been to Paris will have difficulty being satisfied with farm life. Marsha, your mind/spirit has been to Paris and a run-of-the-mill Nazarene worship service will seem quaint by comparison.

    Your question is very timely though. It reminds me of my teen years in which I tolerated the Sunday PM service because the youth would have an 'afterglow' following the service. I would be in the service anyway because it never occurred to me that I could refuse to go, but the promise of an activity made 'Sunday Morning Lite' all the more bearable.

    When I last paid attention to district events, the KC district hosted some kind of all-night youth bash as a hook to get them to attend the NMI service so that God could call them to the mission field. No, we are not above using a spoonful of sugar to help the (yucky) medicine go down.

    What other aspects of congregational life do we tolerate so as to get a social reward?
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis

  17. #17
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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Are we in the same denomination? Church of the Nazarene?

    Two years ago I would say yes to hohumville, but not now.

    We have services that are exciting, moving, convicting, and sometimes side splitting funny. (That last one usually due to wildlife that wants to worship also, but sometimes testimonies of the "I had things well in order until God got involved" type.) We've seen doctor certified healings. We love to sing, have some top notch musicians that love to play instruments, and even the teens are loving 4 part harmonies. We do tend to "get down" during the music. Our pastor is very loving but man oh man he stomps me old toes a lot! Gives us challenges and homework, and the sheer adventure of trying to follow Jesus is anything but hohumville.
    Thanks Greg Gates, Billy Cox, Jim Chabot - "thanks" for this post

  18. #18
    Senior Member Mike Schutz's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Back to the OP

    For us, attendance at a weekly worship service matters, but not so much as a sign of congregational health as a marker of where someone may be in their connection to our faith community. More important than attendance is consistency of attendance for a person or family. We see a lot of folks "once in awhile," but when that begins to change to more regular attendance, we know something is happening.

    And that almost always is preceded by participation in a small group.

    For us, the following sequence is typical:

    Outreach to family - usually through our school and after-school programs.
    Kids begin to participate in our midweek programs.
    Parents connect to other adults via conversation and "hanging out" at kids' events.
    Families start attending an occasional Sunday morning or at our Saturday night family worship services.
    Parents connect to more adults, begin to get involved in fellowship events or affinity events and groups.
    One or two parents (usually one before the other) begins to regularly attend a small group
    The family begins to attend worship services regularly.

    Thus, asking about SMA is okay, but doesn't even begin to tell our story.
    "Are we creating environments and building relationships that encourage honest conversations?" is a far more important question.
    "Fully embracing the Gospel, fully engaging the world"

  19. #19
    Host Book, Movie & GA forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Schutz View Post
    Back to the OP

    For us, attendance at a weekly worship service matters, but not so much as a sign of congregational health as a marker of where someone may be in their connection to our faith community. More important than attendance is consistency of attendance for a person or family. We see a lot of folks "once in awhile," but when that begins to change to more regular attendance, we know something is happening.

    And that almost always is preceded by participation in a small group.

    For us, the following sequence is typical:

    Outreach to family - usually through our school and after-school programs.
    Kids begin to participate in our midweek programs.
    Parents connect to other adults via conversation and "hanging out" at kids' events.
    Families start attending an occasional Sunday morning or at our Saturday night family worship services.
    Parents connect to more adults, begin to get involved in fellowship events or affinity events and groups.
    One or two parents (usually one before the other) begins to regularly attend a small group
    The family begins to attend worship services regularly.

    Thus, asking about SMA is okay, but doesn't even begin to tell our story.
    "Are we creating environments and building relationships that encourage honest conversations?" is a far more important question.

    This makes a lot of sense - tracking who is in the service seems a lot more important than tracking how many people are in the service.
    ...just my $.02.
    Thanks Lucas Finch - "thanks" for this post

  20. #20
    Assistant Site Administrator/Forum Host Kevin Rector's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    We track who is in attendance for every activity in the church including Sunday morning worship. But we're not that big. I am not sure how a large church would do this logistically.

    If someone who regularly attends something misses 3 times, they receive a pastoral contact to make sure everything is ok and to keep them from slipping through the cracks.
    God is really good.
    Thanks Jeremy D. Scott, Lucas Finch - "thanks" for this post

  21. #21
    Senior Member Jeremy D. Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    We've been doing it that way for almost ten years now. We have a "presence" grid, which is just a spreadsheet noting who was present each week. As we've grown, I've had to rely a bit more on pastoral staff and my wife to remember who was there. It does serve the function of counting and submitting stats to the district/general church, but that's not the reason we have it.
    Thanks Mike Schutz, Billy Cox, Lucas Finch - "thanks" for this post

  22. #22
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Rector View Post
    We track who is in attendance for every activity in the church including Sunday morning worship. But we're not that big. I am not sure how a large church would do this logistically.
    Two words: RFID. Chip.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Laughing Kevin Rector, Lucas Finch, Rich Schmidt - thanks for this funny post

  23. #23
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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    Two words: RFID. Chip.
    Time to dig out Raptured again.
    Laughing Lucas Finch - thanks for this funny post

  24. #24
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Bourland View Post
    Time to dig out Raptured again.
    Ahh yes...from the good ol' days when barcodes were scaring gullible Christians everywhere.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis

  25. #25
    Host Book, Movie & GA forums Ryan Scott's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    Ahh yes...from the good ol' days when barcodes were scaring gullible Christians everywhere.
    Can I get my tattoo in henna and still be raptured?
    ...just my $.02.
    Laughing Benjamin Hobbs - thanks for this funny post

  26. #26
    Senior Member Rich Schmidt's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    I voted Yes in the poll, but in the same sense that others have already mentioned: it's just one marker among many of the church's general health and progress/decline.

  27. #27
    Senior Member Billy Cox's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich Schmidt View Post
    I voted Yes in the poll, but in the same sense that others have already mentioned: it's just one marker among many of the church's general health and progress/decline.
    If congregational engagement was a game of baseball, weekend service participation would be 'on base percentage'. No team wins on that metric alone, but no team wins *without* that metric.
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us wthout end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
    - C.S. Lewis
    Thanks Craig Laughlin, Rich Schmidt, David Troxler - "thanks" for this post

  28. #28
    Senior Member Craig Laughlin's Avatar

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    Re: The myth of church growth, the number zero, and the Kingdom

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Cox View Post
    If congregational engagement was a game of baseball, weekend service participation would be 'on base percentage'. No team wins on that metric alone, but no team wins *without* that metric.
    Excellent illustration of the point.

    Like a bunch of you I say yes it matters. But like everyone else has said, it is just one point of analysis. Given an unhealthy church that is trying to get healthy, decline in AM attendance might be a positive for awhile.
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