Attendance and the Heart of a Preacher

It happened again yesterday. Attendance in worship was way down. I have spent the last 24 hours thinking about it.

In the first day of a freshman practical ministry class I was told “Don’t evaluate your ministry effectiveness based on your Church’s attendance.” Every preacher knows that. Most of them parrot it over and over to themselves on Monday morning in order to keep their sanity. But if you want to know the truth – all of us still do it. Every minister I know has an intimate connection to the amount of people they serve each week. When attendance is up we feel confident and secure. When attendance is down we feel like a failure with little self-confidence. No matter how hard a preacher tries to tell you that is not the case, he is lying.

Before you hop to judgement there are some good reasons for this.

1. Preaching is Extremely Personal. I am not just teaching some facts, I am also sharing my life. This is what I believe. This is what I am trying to live every day. This is what I am being challenged by. I am sharing stories and struggles from my life. In part a rejection of Church is also a rejection of me.

2. The Gospel Message is Extremely Significant. At the end of the day I am not just trying to get people to buy another widget. I am not speaking to people just to encourage them. I am sharing what I believe is the life changing message of the gospel. I want people to hear and respond to Jesus and lack of attendance means that fewer people will hear the message. I believe heaven and hell are at stake an every person matters to God.

3. Spiritual Growth is Hard to Measure Any Other Way. A minister friend of mine was remodeling his house. I asked him about juggling work, family and the remodel. He told me that he found it energizing because when he did a remodeling project he could actually see something get started and bring it to completion. Then he added, “And I don’t get to do that in Church.”
Spiritual growth is hard to measure and it is never finished. I can measure Bible reading, prayer time, giving and service but I also have to include Church attendance. You can disagree with me, but in 23 years of ministry I have yet to meet one growing Christian who did not attend Church regularly. What I mean is that rarely is someone growing in the other measurable areas of spirituality without being a part of Church regularly.
I want to see people grow and attendance is one metric to show if I am doing my job well.

4. I Wonder Why People Are Not Here. Did I offend them? Do they need someone to talk to them or pray with them? Are they leaving the Church? Are they mad at me or someone in my family? Did I teach something wrong? What happened? People miss Church for legitimate reasons but some miss because of my past failures. The other possibility is that I am currently failing them as a pastor. These are personal questions that spin out of every empty seat on Sunday morning.

5. God Is Molding Me Too. I have to remember that God is teaching me in everything. That means when attendance is down I ask myself, “God, what are you trying to teach me?” That is a very personal question. Is he teaching me to trust Him more? Is He showing me my pride and arrogance in the past with present failure? Have I been trusting my own clever ideas rather than His spirit? Attendance numbers can be a reflection of my spiritual walk, that is something I can only evaluate through a week of prayer and reflection.

These are just a couple of the reasons that Sundays when attendance is down lead me into a self-doubt and insecurity. They lodge into a preacher’s brain and push him to ask question and evaluate everything. I know I was told not to do this, but I think I have good reasons. I do not want anyone to attend Church to make me happy, but when people attend Church to worship the Lord, it definitely makes me happy.

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