Every year, congregations in The Episcopal Church prepare parochial reports, which are then compiled by dioceses and submitted to the national headquarters in New York City. And sometime later in the year, the church issues its membership statistics. Like many of my clergy colleagues, I’m concerned that our parochial reporting is not an accurate reflection of growth and vitality in today’s church. Yes, across the nation, weekly Sunday worship attendance has decreased, but that doesn’t mean that The Episcopal Church is in decline.
Like many other aspects of American life, patterns of worship are shifting. In a cathedral with vibrant weekday worship, education and programming, as well as weekly podcasting of sermons, choral evensong and The Dean’s Forum, does average Sunday attendance accurately measure our life? When we look at indicators that are out-dated and incomplete, and we feel bad about ourselves. Accountability and evaluation are really important tools in organizational growth and vitality, but it’s time for a new dashboard. My friend and colleague Sam Candler, Dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta, once suggested that we should measure “average weekly touch.”
Let’s consider the following:
- Average weekly worship attendance (let’s count all of our worship services during the week and not just Sundays because lots of people don’t get to church on Sundays but they do show up at other times during the week);
- Podcast audience and website visitors;
- Attendance at weekday concerts, lectures, classes, labyrinth walks, prayer meetings, support groups, bible studies, workshops and retreats;
- People served in our hunger and homeless programs, volunteer hours spent in our community gardens and neighborhood schools, and parishioners who show up for community organizing meetings; and
- Pastoral connections such as, hospital and nursing home visits, pastoral counseling sessions, newcomer conversations.
I’ll bet we’ll see more vibrancy and growth than we realize. We talk about shifting paradigms in organized religion. It’s time that our evaluation tools and measurement indicators catch up.
However, I’m pleased to report that in 2013, Trinity Cathedral had an average Sunday attendance of 376 (average weekly attendance was closer to 450) and nearly 300 pledging households. And, this coming Sunday, we will present 20 individuals for confirmation and reception in the Episcopal Church. It feels vibrant to me!