(Commentary) Annual statistical reporting: beyond the numbers

Comments (6)
  1. Al Axelson says:

    A minor note: the phrase “Congregational membership continues its decline, but our congregations’ members seem to be increasing in frequency of attendance ….” might seem to be true by just quickly looking at the numbers. But, “average attendance” includes everyone who is attending services and not just the members. “Average attendance” would include guests and long-time attendees who aren’t on the membership roles.” It would be more “correct” to say “Congregational membership continues its decline, but the average attendance at our congregations seems to be increasing.”

    Without measuring the number of non-member attendees, we don’t know if the attendance is increasing due to the members or if it’s due to the non-members.

  2. Dear Mr. Axelson,

    That is a point well taken, and illustrative both of the care that must be taken not to “overinterpret” the data we have, and of the value, perhaps, of obtaining more detailed data. While it does yet seem to me that the bulk of the variation probably has to do with members (who are generally the bulk of attendees), your wording is, indeed, the more precise.

    Thank you for your careful attention to the article, and for sharing this helpful adjustment.

  3. Peter Kelm says:

    Is it fair to say that while average worship attendance seemed to increase from 2014 to 2015 (132 to 141), that may be because the 29% of congregations that didn’t share data in 2015 likely declined in worship attendance? (assuming that their worship attendance numbers from 2014 were also then used for 2015). Anecdotally, the congregations that don’t have good news to report statistically are less likely to report statistics.

    I mention this, because the now decades-long trend of membership and worship decline seems pretty clear.

    I hope I’m wrong!

    Thank you for this helpful article and your service to the Church!

  4. Dear Rev. Kelm,

    Your observation, too, is a good and cautious one. That particular data item should have been qualified as you suggest: that it does not incorporate cumulative results, but reflects the subset of congregations that respond.

    Is there a correlation between larger numbers and submission of numbers? It seems plausible, but who can say? Paradoxically, to be certain about that, we’d have to have all the numbers–but if we had all the numbers, we wouldn’t care!

    Seriously, we do appreciate your eye for detail and will continue to strive to report accurate and timely results from the data we are given.

  5. Alan Turley says:

    What followup measures are taken to try to get information from delinquent churches?
    (The ones that do not initially report)

    1. Dear Mr. Turley,

      District Presidents and Circuit Visitors do work together with the Office of the Secretary and the Department of Rosters, Statistics, and Research Services to follow up with congregations that have not sent their data. Bylaws adopted by the 2016 convention make the roles of those district officials in this process even more explicit. With another year “in the books,” as they say, the time approaches for congregations to help Synod get another year “on the books.” I am sure there will be ample opportunity for reminder and encouragement, from my office and from district officials, as we enter into that process.