Let’s say you have just enough time and energy to focus on one number that is important to your church. Would you pick worship attendance or your Bible study/Sunday School attendance? Arguments could be made for both, but if I were doing the picking, I’d focus on the second one, Bible study attendance.
Now, before I go further, let me say that I believe tracking worship attendance is important. It’s the largest gathering of the week for most churches. Right behind it is the attendance level of the church’s Bible study ministry – it’s the second largest gathering of the church each week. I would not focus so heavily on worship attendance that I don’t track and care about the Bible study attendance of my congregation. So why would I focus on the Bible study numbers? I can think of four good reasons:
- Bible study is where relationships are formed and the church becomes “sticky” – If you want to close the back door of the church, Bible study groups are where that takes place. When people join groups, they build relationships. Relationships become the glue that holds a congregation together. A worship service may be only as sticky as the worship style or the charisma of the pastor. If there’s a change in either, people often walk away. It’s harder to walk away from your friends in a Bible study group.
- Your future leaders are going to come out of adult groups – If your adult groups are growing, the pool of potential workers for preschool, kid, and student groups also grows. You’re not going to let non-members teach preschool, kid, or student Bible study groups. Those leaders are going to come straight out of your adult groups.
- If people unplug from a Bible study group, they’re probably gone for good – People can stop attending worship for any number of reasons. If they choose to unplug from their Bible study group, chances are good that they are saying goodbye to key relationships and will not be back. It’s more difficult to leave a group than to leave a worship service. If people are leaving their groups, look out – you may have bigger problems than you think.
- The gap between worship attendance and Sunday School/Bible study attendance is highly revealing – “Mind the gap” they say in England as you step off of a commuter train. The gap between the train and platform can trip you up if you aren’t careful. It’s good to “mind the gap” between worship and Bible study attendance – it can reveal whether or not you’ve got a serious problem in either venue. In churches I’ve served as an education/discipleship pastor, we’ve had a very small gap between worship attendance and Bible study attendance. In some churches, though, the gap is very wide – as much as 30-40% wide – and that tells me there’s a problem somewhere.
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