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Equipping pastors to equip leaders for life.
Encounter & Encourage, Equip & Empower
By William Vanderbloemen
-October 20, 2021
Tracking Church Growth in a Post-Pandemic
The past year and a half has been truly
unprecedented in the history of Christendom.
Never before has there been an Easter when
almost every church on the planet had to cancel
in-person worship. Never before has there been
a faster adoption of online worship. The question
now is how will we gauge growth going forward.
change everything we do in measuring the size
and health of our churches? What will be the new
metrics of growth?
been learning how pastors and churches are determining
growth, and how they plan to calculate it in a post-pandemic world. However, most of the
churches that the Vanderbloemen Search Group works with are relatively healthy
churches, so our sample size is not a complete picture of the church in the United States.
Barna Group has predicted that as many as 1 in 5 churches will close in the coming year.
That is likely an acceleration of what was already happening in churches rather than a
direct result of the
are relatively stable or growing are doing to measure growth in the years to come.
Online Worship Is Here to Stay.
Online worship was easily the biggest story for the church in 2020. Nearly everyone I
have talked to agrees that weekly online worship offerings will continue in the future and
must become increasingly more engaging. Churches that refuse to continue and
accelerate what they offer online will quickly find themselves irrelevant in the years to
This change had been coming for some time, and many of the churches already
accustomed to having some online presence simply flipped a switch and went fully digital.
However, the pandemic forced other churches to adapt to this change much more quickly
than they ordinarily would have. In this regard, and in many others, COVID-19 was more
the Great Accelerator than the Great Disruptor.
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One recent study claims that before the pandemic, around 10% of all Protestant churches
in the U.S. were streaming live worship each week. Now that we are hopefully past the
pandemic, something like 10% of all Protestant churches are not streaming their worship
My favorite exam
church dates back to the 18th century, and their worship has been predictably the same
for a long, long time. Enter 2020. They had never had online worship before, but during
the pandemic their brand-new pastor introduced weekly online services.
Imagine, however, if there had been no pandemic and the brand-new pastor showed up
their credit, they pivoted (as did thousands of congregations). The shift to digital has been
a marvelous testimony to the agility of the church, and all indicators are that this change
is here to stay.
The New Front Porch
Nearly every pastor I have spoken with has said they will be paying more attention to their
online numbers. The vast majority of pastors we surveyed acknowledge that members
will be logging on to digital services when they are out of town or have other commitments.
However, the overwhelming number of those I interviewed agreed that the biggest reason
to increase attention to online worship is to reach new people.
like when consumers
new reality where people are far more likely to attend a service online before ever entering
the building. Smart church leaders are realizing that and are finding new ways to track
the trend lines of their online effectiveness. And unlike the days before the pandemic, this
applies to churches of all sizes, not just the bigger congregations who are already
The Digital Dilemma
Many pastors I spoke with agreed that while the acceleration of online worship is good,
figuring out how to count its attendance is terribly complex. When asked how many would
be counting virtual attendance, nearly everyone said yes. But when I asked if virtual
attendance would be included in overall attendance, the overwhelming majority said no.
you count a three-second view? Or is the threshold 20 minutes? Or do you only count
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the appearance of a much larger church than a true representation of people who make
the effort to be present.
The overall trend I discovered is that the beginning of the 2020 lockdowns gave most
pastors hope as their online numbers skyrocketed. But the following months tempered
that optimism as the online numbers they were measuring began to decline. Engagement
is becoming the key litmus test for counting online effectiveness, but until there is an
accepted universal understanding of what the online engagement metrics are, in-person
attendance will likely remain the primary measuring stick for growth.
Measuring In-Person Attendance
it accelerated declines in in-
person attendance, which has changed the game for measuring health and growth. With
that in mind, here are some new metrics and trends for measuring in-person attendance.
1. Measure frequency of attendance.
In years gone by, people who identified themselves as actively involved in their church
attended somewhere between 40 and 50 weekends per year. That number has been
dropping steadily over the last decade. Some say that the new average is 1 1/2 to two
visits per month.
COVID-19 has only fast-tracked that trend. Now that nearly every church in America has
an option for people to stream online, the frequency of in-person attendance will continue
and certainly not something to get excited about, but it is a development that is here to
stay and that means changing the way we measure church involvement. Thom Rainer,
CEO of Church Answers, and his team are advising that in-person attendance will come
While more difficult to accurately measure, I am seeing more and more churches try to
attended last year? How many families attended more than 10 times in a year? How many
families attended more than half of the weekends during the year?
This shift has required more churches than I expected to revert to old school methods like
and when. I was surprised to find that very few churches are requesting permission to
geotag attendees on their apps as a way to measure the frequency of attendance.
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campus, to sporting events and, yes, for donor development. I believe that in the not too
distant future, we will see churches asking permission to use location and geotagging
families. This step would give churches an opportunity to see who is on campus without
the privacy concerns of other methods like facial recognition software (which I have found
a few churches experimenting with).
2. Measure the high holy days.
In my time as a senior pastor in the Presbyterian Church, we kept membership rolls, which
were always a lot bigger than the weekly attendance numbers. In fact, I knew that on a
normal week, we would likely only have 42% of our membership in attendance.
The one exception was the high holy days of Christmas and Easter. And we paid attention
to those days to get a real read on how many people called our church home. We would
expect (and usually see) holiday attendance that matched our membership roll. And we
paid attention to trends year to year. Today, particularly as the frequency of attendance
drops, the old school method is gaining steam in churches throughout the country.
regular attendees. I think everyone has heard the joke about the person leaving church
eems like every time
people only show up for the holidays. Notwithstanding the Christmas- and Easter-only
attendees, measuring your biggest days can give you a fair reading of how many people
are actually part of your church family. The pastors I surveyed overwhelmingly agreed
that they are paying attention to this trend.
3. Measure the money, but differently.
Giving trends have always been regularly monitored in churches, but historically tithes
changing as more churches focus on the size and makeup of their donor bases.
Jim Sheppard, CEO and principal at Generis, says that most churches he knows are
paying a lot of attention to how many first-time donors they have per year, and how many
donors are falling out of their donor base per year. They are using that as a metric for
church growth and health.
-commerce, came a marked increase
in electronic giving. Last year was one of the highest growth years that PushPay has had
in the history of the company. Now that people are more accustomed to giving
electronically, I believe that the growth of the number of donors, not necessarily the
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amount given, will become one of the hallmarks of measuring congregational growth and
4. Measure attendance, but celebrate volunteers.
Chris Hodges, founder and senior pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham,
Alabama, was one of the last pastors I know to agree that the church needed to quit
meeting in person for a period of time during the pandemic. He really values being in
However, when I asked him about how he will measure church growth going forward, he
pay attention to giving. But the one number that really encourages me about our growth
is when the number of our volunteers we call them our Dream Team increases. If the
This strategy is very similar to the one long employed by Christ Fellowship Miami in
Florida. For years, they have believed that if they wanted to grow a ministry, they needed
5. Measure one-on-one discipleship.
Richard Kannwischer, senior pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta, says they have
praying and planning for every active member to be mentoring at least one person and to
be mentored by one person. Yes, they will continue to pay attention to attendance and
the budget, but one-on-one mentoring has become their new standard.
They have been talking about this for quite a while, and the pandemic has made this their
No. 1 goal for the foreseeable future. Kannwischer believes that if this goal is met, all
others will take care of themselves. And even more, he believes it will usher in more life
change than a goal of growing church attendance ever could.
Not Good to Be Alone
Virtual worship is certainly the big story of change since the pandemic, and it will likely
have the most lasting impact. But while online church will be a critical supplement to
Of the pastors I surveyed, 100% agreed that in-person attendance is qualitatively better
than virtual attendance. When churches reopened, tears were shed, smiles were bigger
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than ever and people were ecstatic to be in the same room with their church family for the
first time in over a year. Is that because church families are made up of such wonderful
people? Is it because the church is such a blameless, spotless example for the world? I
good. He creates humans, and we are pronounced very good. Positive pronouncement
another. He was so adamant about this that the first negative pronouncement happened
a mentor to
By way of illustration, years ago, Vanderbloemen Search Group decided to try doing
searches totally virtual. We thought that if we cut out all in-person interviews and onsite
interviews, we would revolutionize search. We would lower our costs, make search
as a selfish benefit it would
allow our team to sleep at home every night. It was a grand experiment and a colossal
failure. Our client satisfaction dropped from the high-90th percentile to the mid-60th
My big theological takeaway, which I still stand by, is this: If virtual were all it was cracked
comes from Eric Geiger, senior pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. He told me
early on i
nowhere near the singing we will hear in heaven, worship services
For all of the change in the church, I believe that the new metrics for measuring growth
will look remarkably like the old metrics. And that should give pastors a measure of
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big churches will get much bigger, but average-size local churches will also matter more
than ever. New metrics will mean new methods. But concurrent to those solutions will
come the desire to be with one another. Alongside new methods of reaching people will
come a return to the gold standards of what it means to be a pastor, to be part of a family
of faith and to have an impact on our local communities. And your ability to relate to,
communicate with and pastor your people, in person and in a live relationship, will make
all of the difference in a world that is tired of being quarantined, and is really, really looking
forward to being together again.
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By Eugene Peterson
In this short excerpt from his book The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson encourages
and he explains why he believes that the way often followed by North
American Christianity and its consumer-driven churches is not the Jesus way at all.
Here is a text, words spoken by Jesus
John 14:6) The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about
can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.
But Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way. Jesus as the way
is the most frequently evaded metaphor among the Christians with whom I have worked
for 50 years as a North American pastor. In the text that Jesus sets before us so clearly
and definitively, way comes first. We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get to
the truth of Jesus as he is worshiped and proclaimed. The way of Jesus is the way that
we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and
workplaces, with our friends and family.
A Christian congregation, the church in your neighborhood, has always been the
primary location for getting this way and truth and life of Jesus believed and embodied
in the places, and among the people, with whom we most have to do day in and day
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out. There is more to the church than this local congregation. There is the church
continuous through the centuries, our fathers and mothers who continue to influence
and teach us. There is the church spread throughout the world, communities that we are
in touch with through prayer and suffering and mission. There is the church invisible,
12:1). But the local congregation is the place where we get all of this integrated and
practiced in the immediate circumstances and among the men, women and children we
live with. This is where it becomes local and personal.
The local congregation is the place and community for listening to and obeying
s the place and community
to discern the ways that we follow Jesus, the Way.
The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with the particulars and people
we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and
personal. Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to
congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way, with its
penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions, denigrates the local, and its
programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with
functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus
way with the American way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by
understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the way, this deconstruction of the
Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the way
A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually
calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it
in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together.
And here is how we are in on it: We become present to what God intends to do with and
for us through worship, become present to the God who is present to us. The operating
biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice we bring ourselves to the altar and let
God do with us what he will. We bring ourselves to the Eucharistic table and enter into
that grand four-fold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking,
giving the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed. That Eucharistic life
now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken
and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.
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But that is not the American way. The great American innovation in congregation is to
turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of
acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a
congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most
effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it
to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer
terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem solving, whatever.
This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand. We are
Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way
that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations.
Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: This is
not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on
alvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus
becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to
others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a
-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a
consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start
falling off the wagon. And they are
way in order to sell the Jesus truth. The Jesus way and the Jesus truth must be
congruent. Only when the Jesus way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get
the Jesus life.
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By Carey Nieuwhof | 14
The fall is always significant for leaders in local churches because it represents the
launch season of your annual rhythm. This year, as you inch our way out of the
pandemic, the fall kick-off season has ministry leaders excited, anxious, and bit puzzled
as churches seek to rebuild momentum in their communities.
The rush back has been underwhelming for many leaders.
Momentum is measured by numbers
-launch ministries in a season that, for many,
Equipping pastors to equip leaders for life 12 | P a g e
-planting our churches, those metrics will invariably get even closer
attention than usual.
The question is: as local church leaders, what are you measuring? And, what do the
Traditionally, pastors have defaulted with the twist of pivoting
Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. Even through the pandemic
closely on these aspects of church life.
But when you think about the purpose of the Church to incarnate the love of Jesus
Christ in the world is that what matters most? Is simply drawing a crowd, filling
buildings, or paying the bills the full extent of what Jesus lived, died, and rose again to
Old Metrics, Meet New Metrics
In our local church, these questions have ravaged us. In the early years of my church
year, repeatedly doubling our church population, adding multiple services and facility
expansions, and seeing booming budget surpluses. It was a great time to be talking to
my pastor buddies!
But then, unexpectedly, we were confron
how many people in our surrounding community would have noticed if we
So, instead of further expanding our existing facility, that question drove us to relocate
our church closer to the downtown core of our city so we could be in greater proximity to
the people our society typically ignored. A couple years after moving, we opened what
is now the largest 24-7, 365-day/year homeless shelter in our region, right in our church
Fast-forward a few more years, when we were becoming multi-site, and we started
compassion and justice now define what each of our church locations is ultimately
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these days, we focus on some different
numbers to measure our effectiveness, other than the tr
online metrics. The new metrics help us measure impact in ways that other metrics
For us, some of the most critical numbers we now monitor are:
rather than fixating on the amount of money coming in, we now
focus on the percentage of funds we invest into our surrounding society in the form of
compassion and justice activity. Before moving our church, there were literally zero
t, this past year, over 70%
our communities (both locally and globally). Since your expenses reveal what you value,
this metric matters very much to us because it gives us an indication of how much we
value the people Jesus most values.
also seek to measure how many of our weekend service attenders are actively
participating in the Way of Jesus -
of our attenders involv
our church through the Anchor Cause before even attending a weekend service!
to us, this statistic is next-level, because when we engage
love together. So kind of the inverse metric to engagement rates we want to know
experienced homelessness) have been welcomed, included, and integrated into our
other core programs (i.e.: our weekend services and Life Groups).
4. Community feedback: rrounding society would
notice if you disappeared unless you ask them. This can happen conversationally,
which we often do with civic officials and friends outside of our community, to get their
it can also happen
statistically, through outside surveys and feedback generators. Would people outside
Equipping pastors to equip leaders for life 14 | P a g e
through a measured
survey you can clearly know the answer!
As you consider your fall launch season and rebuilding momentum as a local church
care about? And: what do your most critical metrics say about what your church and
leadership values most?
degree to whi
As we reopen coming out of this pandemic, is it time for you and your ministry to re-
momentum Jesus-expressing, Kingdom-expanding momentum without it!
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We are blessed beyond measure! We were sinners separated from God, yet in His mercy and grace, He redeemed us and
we so readily associate being blessed
are realized both spiritually and physically, it would be beneficial to consider the meaning of the word blessed.
The most frequent Old Testament word for blessed is barukh. When applied to God, it has the sense of praise, as in
A New Testament Greek word for blessed is makarios, and has a strong spiritual content and carries the idea of happy, for-
tunate, or to be envied. In studying New Testament references of bless, blessing, or blessed, it would be important to note
that none connect blessing specifically to material prosperity. For example: Blessed are ...the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the
meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of right-
-10). In multiple passages referencing bless, blessing or blessed
Like you, I am incredibly grateful for provision of a home and monetary means that enable me to eat out, travel, celebrate
blessed life. Ephe-
sians 1:3 reminds us, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual bless-
Here, the word blessed is eulogetos and it means and blessings means bene-
fits bestowed upon (us). So, in our November ZOOM meeting we are going to bless God and speak well of Him for He has
pared to bless our good and gracious God by expressing your gratitude for the benefits you enjoy as a byproduct of your
relationship with Him. #PRAISEPARTY!
Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.
ZOOM Connecting Conversations
Monday, November 29, 7 PM
A Virtual Experience!
Come prepared to thank God for spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual blessings,
in song, in word, in dance (well, maybe!) and with our prayers.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness
and his wonderful works to the children of men
If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and
have a reasonably reliable means of transportation,
you are among the top 15%
If you earn $25,000 or more annually,
you are in the top 10%
If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies,
a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live
in your own home, you are in the top 5%
If you earn more than $50,000 annually,
you are in the top 1%
Source: irememberthepoor.org/MSN Money
Develop the spiritual discipline of gratitude.
Thank God for the glimpses of His grace in the midst of difficulties.
Examine your personal gratitude quotient from time-to-time.
Express gratitude daily.
Show gratitude toward others and give generously out of your increase.
Ask God for His forgiveness for the sin of ingratitude.
Seek to not be situational or seasonal with your gratitude.
Gratitude is a choice. If we fail to choose it, by default we choose ingrati-
tude. And once allowed into the heart, ingratitude does not come by itself,
but with other seedy companions that only succeed in stealing joy.
Derived from a popular Revive Our Hearts radio series, Choosing Grati-
tude: Your Journey to Joy challenges and equips the reader to live a life of in-
tention, a life based on thankfulness for the freedom Christ has provided
and for the blessings of others.
By intentionally thanking God and others, bitterness and entitlement are re-
placed with joy and the humble realization of just how undeserving we really
To not choose gratitude is more costly than we usually realize. When we do
choose a lifestyle of heartfelt, humble gratitude, we are mindful of the bene-
fits received from our gracious Savior and those He has placed around us,
and our joy becomes full. Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Participants of the Praise Party on Monday, November 29th will have an opportunity
to be the recipients of these two resources.
gratitude among our everyday busyness and concerns. 52 Weeks of Gratitude offers
you a space to record and reflect on your blessings each week as you focus
through the year on four major themes: Home, Community, Faith, and Beauty.
With its lovely full-color photographs and illustrations, this textured hardcover
book is a perfect keepsake. The weekly format offers just the right amount of
encouragement to inspire, motivate, and create a grateful heart in all who write in
Infuse spirituality and thankfulness into your daily life with this gratitude
journal that offers a simple way to lower stress and improve happiness.
52 Weeks of Gratitude A One-Year Journal to Reflect, Pray and Record
Thankfulness, Ink & Willow
From my heart to yours…
Pastoral Care Letter
Dear Pastoral Care Leader,
It is almost impossible to believe that I am writing you regarding Christmas
for your pastor and yet the time is rapidly approaching, whether we are ready
We are entering the single most important of holidays and that is the birth of
our wonderful Savior Jesus Christ. This is a time to show our love and
appreciation to our pastors for all they have helped us navigate through this
year. Please try to encourage your congregation to go above and beyond
anything they have done in the past. In doing so, you will not only bless them
but you will receive a blessing as well. We are told in the Scripture that what
we sow, we shall reap also. It’s not too early to begin making plans for a
special “Christmas Love Offering.”
As we close out another year, I want to say a great big “Thank You” for
allowing the Lord to use you in this very important position of service to your
pastoral family. I am certain that you will be greatly rewarded for all your
It is also time for our church families to show our love and appreciation to our
State Bishop Scott Gillum and his wife, Brenda. This is an opportunity to bless
them by receiving a special “Christmas Love Offering,” for all they do for us
throughout the year.
May you and your family have a wonderful Christ-filled holiday season.
Merry Christmas With Love,
Frankie S. Dotson
State Pastoral Care Director