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Counting the Ones Who Come on Sunday Morning

You probably know how many members your congregation has. But do you know how many people come on Sunday? The Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Growth Team is asking congregations to start tracking that latter figure. It believes that knowing Sunday attendance will help congregations chart the growth of Unitarian Universalism more accurately.

Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA's director for district services and convener of the Growth Team, says that many denominations now focus more on attendance than on membership. Having attendance figures will enable congregations and the UUA to assess growth and determine if changes should be made in programming.

The UUA asks member congregations to provide a membership number by February 1 of each year through an online certification process. This year congregations are also being asked for an "average Sunday attendance" figure.

Some congregations already collect this number. Those that do are asked to submit it along with their membership number. Congregations that have not computed average attendance are asked to begin collecting it for submission in 2007. So the resulting data can be most useful, all congregations are asked to use the same method.

How it works: Gather attendance figures for all fifty-two Sundays. Congregations with alternatives to Sunday morning worship should count attendance at those services as well. In the following directions, interpret "Sunday" to include these other services.

Each Sunday, count every person of every age who is in any part of the building—members, visitors, teachers, children, staff members, choir members, and leaders. Don't worry about double counting, as when a person teaches religious education and also attends worship. Total all fifty-two weeks and divide by fifty-two. (Adjust this if you meet only part of the year.)

If you have special holiday services that would skew attendance figures when they fall on Sunday or Saturday evening (e.g., primary Christmas service), eliminate that Sunday and count twice the attendees for the following Sunday. Don't adjust for Easter Sunday or any other holiday that always falls on a Sunday—continue to count those within your regular attendance figures.

Attendance information is voluntary and will not affect certification, the annual program fund assessment, or the number of delegates for General Assembly, Limpert says, adding, "We are simply interested in looking at attendance trends in Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations as part of an ongoing study, to allow comparisons with other faith groups collecting such data."

The 820-member First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN, has kept Sunday attendance figures for at least ten years. "It's helped us to see trends with our first and second services," says Bill Elwood, board vice president. "We can look at those figures and see if the number of children in church school is changing relative to the attendance at adult services. And when our minister went on sabbatical a couple years ago we could tell there was a significant dropoff in attendance. We used that finding to change our sabbatical policy so that ministerial leaves would have the least impact on attendance."

The Champlain Valley UU Society in Middlebury, VT (136), switched to two services several years ago, based on weekly attendance numbers. It has monitored attendance at the two services since then, and used the results to adjust the times of services.

First Parish in Cambridge, MA, has 265 members, but it considers itself a church of four hundred adults when it totals those who come on Sunday and others who participate in other ways. Says Rev. Thomas Mikelson, "We think of our needs in programming and expenses as the needs of a church of four hundred. That serves us much better than if we simply used our membership figure."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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