I had a very interesting conversation with someone who was crowing about the number of 'members' they had and especially about the fact that they had many 'new members' [and I smiled].
They went on (and on) to tell me about church and how 'concentrating' the services had proved good because they had more people in the 'main' service [and I smiled even more sweetly still].
Then came the punchline as they explained that the only disappointment was that 'usual' and 'average' numbers had fallen (year-on-year) and that this was confusing because of the 'other growth' [and I started asking a couple of questions].
Question One - 'Tell me about your new members?'
So they told me that this was due to the number of additional people who had appeared on the new electoral roll and how they had worked to get people in their patch to sign the forms and 'be part of the church'.
So I explained that, as I understand it, being on the electoral roll conferred the right to vote at the Annual Church Meeting (APCM/ADCM*) and thus makes them members of the Annual meeting but not necessarily 'church members' - who I would call 'communicants' (even if they don't communicate - that is take communion).
So what they had was a number of people who wanted, for many reasons, to be associated with the church. This was neither a statement of faith , attendance or even engagement for everyone I have canvassed this year tells me that attendance and numbers on the roll were very different form each other
Question Two - 'What does 'concentrating the services' mean'?
What this meant was that they had merged some services, an act that had the effect of raising the attendance for the remaining service. This is often the case that if we merge one or more services the observed effect is that the number of people attending the 'new' service will be more than the previous, unmodified service, attendance. It's common sense that if you have three services with a 'usual' headcount of twenty-five people, merging them will see the one winning some from the other two services. Of course, like efficiency, the overall percentage attendance will never equal one hundred per cent. Here's the purely mathematical equation for two services (A and B) which we will merge into one:
A+B = Total Population
Now, unless we have suddenly done something extremely marvellous (like offering free beer or a fiver for those who come to the service) the reality is that the people who come to the new service (cong) will never exceed the previous Total Population:
(cong ÷ TP) x 100 ≯ 100%
Let's play and see whether this works:
Two morning services; the early communion (EC) and the, All-Age (AA), the average attendance of each is 15 and 23, giving a TP of 38. We merge the services to produce a 'family communion' and have a congregation (cong) size of 30. This means that we now have a service that has an relative attendance of:
(30 ÷ 38) x 100 = 79%
Our success in bringing two congregations into one, and seeing 'growth' in the new service, represents a real loss of 21%.
So how do we deal with this, which of the options below do we take (assuming there was, of course, dialogue before the merging of services)?
a. Deciding that the new service is a better platform for growth we wish those who have left well and continue, looking to build on the 'success' of the new, and look forward to more coming along?
b. We dismiss the fact that some have left and celebrate the 'growth' without any real strategy to build on it?
c. We realise that some, perhaps stalwart (often pronounced 'stalewart'), members have stopped coming and work on a strategy to cater for them in some way.
My problem is that the person I discussed this with was taking the middle option (that's 'b' by the way - and there is another I could have added which would have asked, 'What is acceptable loss?') and merely being happy because there was growth on the electoral roll and growth in the 'morning' service (so what was the other service, chopped liver?). There was no plans to consolidate or redeem the apparently lost - joy was to be found in the apparent and that was enough.
And this is why churches grow smaller.
Perhaps I should add that having lost the evening service some time back, this is now a one service on a Sunday church and should that one service fail, then it will be one of the most attractive carpet warehouses ever seen ;-)
*APCM - Annual Parochial Church Meeting
ADCM - Annual District Church Meeting