We recently changed our process for keeping attendance. It had formerly been a congregation member who took the attendance sheets and entered them in Realm so we could track attendance. The plus side of that was that s/he would remember who didn’t fill in the form and would just check their names off as having attended. Now we have the church office transfer the names on the attendance sheets into Realm. So we’ve lost the eyes in the congregation that remembered who was in worship – though our volunteer now has more time for a new volunteer role.
Since we’ve made the change, we’ve lost attendance for dozens of people. That’s right, dozens. The first week after the change, there was a difference of 34 people who were counted by the ushers but didn’t fill in an attendance sheet. The second week there was a difference of 38. We know there were 106 people there, but only 70 people, members and visitors alike, signed an attendance sheet or the visitor sign-in form in the Narthex.
Each week during worship, Pastor Michael invites everyone, members, guests and visitors alike, to fill in the red attendance pads in the pews. Some folks pass them across the pew or across the aisle to save paper, some don’t. Some folks fill them in every week, some don’t. Some object to filling them in, noting that God knows whether or not they were there, so why should they have to fill in some form?
So why do we keep attendance in the first place, and why do we ask that you sign in?
First of all, it’s not to just keep track of numbers. Pastor Michael is here every week, whether there are 6, 60 or 160 people in the pews. He’s not into competing for largest UCC congregation. Although tracking numbers does help us prepare the correct number of bulletins and set out enough communion bread and grape juice, numbers aren’t the most important reason for tracking attendance.
We want to know who is here – and who is not. As Jesus might have said, “We can never know who the missing sheep are if we’re not keeping track of them.” It is important to us to realize who has been away church for a while so that we can find out if there is some health condition, injury or other issue that is keeping them from sharing in worship. We always reach out when people let us know that they are experiencing difficulties, with prayer, meals, a visit or by mailing the bulletin each week. That’s why we list everyone’s prayer concerns in the bulletin each week. But sometimes church is the last place people think to call when something is amiss. When people just quit showing up, we can’t always know what’s going on unless we have a record somewhere of when they were here.
Our attendance records also alert us to new folks coming to worship. Each week when a visitor gives us their email address, Pastor Michael sends them an email, thanking them for worshipping with us, inviting them to meet with him over coffee or a meal, and sends them the most recent copy of the E-pistle. He often gets great responses from people who’ve never before been thanked for attending a worship service. It helps him to establish a genuine caring relationship, and to connect each new person with others in the congregation. When we look back at attendance, we can see who dropped by once, perhaps while they were in town for a weekend, or visiting family, and who comes back several times, who then might be interested in becoming a member. Signing in each week helps us to keep in touch with people who are “auditioning” us as a congregation, and offer a personal connection. It’s hard to authentically welcome people unless you know who’s new and who’s been coming for a long time.
Please help us to know that you are here by signing the attendance sheets each week. That way we won’t overlook your absence and will reach out to make sure you are doing okay. The saddest stories I’ve ever heard are from people who talk about having left a church over something hurtful, and “No one even noticed I was gone.” But unless we know that you were here, regularly, and can look back to see how long since we’ve seen you, we can’t reach out. It’s not about building a congregation, it’s about connecting each other with Jesus and changing lives.